For over two decades our father, founder and craftsman, has been servicing the Northwest Territories of Canada. During the early and mid-century there had always been an abundance of toboggan makers. But in the past 40 years we have become one of the last, which means we have become very critical partners to those who still live on the land hunting, trapping, and transporting throughout one of the most remote regions of North America.
We have had limited ability in our growth years to invest in traveling halfway across the continent to this world of our customers. Given the current state of our company, we felt it was time we travel to meet our customers and experience their lifestyles. Dad didn't make the trip, but Jackson and I set out on the adventure late summer 2016. We have been working in the shop since we were kids, and for the past decade we have been helping on the business side of toboggan making. 2016 marks a year of the continued tradition of our family business, and some new beginnings as we get more involved to help ensure Northern Toboggan Company lives to serve people on the land for many decades to come.
The first leg of the journey was a drive across the Canadian border to Winnipeg. We flew from there to Calgary and then set out for the hub of the Northwest Territories, Yellowknife. The excitement we felt is comparable to preparing for that very first deer camp. After observing and hearing of the tradition for most our lives, it was finally our turn to go on the land and experience it all. On this adventure we were going to meet many of the people we have heard so much about over the years, and experience some of their world first hand. After 24 hours of travel we heard the captain tell us to take our seats and fasten our seat belts; through the clouds we began to see a massive body of water, peppered with rocky and coniferous covered islands. It was northern Great Slave Lake in all its glory, comparing in size to one of the Great Lakes in the States.
Out of the clouds and into Yellowknife… We landed in a small but up-to-date airport and were immediately greeted with a massive polar bear and seal mount towering over the baggage claim carousal. We hitched a ride on the shuttle to The Explorer Hotel, where we dropped our bags and set out to meet our customer at Polar Tech Recreation. Polar Tech has been supplying traditional wooden “oak board” toboggans to the area for years. Though we had planned our trip for months it was clearly the custom to check in the day of meeting, so we called prior to heading out to confirm they were expecting us. It turned out to be a bit more of a walk than anticipated, but after a few miles we arrived. We were welcomed warmly by our customer and spent a couple of hours getting the tour. We learned more of their business model, and how they service not just the Yellowknife area, but much of the northern communities, many of which can only make it down during the ice road season. It was a brief first meeting in retrospect, but it certainly illuminated much that can never be understood from afar.
Over the next couple of days we took in some local culture and spent more time with our customer as we uncovered new product development opportunities that could help us help them better service their customers. But the most impactful part of the trip was to get a better feel for the heritage, history and culture of the area. All of this is critical to understanding the worlds of our partners, and most importantly, building trust. We care enough to come, learn of their world, and learn how we can better serve.
Some fun facts about Yellowknife:
- It is the largest community and only official city in the entire Northwest Territories (NWT).
- First "founded" as a Westernized city in the early 1900's due to gold
- The NWT is twice the size of Texas, but with only 43,000~ people. About half of this population resides in Yellowknife.
- While there is less gold these days, it is still the hub for mining (largely diamonds), industry, transportation, communications, education, health, tourism, commerce, and government activity in the territory.
- From October to March it is one of the world's premier destinations to observe Aurora Borealis (aka… Northern Lights).
Embracing the 20 hours of sunlight only broken up by a few hours of dusk, we took in as much we could eating fresh lake trout and white fish from Great Slave Lake, exploring Old Town, sparking conversations with fellow travelers and locals, and of course taking breaks to work on our Northern Toboggan Co planning given this was a "business trip"! Having some time without customers, we took the time to use the environment to fuel our ideas. Learning by experience of the lifestyles of people on the land is inspiring. How do we continue to learn of this world? How can we continue to support?
There is something spiritually awakening about travel. It is almost like our ideas are a reward that comes from investing time. After our first of couple days, we were overflowing with excitement for this new chapter -- to grow our relationships, support these incredible lifestyles, and continue our story of enabling people to thrive on the land…