OTours Transportation Drives Off Into the Sunset
Feb. 23, 2017
After a dozen years of transporting Aikens guests, having two of their children work summers at the lodge and building countless memories, Michelle Gervais and Roger Chamberland are retiring from OTours Transportation. The family-run tour company shuttled Aikens guests from Winnipeg Airport to our floatplane base in style, with genuine hospitality and friendly instincts always guiding their way.
“We did this for 12 years, and we enjoyed every minute of it,” Roger said. “We met some fascinating people, we got to know some excellent staff members, it was a great opportunity. We thoroughly enjoyed it––thanks to the Turenne family and everybody there.”
A long-time friendship with Turennes is what prompted the business partnership in the first place. Years ago, Michelle went to school with some of the Turennes. When Gerry Turenne pioneered Festival de Voyageur, Roger started volunteering there and Michelle then went to work for Gerry at Festival.
When the Turennes decided to make a go of it with Aikens Lake Wilderness Lodge, Roger and Michelle helped out as friends.
“We were involved with the family right from the outset,” Roger said. “Helping them at the lodge, building beds at the very beginning. Pit was just a youngen growing up at the time, so we saw him progress over the years.”
In 1997, while Michelle was on maternity leave from her full-time marketing job, she decided to launch OTours. They used a 15-passenger van and a number of rented buses to service group tours, especially casino and festival tours in the early days.
“Lately it’s more specialized,” Michelle said. “Transporting people to see polar bears up in Churchill, agriculture tours. We do a regular city tour, year-round, three times a week. A lot of airport meet-and-greets, bringing Boy Scouts up to Bissett, and of course, Aikens!”
“Michelle and Roger have been such great friends of our entire family for as long as I can remember,” Pit said. “It’s been fantastic working with them and we really appreciate the excellent service they’ve always provided Aikens and all our guests.”
Initially, Aikens was running its own transportation under Gerry and Lorraine, but the van would sit unused during the winter months so Gerry approached Michelle with a business proposition a dozen year ago. She bought the van and became the official transportation for Aikens Lake. The rest is history.
“One of the things that is quite interesting and makes driving so much fun is that Aikens has clients that have been coming there 25 or 30 years,” Roger said.
“It’s fun because you know what the guests like, we know they always buy a certain item, maybe a local jam or an iced tea when they’re in town, so we would have it in the van for them right when we picked them up,” Michelle said. “Aikens is a very family oriented experience so we’ve seen a lot of grandfather-father-grandson type groups that have been coming to the lodge for years, and it continues even after the grandfather passes away.”
For Michelle and Roger, Aikens is very much a family tradition as well. Their son, Justin, is returning to Aikens for his 4th consecutive year this summer to work on construction and projects with Grant. Meanwhile, their daughter, Réanne, worked six years at Aikens in every capacity from bartender to waitress to housekeeper.
The family has enjoyed countless experiences at Aikens, including many off-season fishing trips and memorable adventures with Michelle and Roger canoeing into Aikens. In the early days, Roger was part of a fishing club that Gerry started with a group of friends who fished Aikens in the fall––simultaneously giving them an opportunity at early season moose hunts.
“Gerry was in his element on those moose hunts,” Roger said. “He was an excellent hunter, he was so zoned in. Those are very fond memories.”
Last year, Roger and Michelle added a new memory to their Aikens collection by bringing some friends from Louisiana to experience Aikens for their first time. The Louisiana crew included an excellent Cajun chef, so Roger and Michelle worked with their friend to produce a one-of-a-kind, Cajun gumbo, complete with alligator, crawfish and Aikens Lake walleye!
“I was the sous chef,” Roger said. “We made a Cajun feast for the staff and guests, we cooked for about 50 people. It was great.”
Roger and Michelle are looking forward to continuing the friendships they’ve made through the years, while also enjoying retirement. When asked what they plan to do now that they’re retired, Michelle responded without hesitation.