2020 year in review
Nov. 03, 2020
Back in the spring of 2020, we could not have predicted what this year-in-review was going to look like. Heck, we were never sure how the next 7 days were going to go. That said, we are thrilled to be writing to you about a 2020 season that started with so much uncertainty but ended up with much more positive than we could ever have anticipated, and filled with silver linings whenever we wanted to find them.
Let us start with the obvious… the entire world got turned upside down in mid-March when COVID swept over North America and put our season in serious jeopardy. It took two full months of self-isolation, countless Zoom and phone calls, and redrafting budget after budget to finally make the decision to try to open camp and give it a go. The restrictions in place in Manitoba in early May meant that we could only host Manitobans (the US border was closed, as were the provincial borders). Bars and restaurants were closed, and there were limits on gatherings, which would mean some creative solutions would be needed at Aikens. However, we had a couple of local groups that we were booked for mid-June, and they were motivated to get up to Aikens, so we found a way!
We flew up on May 28th to start opening things up… this is 3-4 weeks after ice-out, which is the time we would usually fly up to camp. So, we were nearly one month behind schedule. Instead of our usual opening crew, and traditional “Molly Week” volunteer week, we had to open with limited resources, so it was just the Turenne and Trudel families for two full weeks. The work was fun, and the kids helped out as much as they could – especially when they found out that they could drive “the big quads” when we were unloading planes or moving supplies around camp!
There were plenty of silver linings when we look back on the opportunity those two weeks provided for us to be in camp alone. It won’t be something that we are likely to be able to do again, so we took advantage when we could afford a bit of time away from the tools… we took the kids fishing on many evenings, spent some time at Lost Lake, went to Bonaventure, and created some lasting memories with everyone. One of the best was watching the kids in their own boat (aka The Chalupa), and witnessing Annika land the first trophy fish of the year with the help of her siblings, a 28.5” walleye caught in the Honeyhole!
Relief showed up on June 11th in the form of 17 staff members (we would eventually add 3 more to the crew as things got busier). They were so excited to have a chance to come up this summer and earn a regular paycheck… something that had seemed like a distant hope only a month prior. We were beyond thrilled to be able to offer that work! But we had to get going quickly… We only had a couple of days left to get the final prep done before the first guests on the 15th! The arrival of the staff was a welcome sight for us all: Watching the quad zip around picking up and delivering boxes of supplies to every cabin, hearing the lawnmowers chew up a springtime’s worth of leaves and grass, counting the growing number of boats as the guide dock said hello to all of its red occupants one-by-one, smelling the delicious aromas emanating from the busy kitchen, and most importantly enjoying the sounds of laughter, seeing the smiles, and enjoying the energy and enthusiasm for which the Aikens staff is best known. We were actually doing this… 2020 at Aikens was happening!!!
It all became worth it the second those first guests arrived – what incredible smiles! You have never seen a happier population than everyone in the “Aikens bubble” in 2020. Guests, staff, the two dogs… everyone was quite relieved to have the opportunity to be at Aikens enjoying Mother Nature at her finest! A true blessing for us all, and it was a vibe that carried on throughout the entire summer.
As we got started with guests in camp, there was always that concern that with a sneaky hitchhiker in the form of an unwanted virus, this could all go away so quickly. Julie and Janelle stayed on top of all the latest updates from the provincial health minister… watching Dr. Roussin’s (MB Chief Medical Officer) briefings became part of the daily routine. New protocols and directives were put in place whenever needed at Aikens. These included small things like not having an ice scoop to fill coolers (instead ice was pre-bagged), to obvious things like the proper spacing of the dining room tables, to different things like “bumping elbows” during our dock greeting instead of the more traditional handshakes and hugs, to mandated things like wearing a mask in and around all aircraft. Julie also sent out COVID pre-screening questionnaires for all our guests to fill out prior to arrival, which they did most obligingly. Thankfully, we were able to navigate a full season without ever having COVID enter our quaint little Aikens bubble.
