Hugh Sibbald, the fifth generation Sibbald managing the resort, began earning his keep at nine years old by filling the pop machine and carrying luggage. “I got a penny for a can of pop, which was pretty good commission in those days,” he said with a laugh. “Luggage was heavier then too…full of bottles as we didn’t have a bar at that time.”
Sitting in the Manor dining room, overlooking carefully groomed shrubbery and surrounded by art and photos of another era, I felt like I’d fallen through a wrinkle in time. The large windows, woodwork, delicate craftsmanship of the antiques and enormous framed pictures of old maps (Hugh said his father John has an affection for maps), make The Briars a truly unique place. It seems that John inherited that trait from an earlier generation as a treasure trove of perfectly preserved documents dating back as far as William Sibbald’s journals from the 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion.
The History of The Briars
The Briars has enjoyed a distinguished evolution into a classy country destination with a spa, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, solarium, whirlpool, games rooms, boating, kids clubs and an 18-hole golf course. The original land belonged to British Navy Captain William Bourchier, who built the Regency Manor house in 1840, which is now the resort’s main building. He dubbed the property “The Briars” after a home of friends in St. Helena. The captain died just four years later, and his widow and children chose to rent the house rather than stay in the remote area. In the late 1870’s, Dr. Frank Sibbald acquired the property from Mrs. Bourchier. Dr. Sibbald added two wings to the manor house, a coach house, stables, a gatehouse, a barn for his championship shorthorns and a peacock house. All of these original buildings are still standing. The barn is now the Red Barn Theatre, Canada’s oldest summer theatre, and the peacock house is the only one of its kind in Ontario.
The Briars has gone through various additions but kept its focus on restoration rather than modernization. Notably, one guestroom wing was built and named after Canadian humourist Stephen Leacock who grew up nearby and often visited. Leacock is buried just a stone’s throw from the resort property on the premises of an old cobblestone church.
John and Barbara Sibbald are still the flagships of the resort, helped by their younger sons Hugh and Andrew. Their oldest son Peter is a photojournalist. Much of his work can be seen throughout the resort and on the web site.
The Briars has 90 rooms with a capacity for about 180 guests. The accommodations are a mix of inn rooms and lakefront cottages. A row of cottages sit elevated from the shoreline, and when you sweep back the curtain a bowl of blue looks back at you in such a way that you seem to be floating on Lake Simcoe. For those who prefer a wooded environment, another group of cottages is located in a well-treed area abutting the 18 fairway. Two large private lodges are available, which are ideal for large groups and have seven and ten bedrooms respectively. The manor house offers six well-appointed rooms replete with many antique pieces as old as the manor itself.
The Golf Club
The Briars Golf Club was established in 1922. The first nine of the golf course was designed by legendary Stanley Thompson, and the second nine was built in the seventies by Robbie Robinson, who kept its Thompson spirit. This is a very natural golf course, and the layout is traditional. Narrow fairways, subtly undulating Thompson greens and no housing casting shadows on the fairways, characterize this course in a snapshot. But what sets it apart as truly unique is the ancient trees, their branches split and twisting like the Waking Trees in the Lord of the Rings. Although the course is not long, measuring from 5436 to 6285 yards, precision shot making is required to navigate the tree-lined fairways and well-protected green sites. The Briars Club is a private facility but offers playing privileges to guests. “It’s a unique partnership between resort and private club,” says Sibbald.
Visit http://www.briars.ca/golf.shtml to view available stay & play packages
55 Hedge Road,
Jackson’s Point, L0E 1L0
Resort site: www.briars.ca
Golf Course site: www.briarsgolf.com/
Tune in next week
Posted by Alistair Orr
Editor/Publisher of On The Tee magazine and Director of Golf for the BAGS Junior Golf Tour.
www.ontheteemagazine.com / www.bags.on.ca
This article is an oldie but a goodie!
Posted: June 9, 2014
Our blog is chock full of great ideas for fun things to see and do in York Durham and Headwaters. We are always adding new content and updating old posts, but sometimes you might stumble upon something from our vault. If this article has inspired you to hit the road, be sure to double-check that the featured stops in this post are still welcoming visitors.