If you go to The Haven Hostel’s Facebook page, you’ll notice their “About Us” includes the tagline “We bought the ticket, we are taking the ride.” The ticket, in this case, is actually a building and the ride, ironically enough, is staying put.
Here’s what we mean: Holly Watson is the CEO of The Haven Hostel, set to open in Thunder Bay, Ontario this Easter Weekend. A born-traveller, Watson has travelled on the cheap domestically and abroad. Her will to wander has taken her as far as Southeast Asia. Throughout her travels, starting at age 19, Watson has been staying in hostels. Aside from the pressure it took off of her wallet, she also loved the communal atmosphere of hostels.
About a decade ago, she started dreaming about owning a hostel of her own. She journaled about it and told close friends of her long-term plan. After finishing school, she moved to the west coast of Canada, where her plan was to get herself out of student debt and start saving some money to open her dream hostel. While she was out there, so also got her motorcycle license and fell in love with life on two wheels. Living frugally for the most part, she still made time to leave town and explore hostels each year, travels which landed her in Central America, amongst other places.
Fast-forward to 2016: Watson, then 29 and working a professional job in the environmental sector, realizes that she can capitalize on her experience by spending some time in the UK before she turns 30, the cut-off for “working holiday visas.” So she goes and works at a hostel in Scotland, bringing her hostel knowledge to the next level. The behind-the-scenes experience adds to her knowledge of hostelling as a traveller herself.
But Thunder Bay was always it for Watson—it’s her hometown; there’s no full-scale, in-town functioning hostel, and the real estate is cheap compared to other places. Beyond all of these practical considerations, she ultimately loves where she’s from and what it has to offer, and wants to share it. In-town, currently, there is a small guest house operating. Outside of town, there’s a hostel catering to international travellers, but it’s not within Thunder Bay’s core. The city is missing exactly what she wants to offer.
“Thunder Bay has changed in last 10 years,” Watson says. “It’s unique because the downtown core is all small businesses. It’s on the lake, the food is amazing, and there’s been an influx of nightlife.” And then there’s the outdoors. “The outdoor activity list is endless,” she says, “and most of these activities are maybe ten minutes out of town.” The rock climbing alone is amazing, she says, pointing out that there are lots of parts of the Thunder Bay area that are known only to locals. Watson wants to celebrate those parts, places, and activities with her fellow locals, and let out-of-towners in on things too.
Upon returning to Thunder Bay, Watson enrolls in a business planning program where she’s paired with a mentor to guide her through the process. This is also when she connects with Ride Lake Superior (RLS), taking her love of all things motorcycle to new heights (last year she did a trip to Chicago for the International Motorcycle Show). And this is when things fall into place.
Watson finds a space bigger, better, and faster than expected. It’s 8000 square-feet, easily large enough to share. So, share she does, with Get Out Gear Rentals, a separate business that will be operating out of the same building and tapping into the same clientele. All in all, there are plans to have a garage, the gear rental business, a bar, and—of course—the hostel itself. Both businesses are looking to share their passion for motorcycling, and hope that the space becomes an adventure hub, with all these offerings under one roof.
Watson took over the space in spring of 2017 and is officially opening the doors to the public on March 30, 2018. In fact, she's already hosted a ski team from Ottawa for the national championships this earlier this spring. “People into outdoor tourism come to hostels,” Watson says, noting that the Haven will be able to connect guests to local tours, walking maps, paddleboarding, bikes, camping kits, fishing outfitters, and the list goes on. They’re friends and forming a partnership with a local climbing gym; will have equipment rentals on-site, and will be able to direct people looking to buy equipment to the appropriate places nearby. Down the road, Get Out Gear Rentals plans to offer motorized sports: motorcycle tours, ATVs, boats, and so on.
Imperative for Watson was having the Haven Ride Lake Superior-approved. This means shelter for bikes (an awning to start, with future plans for a secure garage), wash buckets, kickstands, RLS-only parking. And imperative to RLS approval: the business owners have to ride. And ride she does.
Watson wants people to know the Haven is a place they can come expecting to have fun and be able to talk shop, whether they’re staying at the hostel or stopping by for a beer at the bar. “Guests will know that when they come to the Haven, the banter will be good and their bikes will be safe.”