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Being a part of the Aikens Family… experiencing Friends and Family weekend

Oct 5, 2012

Approximately 80% of the Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge summer staff are college or university students so when Labour Day rolls around they return to their cities in which they further their education.

Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge’s 7th annual Friends and Family Event was held this year on the September long weekend, shortly before our staff was heading home after a fruitful summer of hard work and friendships. This event allows staff to invite family and friends to visit the lodge and the lake for 3 days. The near and dear guests were hosted in activities shared by all which featured world class fishing, the world’s best shore lunches, the family dinners! Pool, shuffleboard and cribbage were at the heart of fun and laughter galore in big Molly’s Bar. Observing the eagles, the songbirds and wildlife everywhere or listening to the haunting call of the loon while chilling in their porch, the guests could fill their senses with the incredible beauty and charm of Aikens Lake.

The partners of the lodge value the staff and their huge contribution to its success and through this particular event share the “Aikens Experience” with those people closest to them.

On the last evening, a special shore supper was held at the Great Gray Owl site for the 40 or so participants and staff. At the end of the supper, two fathers of pro-staff guides informally took the floor, one in French and one in English, to recognize this superb opportunity to share time at Aikens Lake with their children and thanked Pit and Julie for making it happen. Both speakers addressed the great insight gained to what they contribute to overall operation. They both agreed to an interview to share their thoughts with our readers. Gerry conducted the interviews with Sig Laser and Ibrahima Diallo.

Sig Laser, Alex’s dad, spoke at the shoresupper. He thanked Pit and Julie and the partners of Aikens Lake for opening a window in their busy season so that they could have a look inside their child’s wilderness job. Gerry caught up with Sig to explore other perspectives and maybe share the same sentiments.

Gerry: Sig, tell our readers what you do in real life.

Sig:     I am a policy analyst with the Department of Conservation and Water Stewardship. I have been there for 6 years and was doing the same thing in other department prior to that. I’m very interested  in what happens in natural areas of Manitoba so that has added a little hook for me here at Aikens Lake.

Gerry: I’ll excuse that pun and ask you what was your experience with the Friends and Family Event?

Sig:     When Alex started guiding at Aikens Lake, we were invited to this event and I came up with my wife Tanis.  This year, I’m here with Alex’s oldest brother, Nathan. Last year we caught lots of fish and this year we also caught lots of fish. I have been very fortunate to catch a Manitoba Master Angler northern pike (41.5”). I love what Aikens does with the photo and presentation and I’m impressed with their use of social media. And boom! There I was, famous on Facebook!

Gerry: Famous being the operative word! You’ve seen the place and you’ve seen your son at this student profession. What does he do and how do you think his experience here will benefit him in life?

Sig:     Apart from all the hands on trade skills he is getting here, he comes back home and is talking about all the people he guides….CEO’s, COO’s, corporate executives, corporate clients, families, and groups of fun loving people. The ability to come into contact with these Canadian and American tourists gives him a better sense of what people do in the world and the things they want to accomplish. When I look at it, he is growing in confidence and growing in strength. He is developing a sense of judgement which will serve him well in life.

Gerry: In one word, describe your experience here at Friends and Family.

Sig:     Energizing! There were many times this weekend when I was breathing the really fresh air. I was flashing back at times when I was breathing the purest , cleanest, most energizing air ever. I had a few moments of that and flashing on to how pure and clean this environment is.

Gerry: Thanks Sig for your insight and another father’s perspective.

Ibrahima Diallo, better known as Ibou, addressed the shore supper gathering in French, so we conducted the interview in the language of Molière.

Gerry:  Dis nous qu’est ce que tu fais dans la vie.

Ibrahima : Je suis professeur à l’Université de Saint Boniface depuis 27 ans.

Gerry : Parles nous de ton expérience avec l’évènement famille et ami.e.s.

Ibrahima : C’est ma 6e participation à cet évènement car notre fille Aisha a travaillé ici pendant 4 ans et maintenant notre fils en est à sa 3e année. D’ailleurs Jean-Bocar (JB)  a pris le goût de travailler ici grâce à cet évènement lorsqu’il a visité Aisha.

Gerry : Qu’est ce que Jean-Bocar fait à Aikens présentement et comment penses-tu qu’il  bénéficiera de son expérience dans le futur.

Ibrahima : JB agit comme un guide de pêche. Je crois qu’il fait bien d’apporter les clients à la pêche mais d’un coté pratique, il y en a beaucoup plus. Quand tu travailles dans une telle entreprise,  tu es exposé à plusieurs métiers en dehors de la pêche. Il a fait de la construction, du siding, du ciment, du bois. Il acquière tout un capital d’expériences pratique. Il a aussi l’expérience de travailler in équipe avec des gens. Je ne sais pas quel sera le plus grand bénéfice pour mon fils mais tu sais que la capacité d’interagir avec des nouveaux clients qu’il ne connait pas du tout et dans le contexte d’une équipe constante, lui servira pour le reste de ses jours. Tu n’as qu’à regarder Aisha qui est venue ici une fille extrêmement gênée et qui maintenant interagit avec toutes sortes de clients au Apple Store où elle travaille. Ça c‘est quelque chose que tu ne peux apprendre sur les sur les bancs de l’école.

Gerry : Maintenant pour la question surprise, et peut-être que ton épouse, Lise, l’artisane du mot de la famille, pourra t’aider. Dans un mot, décris ton expérience à cet évènement.

