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Cowen family celebrates 50 years at Pike Lake Golf Centre Limited

by Chris Daponte

MINTO - When Irv and Joan Cowen purchased a nine hole golf course west of Mount Forest in 1961, they never imagined the business would grow to the extent it has.

“We just kept going and going and building the place,” said Joan, owner of Pike Lake Golf Centre Limited, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary on Aug. 3.

Originally from Toronto, Irv and Joan owned a variety store on Jane Street with their four kids Herb, Irvin (who passed away at age 29), Jeanne, and Tom, and also Joan’s younger brother, George Forrest.

Joan would run the store, while Irv ran a milk truck door to door and golfed at Humberview Golf Course on Wednesdays - his only day off.

One Wednesday in 1961, a real estate agent who frequented the store told Irv he wanted to show him a piece of property in Wellington County with a nine hole golf course.

Irv and Joan fell in love with it instantly. They bought the property - at the time it included the golf course, lodge, five cottages, a motel, and a barn - and moved the family there on Aug. 3, 1961.

The motel on the property was full for the long weekend, so Joan was thrown into kitchen duty right away.

Irv and Joan struggled for years, working at various other jobs in the area to make ends meet. At one point Irv did a coffee truck run in Toronto, working from 3am to 3pm each day, before returning to Pike Lake to cut fairways until it was dark.

In 1971, John Thompson approached Irv about moving a hockey camp to Pike Lake, and an agreement was struck - over a handshake, Joan noted - to host the Harriston Hockey School, later renamed the Huronia Hockey Camp, at Pike Lake.

Families asked if they could bring trailers and camp on the property while their children attended the camp. Irv thought 25 seasonal sites would make a profit, but the trailer park grew much larger than that, eventually affording the family  the opportunity to expand the golf course.

Some time later, Northlander Industries, of Exeter, asked Pike Lake to sell its trailers. The Cowens sold two fairly quickly, which started a partnership that saw Pike Lake become the top dealer for Northlander.

In 1986, the golf course was expanded to 18 holes, with a nine hole design by Robbie Robinson.

In 1989, a new clubhouse was built to accommodate bigger tournaments and functions. The new clubhouse doubled the previous capacity.

Ten years later, Pike Lake completed three major expansions, including another nine holes, designed by Shawn Watters, as well as a new 20-room motel with conference room and Fairway Estates Adult Community Living.

Today, the entire property owned by Pike Lake is over 500 acres in size, and is still home to Joan, Herb, Jeanne, Tom, George, and their families.

“There’s a lot of history on this property,” Joan said, noting she used to hear stories from older residents who met at an event at the old dance hall at Pike Lake.

Family loss

The 50th anniversary will be an emotional event, due to the recent passing of the Cowen family’s patriarch.

Irv Cowen passed away in December at age 79, less than a year from celebrating the semicentennial anniversary at Pike Lake.

“We lost a really great father, husband, and friend,” said Joan.

The family is organizing a fundraiser draw in Irv’s memory, with the proceeds going to the Minto and Mount Forest Fire Departments.

“[Irv] always loved his communities and he always wanted to give back, so that’s what we’re trying to do,” Joan explained.

The draw, which is sponsored by the Pike Lake Minto Lions Club and features over $15,000 in prizes donated by Pike Lake Golf Centre Limited, will be held on Sept. 3 at 7pm at Pike Lake.

Tickets are $10 each or 3 for $25 and can be purchased at Pike Lake, at the Mount Forest Fireworks Festival next weekend, or at various locations in Minto and Wellington North. Prizes include a gas golf cart, resort packages, golf items, and electronics.

“We know dad would want this,” Herb said, explaining his father always had an affinity for volunteer firefighters and also for the communities of Harriston and Mount Forest.

Jeanne added, “This benefits everyone in the area.”

Golf events

The golf courses at Pike Lake host a junior golf camp and many tournaments each year, including the Pike Lake Open, which has been running since 1975 and is now one of the largest one-day tournament in Ontario, regularly boasting over 200 golfers each year.

There are also several charity tournaments, including the Mary Lynne Forrest Memorial Golf tournament, organized by George Forrest and his daughters, which raises funds for the Palmerston and District Hospital and Louise Marshall Hospital in Mount Forest.

“It helps pull the two communities together,” said Jeanne, adding the Mary Lynne Forrest tournament has raised over $390,000 for the two hospitals over the last six years.

Pike Lake features

In addition to the 18 hole “links” golf course, which hosted the 2004 Ontario Men’s Mid-Amateur and the 2005 Ontario Men’s Amateur qualifier, and the nine hole “lake” course, Pike Lake also offers:

- a large, licenced clubhouse that can be rented for various banquets and events;

- on-site trailer sales, which Herb explained is the biggest part of the business, with sales all across Ontario;

- two cottages, 40 modular homes, and 400 campsites (most with trailers);

- year round living in the Fairway Estates section;

- a beach along one part of the mile-long lake, where the original motel was located;

- a new recreation hall and various other recreational opportunities, such as horseshoes, shuffleboard, a heated outdoor pool, and a ball diamond; and

- a greenhouse to grow the business’ plants.

The property has seen so many changes, Jeanne noted, the office building  - originally the family’s house - is the only structure on site that remains from the day her parents purchased the property.

Busy business

On a typical long weekend in the summer, upwards of 2,000 people could be visiting Pike Lake, Jeanne explained. It has become a favourite getaway spot for locals and city-folk alike.

“We’re very hospitable people ... to be good in business you have to treat people right,” Joan said, explaining what keeps people coming back to Pike Lake.

Added Herb, “We treat people the way we want to be treated, and we give them value for their dollar.”

Jeanne explained the family is very thankful for its staff members - numbering from 35 to 124 depending on the time of year - who “bend over backwards” to help Pike Lake customers and the Cowen family.

Joan called the staff members, some of whom who have been with Pike Lake for 35 years or more, “just wonderful people.”

But that doesn’t mean the family doesn’t pitch in to help.

“All of us, as family, can do any job. You do what you gotta do,” Herb said, adding it’s not uncommon to see a Cowen manning the grill or cleaning washrooms.

Every little bit helps, and the overall result, Joan told the Advertiser, is “fantastic,” feedback from Pike Lake customers.

“You don’t build what we have with one person or two,” Joan said.

She credits her entire family, along with the staff and the local communities for helping to make Pike Lake a success.

“We’ve had quite a journey,” she said, reflecting on the past five decades. “It’s really been a fantastic journey for 50 years.”

For more information about Pike Lake call 519-338-3010, visit www.pikelake.com or email info@pikelake.com.

 

 

July 8, 2011

 
 

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