It all started with a weekend away and a desire to really, truly relax.

It all started with a weekend away and a desire to really, truly relax.

Now, Lucas Stewart and his friends are the proud owners of two mobile cedar barrel saunas that have been making their way into driveways and backyards across Winnipeg.

<p>JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Lucas Stewart and his partners have bought a second sauna for the Backyard Barrel as their first sauna is booked solid until February.</p>

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Lucas Stewart and his partners have bought a second sauna for the Backyard Barrel as their first sauna is booked solid until February.

"We tried to rent one in the fall and we couldn’t find one available," Stewart says. "We started thinking, we’ll just get it and use it and then we can rent it to somebody else — we’re not the only people who have this idea."

The friends started doing some research and found a manufacturer in southern Ontario that specializes in building saunas atop trailer beds. The venture has been dubbed The Backyard Barrel and has taken off like a well-stoked wood fire.

"We went to go and get a second (sauna) because our first one is booked through to February," Stewart says. "A lot of it is through word of mouth, we got a bunch of other people because one of our clients went to work and wouldn’t shut up about how good she was feeling."

While the mobile sauna model seems to have taken off in other jurisdictions, there are few options available locally — there is at least one other Manitoba company offering a similar rental service. Stewart believes the concept is a good fit for a winter city like Winnipeg, particularly amid the pandemic.

"It’s cold and with COVID, people aren’t travelling as much right now, so they’re looking for… interesting things they can do here," he says. "People are (renting) it to treat themselves and they’re also buying it as, like, surprise birthday presents for their partners."

Despite the name, the saunas aren’t beholden to backyards.

"We called it The Backyard Barrel because it had a nice ring to it, but front yards work too," Stewart says with a laugh. "It just has to be on your property."

<p>Lucas Stewart says because some Manitobans are still hesitant about travel, the opportunity for businesses providing stay-at-home activities is considerable.</p>

Lucas Stewart says because some Manitobans are still hesitant about travel, the opportunity for businesses providing stay-at-home activities is considerable.

The saunas — named Susan and Shawn — require relatively level ground and property access that is at least 9 feet tall by 10 feet wide. They can be booked for a minimum of two nights for $300 and up to a week. Each sauna fits up to six adults at a time and runs on a wood-burning stove, firewood is included in the rental price. Delivery is free within the Perimeter and available at an additional cost outside of the city.

This isn’t the first time Stewart, who works as a business development consultant in the non-profit sector, has started a business with his buddies. Several years ago, the foursome — which also includes a doctor, a climatologist and an arborist — ran a crowdfunding campaign to launch a board game, called Moral Dilemma. The group party game was licensed in Ontario and the entrepreneurs are using the proceeds from that venture to help fund the new sauna business. Stewart was also recently involved in the creation of Velotecha, a local winter bike repair and storage jointly operated by Macdonald Youth Services and The WRENCH.

When it comes to The Backyard Barrel, he’s hoping the business keeps smouldering after the snow melts.

"I’m hoping it lasts more than the winter," he says. "People are looking for ways to do stuff that is compliant with how the world is now and to be with friends and family and do things rather than (give) physical gifts."

Visit thebackyardbarrel.com for more information.

eva.wasney@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @evawasney

Eva Wasney

Eva Wasney
Arts Reporter

Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.