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The last ice cream at Elk Lake
When Connie Dere first told her 37-year-old son about her retirement plans, he began to cry.
“I don’t want to change my lifestyle,” said Edward, the youngest of Connie and her husband Hon’s two sons.
Edward now lives in Rhode Island and conducts medical research at Michigan State University, but for years, he and his brother Steve spent their summers serving ice cream and renting out paddle boats at the Elk Lake Restaurant and Water Sport Rental – a business their parents have run from morning until night, seven days a week for the last 30 years.
This weekend Connie and Hon will drive to the lake from their Gordon Head home and open the restaurant one last time.
“When people come here, they’re so happy. That’s why the time has gone by so fast,” Connie said. “I didn’t know I would be here for 30 years.”
Once all of the paddle boats have been sold off and the keys handed over to the new owners, Connie isn’t sure how she’ll react to leaving the business behind.
“I’m a little scared,” she said. “I spend more time here than my house. I think I’m going to be uncomfortable for a while.”
Dealing with break and enters, including a July incident that resulted in a stolen safe and business records, has left Hon’s feelings toward the closure more mixed. “Every year when we (see the damage) our hearts drop,” he said.
The new owners, Lance Watson and Paul Regensburg of the Subaru Western triathlon series and LifeSport Coaching, have had their eye on the area as a possible location for administration space for years before approaching the Deres.
“When the (adjacent) mini golf lot went up for sale, we hummed and hawed, and it became the cat clinic,” Watson said. “We kicked ourselves for missing it, so later we talked to the restaurant owners and it was great timing. They were ready to retire.”
Watson and Regensburg plan to build a two-storey, 2,900 square-foot, split-share building and sublet half, ideally to a tenant in the health field, which fits within the current zoning.
The duo, who have been previously working from home, take possession Sept. 24.
“It’s the end of an era: a husband and wife team who have put in those types of hours to pass on opportunity to their kids – tireless work and a frugal lifestyle,” said Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard. “They’ve put a couple of kids through university, all because Mom and Dad rented kayaks and sold hot dogs.”
Leonard has twice used the restaurant as an election night headquarters and, like other park visitors, frequents the restaurant for coffee after walking the 10-kilometre trail route each weekend.
The Deres moved to Victoria from Hong Kong via Montreal, eventually settling on the West Coast for the weather. Although the two still enjoy a paddle boat ride from time to time, Connie, 61 and Hon, 64, don’t have the same energy once they get off the boat, Connie said.
“I’m very happy for them,” Leonard said. “They’ve worked hard and earned a retirement more than anyone I know.”
–with files from Travis Paterson