As guests started arriving at Aikens in mid-June, the restrictions did ease a bit. Dining rooms and bars could reopen (which was huge news for us because that was much easier than the alternatives we had been working on!!), and the Western provinces could now travel to Manitoba. We did have one of our favorite groups from Saskatchewan (they wouldn't miss it for anything so when the border to SK opened, they were the first ones over!), and a few other groups with members from out-of-province. But in the end, it was the support of Manitobans that was so remarkable!
There was also something new arriving at Aikens in 2020… Bluewater Aviation added a Cessna Caravan Amphib plane to its fleet (up to 8 passengers). We called it the “Sky Limo”, as it is a luxury shuttle to move people in and out of Aikens. Sleek and ultra-fast, hopefully you will all get the chance to catch a ride in a future season!
There were a lot of times at Aikens where we were busy, and then we would have a few days break before the next wave of customers was due to arrive. This allowed us to do a lot of projects and to beautify the lodge (we have a whole other article dedicated to this topic – story will be published soon) It also allowed the staff to bond on a level that they normally can’t permit themselves to when we are busy 24/7. Lots of beach days, fishing derbies, nature hikes, board games, campfires, and laughs! We truly admire the staff’s ability to work hard and play hard. They develop friendships and connections that last a lifetime. It was a lot of fun to see it on display more than ever in 2020.
We want to send out a HUGE SHOUTOUT to all our Manitoba guests that supported us this summer. The Big Guy, Gerry Turenne, had a great saying that we kept repeating in our heads over and over this spring… “Take the step, and the bridge will appear”. We flew up to the lodge with only a small number of trips booked by Manitobans to start but ended up booking more than 5x that number by the end of the season! We are SO grateful to all our Manitoba guests. We had one customer, Nick Leitch, who booked three separate trips to Aikens in 2020! We had many more that did two trips each. And we had a lot of new groups of Manitobans that were either looking to explore their own province and/or support local business. We are so thankful they decided that 2020 was the year to finally try that fly-in trip they had always thought about. We made so many new friends, and by the sounds of it they will all be back in 2021, and 2022, and well, you know how it goes once you have been to Aikens once!
We also want to send out another HUGE SHOUTOUT to all our guests that could not travel to see us this summer. Travel restrictions prevented the great majority of booked groups from coming up to Aikens this summer. Those phone calls were tough at the start when the US/Canada border kept extending the closure, but it became apparent in all these conversations that our guests were more concerned for us on a personal level than they were about their trips. We love you guys! We can’t express how much our “Aikens Family” means to us, and our guests make up a significant part of that family. It was extremely heart-warming to chat with everyone who offered encouragement and support as we rescheduled hundreds and hundreds of trips from 2020 into 2021. We promise that the red carpet is going to be rolled out once everyone can make it back to Aikens Lake… we cannot wait to see everyone again!
In the end, we are extremely grateful to everyone (aka the “Aikens Family”) for working together and helping us put on the 2020 season. This year will be remembered fondly for the simple fact that despite the biggest challenges we, and the tourism industry in general, have ever faced, everyone came together to make sure that we could operate and provide the experiences that have become our signature. So, thank you to our local guests who were able to book and visit in record numbers. Thank you to all our wonderful guests in the USA, Eastern Canada, and in the prairies that were so accommodating in rebooking their stay with us in 2021. 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. Thank you to our volunteers who were so understanding when we had to cancel Molly Week – we will be back in spring 2021 so be ready! Thank you to the Canadian and Manitoban governments for the great programs put in place that truly allowed us to open and operate in 2020. Thank you to our families and friends who took care of the kids for us when we had to be out working to put things together in a hurry once the decision was made to open camp. They say it takes a village – well for us it takes the “Aikens Family”… Thanks for being a part of this chapter, and we can’t wait to write many more stories in this book with you all!