When Todd and Lindsay Watling were looking to escape the city in 2018, they turned their attention to Wilberforce – hoping it could be the place to lay down roots and create the best life for their young daughters, Bristol and Teaha.

Six years later and the pair say it’s mission accomplished. Their girls are thriving, whether it be at school or afterwards, when helping at the family-owned Wilberforce Service Centre.

The Watlings bought the property shortly after relocating to the area. Then, it was a gas station and mechanic shop, but the family has been hard at work over the past 18 months renovating the space into a convenience store.

A grand opening will be held June 1, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“We knew we wanted to do something more with this space – we dreamed big,” Lindsay said. “When we bought it, the place was pretty run down. It needed a lot of love, but I’m really proud of the work we’ve been able to do. Now, we want to invite the community to come and check it out.”

Having quit his job with Miller Group to facilitate the move, Todd started working on cars and doing odd jobs to earn money. He bought an auto shop in Harcourt, moving the repair-side of the Wilberforce business there. He set out renovating the old service centre in April 2023.

The building was completely gutted, Todd said. He tore down the front-facing wall, removing the garage doors, and redid all the electricals and plumbing. New flooring has been installed, walls painted, and store fixtures fitted – including freezers carrying Muskoka Quality Meats and M&M Food Market products.

New MacEwen gas pumps have been installed, while the pair have also added a new sheltered space for bottle returns, upgrading from the sea can that was previously used.

Lindsay said the response from the public has been overwhelmingly positive.

“It’s been a couple of weeks now since everything has been done – it’s beyond what I envisioned. People who come in cannot believe the transformation,” Lindsay said. “I had a guy in here the other day who said ‘last time I was here, I stood right there [behind the counter] watching someone fix my car. We’ve heard a lot of fun, interesting stories.”

The Watlings say they’ve always had a soft spot for the Highlands, having cottaged in the area for decades. Becoming full-time residents is “one of the best things we’ve ever done,” Lindsay said.

The store, at 2246 Loop Rd., is open seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. – closing an hour earlier on Sundays.

Lindsay said this weekend’s grand