Mar 8, 2022
What an absolute whirlwind finale to the season in 2021! As we’ll explain later, the six weeks from mid-August to late September was the best end to a season we’ve ever experienced. That said, we are not here to sugar coat it… 2021 proved to be another challenging year in the tourism industry, and for Aikens specifically. But once again the incredible “Aikens family” which consists of our guests, our staff, our volunteers, our partners and our suppliers all contributed in their own way to make the eventual success of 2021 a truly incredible story.
It all started in early May. For the 2nd year in a row, we flew up to Aikens with the uncertainty of closed borders. This spring, there was an additional layer of uncertainty in the form of Provincial Health Restrictions and the start of the 3rd wave in Manitoba. “Onward into the fog”… as they say.
The Trudel and Turenne families flew in on May 7th with all the kids and dogs in tow. This year, we brought a little extra help as well – if last year taught us anything it’s that we are not getting any younger and it takes more than just us to get things ready! Marcel and Kik helped us get the camp out of its slumber, then they returned home and it was just the two families again for a couple of weeks. As the kids get older, they can take on more responsibilities and it was great to have Annika and Marty pitch in more than ever. Their quad skills as we unload planes and move supplies around have become top-notch! Natasha, Oscar, and even Arthur also got in on the action and were able to stock wood boxes, fetch tools, and get things put into the right places. What a blessing it was to spend that family time with the kids. And once again, the kids caught the first trophy fish of the year. Marty took Natasha out to The Falls during “recess” in their virtual school, and they landed only one fish… a 44” monster pike, Natasha’s trophy pike!
With news that the US border closure was extended yet another month, we delayed the start of our season from May 21 to May 27th. But we still had Canadian guests coming in, so we flew in one planeload of staff on the 26th in anticipation of the first guests the following morning… but by then the 3rd wave was hitting Manitoba hard and the most restrictive health orders were unveiled that very afternoon. No guests would be arriving the following morning. We were essentially closed until the province could ride this one out. It was a strange feeling being in our little Eden while the rest of the province was under strict lockdowns. The few staff on-site were pretty thankful to have just snuck in before the announcements, and we spent the time getting more cabins and boats ready for prime time. We might even have gone out fishing once or twice – no one tell the boss, okay?
Finally, on June 11th the restrictions were eased once again, and we got ready to host our first guests on June 12th. For a month we hosted groups of Canadians, although the restrictions meant that instead of having 25-30 guests in camp, we could only realistically host 8-12 at a time. Without an open dining room or bar, we were delivering food to cabins and serving happy hour drinks outdoors from our “happy cart”… the golf cart was converted to a portable bar. We are so grateful for the guests' understanding and appreciation of our efforts. We tried our best to offer up as much of the Aikens Experience as possible, and the smiles on their faces showed us the efforts hit home. People were happy to be at Aikens, soaking in the wilderness and escaping reality for a few days at a time.
Things loosened up more in July, and we were really starting to ramp up until another unforeseen roadblock hit - a travel ban for the provincial park. This was the 2nd government mandated shutdown of the season, ouch! Manitoba experienced an incredibly dry summer with critically low water levels. Once the forest fires sparked up and grew in the spring there was no stopping them. We are situated in Atikaki Provincial Park, and on July 19th, just hours after news that the US border was reopening in mid-August, we got the update that the park was going to be closing at 8:00 am the following morning until further notice. Our guests in camp were allowed to finish their trips, but once those trips had wrapped up we flew all guests and staff out except a small “fire crew” that was kept on-site. The next 3.5 weeks were a daily routine of setting up sprinklers and water pumps, clearing brush around all the buildings, and rescheduling/canceling trips for a completely different reason than we had experienced before.
There were some days where the smoke was so bad we couldn’t see the other side of the Back Bay. We prayed for rain and kept daily tabs on weather forecasts, forest fire updates, and conditions. A small fire sparked up near the Lost Lake Outpost (the flames got to within 50 ft of the cabin) but the province was there in under an hour to snuff it out with a firefighter crew and a water bomber. They also put out a few other spark-ups within 5 miles of Aikens throughout that time. This was noteworthy because all of their resources were tied up about 50 miles NW of us where three giant fires combined into an incredible inferno that burned over 500,000 hectares of forest. A huge thank you to the province and crews that kept us safe. It was a tough stretch of the season for us, but the skies finally opened up on August 10th and 3”+ of rain fell over the next 48 hours which dampened the forest enough to allow the resumption of our season.
By 9 am on August 12th, we had already greeted 4 planeloads of staff, guests, and family. We were back in business! At the time, we didn’t realize how busy the next 6 weeks would be. The effect of pushing back trip after trip because of border restrictions, health restrictions, and finally travel bans made it so that there were no holes in the bookings calendar. We extended our season an extra week in September to accommodate as many displaced groups as possible.
How to describe the busiest 6-week stretch we have ever had to finish a season after restrictions had wiped out 7 of the first 12 weeks of our summer? Well, it is nothing short of a miracle. It’s the kind of outcome that makes your eyes watery and helps you believe that karma is real and hard work truly does pay off. Busy outpost camps, boats zipping across the lake, a jovial vibe in the bait shop and around the dock every morning, a bustling main camp with multiple planes landing daily, full dining rooms on a nightly basis, hearing American accents again for the first time since 2019 (We Canadians don’t have accents, do we?), Big Molly’s Bar once again staking its claim as the best meeting place for everyone after a fun day on the lake, an army of extra staff and guides flying in and out constantly to help cater to everyone – this was truly the blitz that made our season.
In the end, we are extremely grateful to everyone for working together and helping us put on an unforgettable 2021 season. This year will be remembered as the most challenging one in the past 30 years. Despite that, everyone ensured that we could operate and provide the experiences and “joie de vivre” that has become our signature. So, thank you to each and every staff member, they all worked so diligently to provide an Aikens Experience that was incredible despite the circumstances. Thank you to Bluewater Aviation and their ace pilots who shuttled people and supplies all summer and kept us going through the shutdowns. Thank you to our volunteers who were so understanding when we had to cancel Molly Week for the 2nd year in a row – we will be back in spring 2022, so be ready! Thank you to the Canadian and Manitoban governments for the great programs put in place for the tourism industry and for the fire protection.
None of this happens, however, without our biggest supporters – our guests. Thank you to all our guests who traveled to see us from near and far. We know that logistics and travel requirements were different than in past years, so we are appreciative of the effort you made to make it to the dock. It appeared to all be worth it once you could kick your feet up in the boat and just enjoy the natural beauty all around you. To those that have to wait until 2022, a massive “thank you” for being so accommodating in rebooking your stay with us – we can’t wait to roll out the red carpet this upcoming season.
The past few summers have had their share of turbulence, but there is an immense optimism as we move into a post-pandemic era. The pent-up demand for travel is real. The stars shine brightest after the storm. We are so excited for this upcoming season and can't wait to see you at Aikens!
Thanks for being a part of this unbelievable chapter, and we can’t wait to write many more stories in this book with you all!