janv. 23, 2019
“Let’s raise our glasses to those we have lost, those we love, and to the Aikens family that will carry on for decades to come!”
The closing words of Pit’s heart-felt speech at Winnipeg’s Masonic Memorial Centre the night of December 21 sent the crowd––over 200 proud members of that extended Aikens family––into thunderous applause, punctuating the prevailing sentiment of a special night some 30 years in the making.
2018 marked the 30th anniversary since The Big Guy, Gerry Turenne, and his wife Lorraine purchased Aikens Lake Lodge, as it was known then, and began to transform it into the world-class destination it is today. Over the years, Aikens has risen in prestige––repeatedly being named one of the world’s top five fishing destinations by major publications such as North American Fisherman––and the main reason for that was gathered in the room on that cold winter night: the family and friends who make up Team Aikens.
For the past several years, Pit brainstormed about an all-staff, all-time party to celebrate his late father’s brainchild and connect 30 years worth of Aikens staffers, family and community members.
“Some of our volunteers were starting to get a bit older, and it was an idea to reunite everybody and let them know we’re like the mafia and once you’re in the family, you’re in,” said Pit, who worked with Julie and Janelle to organize and plan the unique event, which was catered by WOW! Hospitality and featured a cocktail hour, brief speeches by Pit, Julie, Janelle and Patrick, surf and turf dinner of salmon and steak, then a live band and a long, joyful night of dancing, story-telling and sharing memories.
“My favorite part was watching the old staff and the new staff connect,” said Julie, who put on her detective hat to track down contact information for dozens of old-time Aikens staff members scattered across the country to send out party invites. “The new staff hear all these stories all the time. They know a spot is called Red Rock, but why? Well, here’s the person who was there the day the spot got its name however many years ago. It was very rewarding to see all these people we’ve brought together through Aikens, and to see how the Aikens community has grown.”
As Aikens guests know, many of the staff are in some way, shape or form related to the Turennes (or are close family friends), and consequently most hail from the extended Winnipeg area. The party also saw in attendance several folks from Montreal, Quebec, Thompson and Bissett among the 203 people who dined that night. The longest-tenured team members at the party were Phil and Jackie, Gerry Turenne’s original partners, and Mitch, the longest serving annual Molly Maid volunteer from Year 1 all the way until a few years ago.
Of course, Gerry’s business and life partner, Lorraine, was in attendance and was surprised to find herself at the center of one of the evening’s most touching moments.
“When Lorraine was mentioned, the entire room stood up and gave her a standing ovation, entirely unprompted,” said Julie, adding that it was a fitting tribute to the woman behind The Big Guy’s adventurous Aikens acquisition three decades ago. Pit, too, was touched by the admiration and love showered upon his mother that night.
“Mom, look out at this room! You should be SO proud to see what has become of your bold move 30 years ago,” Pit said in his speech. “Because of your hard work, vision and in no small part because you and the Big Guy had the stones to remortgage the house over and over, we get to live in this world surrounded by so many friends. You are the matriarch of the Aikens family, and to many I am sure you feel like a 2nd mom. But you are my mom, and I am very proud of that.”
Several guests were proud to wear their vintage, retro Aikens gear, adding a festive touch. Julie and team organized a slide show with over 1,000 photos from all the years, and many staff members got to meet long-time staff members they had only heard about in legendary stories. Roughly a third of the party’s guests hadn’t been to or worked at Aikens in the past five years, so the range of experience was vast.
So many stories and laughs to be shared kept the party going until 2:30am, well past it’s intended 1am close.
“It was so hard to leave,” said Janelle Trudel, adding that she spent most of the night on the dance floor (Turbo and Pit’s sister, Andrina, joined the band for several songs) and appreciated the surprise late-night taco bar. “Aikens staff loves tacos. It was just fun catching up with everyone.”
For Pit, the most rewarding part was floating around the room seeing people across generations sharing laughs, stories and, in the process, allowing their Aikens connection to melt away their age difference. “It was neat to witness the current staff, mainly in their 20s, see first-hand these long-term, lifelong Aikens friends. I wanted for the staff that work here now to see what the future could be for them in terms of the friendships that can last within the Aikens family. I hope that happened.”
Now the youngsters realize they’re forever part of the Aikens family. And that bond deserves to be celebrated.
“The Big Guy would be proud to look down and to see all these people here he started bringing together 30 years ago. People he trusted and loved,” Pit said in his speech. “To see so many lifelong friendships made, or marriages forged. To see everyone together to celebrate this, and to know that his vision has not only continued on, but flourished.”