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National award for Grant
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, November 19, 2009
The Tourism Industry Association of Canada presented Ted Grant, owner of Simpson Air and Nahanni Mountain Lodge, with the Canadian Travel Press Lifetime Achievement Award at a ceremony in Saint John, N.B. on Nov. 3. Grant is the first resident of the territory to receive the award.
The award is given in recognition of a lifetime of work in the tourism industry, particularly for people who have been pioneers and innovators in pushing the industry forward, said Kevin Desjardins, the director of communications for the association.
Grant was given the award in part to recognize the work he's done to help open the North as a tourism destination, Desjardins said.
"Twenty to 25 years ago Ted was out there not only promoting his own business but also the North as a destination," said Desjardins.
Grant is a tourism operator but he's also worked with regional tourism associations and chambers of commerce to promote tourism in the North, he said.
The board of directors and members of the association make nominations for the award. The board makes the final decision on the recipient.
Grant said that receiving the award came as a surprise.
"I guess it's pretty special when all of your peers vote for you," he said.
Grant accepted the award at the association's black tie gala event.
"There was a standing ovation so it's kind of humbling in a way," said Grant.
He said he owes the award in part to the good pilots and office staff that his company has had who treat tourists right. Grant owns the longest-operating charter service in the Mackenzie Valley. Simpson Air 1981 Ltd. was originally formed as Arctic Air in the early 1960s. The company was bought and renamed Simpson Air in 1974 and then came up for sale again in 1981.
At the time Grant, who had a commercial pilot's license, was the corporal in charge of the RCMP detachment in Rae-Edzo (now Behchoko). His decision to buy the airline was influenced by his few months in Fort Simpson in 1976, when he made his first flight to the Nahanni with well-known pilot Dick Turner.
"I thought, 'This is an opportunity. I always wanted to fly,'" he said.
The purchase also fulfilled one of Grant's lifelong dreams from growing up in a farming are near Portage La Prairie, Man. These dreams included joining the RCMP, having an airplane, having a lodge and having a sailboat.
When he purchased Simpson Air in April 1981 it had three airplanes. At its peak in the early 1980's the company had 10 planes and 33 employees. The company had to downsize after the first pipeline was finished there, causing an economic downturn, and after land claims began, said Grant.
Now Simpson Air has five small planes. Grant said he hopes the economy will pick up again in the next few years.
Grant also achieved another goal in the North when he purchased some buildings and assets at Little Doctor Lake from Gus and Mary Kraus and formed Nahanni Mountain Lodge.
Since 1981, Grant said he's seen the tourism industry diversify. When he arrived in Fort Simpson there hadn't been a lot of advertising done about the Nahanni National Park Reserve. In the early 80's only 300 to 500 visitors went into the Nahanni each year, he said.
Grant started marketing and entering tourism shows in 1983. In 1984 he convinced four Nahanni outfitters to move their bases from Watson Lake, Yukon to Fort Simpson.
Grant credits the marketing and that move for the fact that visitor numbers into the Nahanni soon increased to between 1,200 to 1,400 per year.
The future of tourism in the Deh Cho, however, hinges on the region's highway infrastructure, said Grant.
"It's probably going to grow very slowly until such time as we have paved highways," he said.
To increase tourism the Liard Highway, Highway 7, and the remainder of the Mackenzie Highway, Highway 1 need to be chipsealed, said Grant.
He said that receiving the award also means something for tourism in the area.
"We're doing the right things I guess," he said.