Ibrahima et Lise : Excellent! L’accueil est fantastique et nous voyons nos enfants sous la responsabilité d’une entreprise qui les enrichit. Tous les parents sont inquiets de voir leurs enfants quitter la maison mais ont peut voir nous même qu’ils sont entre bonnes mains. On confie nos enfants à des gens responsables qui en ont fait des adultes responsables.

Gerry : Je vous remercie d’avoir partagé avec nos lectures vos expériences et vos sentiments. Les clients sont toujours ravis de notre personnel et maintenant on peut comprendre d’avantage pourquoi.

Memorable Magical Master Angler Moments during Friends & Family 2012

What a thrill for our guides to put their fathers onto a Master Angler trophy!

Sig Lazer,41.5” northern pike guided by son Alex  David Hewitt, 28” walleye guided by son Griffin  Greg  Selinger, 41”northern pike guided by ALWL head guide and son Eric

Sig Lazer,41.5” northern pike guided by son Alex

David Hewitt, 28” walleye guided by son Griffin

Greg  Selinger, 41”northern pike guided by ALWL head guide and son Eric

“On top of everything else being great, we were blown away by your staff and services!”


Putting the Family into the Friends and Family Event

Pit and Julie are in their 8th year as the managers of the Aikens Lake team. In order to get an inside angle on what makes the staff tick and why guests appreciate them so much, we’ll chat with them directly.

Gerry:   Give our readers a history of the Friends and Family Event.

Pit:         When our new partners Chris and Dale Jensen came aboard in 2005, they invited all key staff to visit with them in Phoenix, AZ for a get acquainted session and to hold a meeting to discuss adding new ingredients to a successful  format. Everyone present was asked to contribute ideas which would make for a better staff and a stronger team. Turbo and Diesel spawned the suggestion that amongst other invitations, a friends and family event would strengthen the bond between families. They had always wanted to bring their fathers to Aikens, but we never had a formal vehicle for them to broach that subject with management.  We started off on their idea right away the following summer by introducing a weekend where we set aside a specific weekend and offered the staff the opportunity to invite some friends and family at a discounted rate.  It was immediately very popular and we actually had to limit how many people everyone could bring!  Here we are 7 years later with an annual event where the staff gets to showcase the place where they work, not so much for us but for them to show their pride in their work to those closest to them.  It has become a perk for working here and it’s nice to sit back and watch this all organically happen in front of you and know that our staff is proud to be a part of our success.

Julie:     It isn’t just for them however. We also get a lot out of this event. I find we can get to know our staff from a different perspective. We interview them with emphasis on interpersonal skills. Then we see them at work and see how they relate to guests and peers. But when you see them with friends and family, you see different emotions and behaviour. It’s wonderful to make the connection with where they got those skills in the first place and how they got to be who they are. It’s great for the parents too.

Pit:         Yeah, parents put a lot of faith in us to look after the well-being and development of their kids every summer.

Julie:     And this event gives the parents an opportunity to get to know us too.

Gerry:   What other events or activities do you organize or carry out for the staff?

Pit:         We carried on with the “Little Hammered Olympics” which is a mid season friendly competition and games which brings some relief after the first few months of working 7 days a week and always being “on”.

Julie:     We still host the Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge Christmas Party for staff and volunteers which draws as many as fifty people to a whole afternoon and evening of activities, food, fun and gifts.

Pit:         We initiated a few years ago and organized the Aikens Lake Ice Hockey Team and have been getting together once or twice in the winter for friendly exhibition games. Not that the staff is not already integrated into their own little community in the city, but these events in the Aikens off season just help to strengthen the bond.  On Chris’s and Jeff’s suggestion, we just started a Fantasy NFL Football League and I think this is going to be a lot of fun for all of us to interact on a different level. 

Julie:     We also host a pre-season BBQ at the end of April so that all summer staff and new recruits  can meet each other. The secondary purpose for the BBQ and most useful for us is that we can sit down with everyone individually and discuss their job position, season contracts, and the expectations and challenges for the coming season. This is especially helpful to the rookies as they get to meet their new best friends on the staff. Once they get to Aikens Lake, there is very little time to tr ain and deliver the services, so we want everyone on the same page ahead of time.

Gerry:   What do you think is the mantra for your staff?

Julie:     When we started managing, and we already knew this from our years of working here beforehand, we quickly realized for ourselves that it was all about the guests... and it really is. We have only done a great job if the guests leave happy. I guess you can say our mantra is “wow them with the Aikens Experience and spoil them with service”. If we do that consistently, guests will return.

Pit:         You can never guarantee the fishing or the weather, but thankfully those tend to cooperate with us quite often.  That said, we strive to make sure that all other aspects of someone’s experience here at Aikens is handled with utmost care and professionalism.  No one should leave here having had less than a very positive, uplifting experience. 

Gerry:   Well said! Now we play the word game. In one word, describe your team.

Pit:         Vibrant. There are so many qualities but for me vibrant is the word because it capsulates a lot of good things like positive attitude and atmosphere and projects a “joie de vivre”, very social and amicable.

Julie:     I would say Chameleon-like. Our staff is great at adapting to different guests and to many different situations. They are very personable and are anxious to please.

Gerry:   Thanks Pit and Julie for giving us a little background on the Aikens Lake community.