SOUTH GILLIES, ONT. — Buying a lodge and restaurant was the main plan for the Hofmanns when they purchased the Unicorn Inn at the turn of the millenium, but they also bought into a zoo.
Rose Valley Restaurant & Lodge co-owners Markus Hofmann and Deborah Poole-Hofmann have been treating customers for almost a quarter of a century with their delectable dishes in their dining room to their quaint countryside chalets where decompressing is the only rule.
Part of the relaxing visit to the South Gillies rural property includes nature walks and catching a glimpse of wildlife. Maybe lots of wildlife. The Hofmanns love animals. And they have plenty of them.
“I shouldn’t even call it a hobby farm, it’s more of my petting zoo,” laughed Poole-Hofmann, who had chicken coops constructed by her son’s La Verendrye High School shop class this spring. “We rely on all the local farmers for all the other things, but I keep saying — I get in trouble — yes to ‘Oh, I heard you’re a rescue (animal accumulator), would you like another new pet?’. And I’m like ‘Sure, never had one of those before.’
“They’re all so spoiled. I always tell the guests if I’m serving them dinner, that all the carrot peelings, for example, it’s divvied up to all the critters. They get fresh goodies in the morning. . . . Very little food waste that way.”
Poole-Hofmann is proud that approximately half of their animals are rescues. She’s dealt with the City of Thunder Bay’s Animal Services Centre, where she got her first pigeon, and (back in the day) the Thunder Bay & District Humane Society for barn cats and an adopted dog.
They are a motley crew.
There’s McFlurry the dwarfed cow, Boog the mini mule, Lucky the turkey and Peggy the pot-bellied pig. Throw in five dogs, three cats, three horses, chickens, ducks, pigeons, rabbits, goats, a goose, sheep and a guinea fowl that would make the Tasmanian Devil of Looney Tunes fame envious.
Sorry Taz, the cuddly creatures are not for consumption. You might say they all have their own personalities.
“They’re all very sociable. Guests love them,” exclaimed Poole-Hofmann, whose Getaway and Bed & Breakfast packages are their big sellers. They also cater up to 10 weddings a year on average.
“At a (late July) wedding, (McFlurry) got loose and he tried to go into the tents. It was just hilarious. My cow’s running around and being a goofball.
“We have free-range rabbits. Guests drive up in their vehicles and when they’re leaving after dinner, my rabbits are in the parking lot underneath their vehicles checking things out.
“We have (Peggy) and she lets herself out of her pen all of the time and goes visiting with people. One wedding, the guys were having — I called it a tailgate party — they were hanging out at their trucks and there’s my pig, talking away a storm to them. She’s hilarious. It’s kind of funny.
“We always tell everybody, it’s a piece of our heaven. We’re grateful that we have it and that we like to share with other people.”
The lodge is also in the process of expanding. Just in time for their 25th anniversary next summer, the Hofmanns will be unveiling two new cabins this fall to join their two existing chalets on their sprawling 400-acre property in the Township of Gillies.
So when you’re not noshing on exquisite chicken, beef, pork, veal, lamb, duck, rabbit, seafood or vegetarian dishes from the kitchen of Swiss hotelier Markus Hofmann or enjoying the jacuzzi in the existing cabins and, eventually, the double-back soakers in the new chalets, the natural wildlife and petting zoo are worth the trek to South Gillies.
For reservation information and all the inner workings of the lodge, visit rosevalleylodge.com.
John Nagy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal