With the new gondola, Squamish is now reaching for the stars – and the local business community recognized the achievement by rewarding its team with two major awards last week.
The Sea to Sky Gondola, which began running 11 months ago, won Innovator of the Year at the Squamish Chamber of Commerce annual awards night at the Living Room restaurant April 22, and one of its three founding partners, Trevor Dunn, was named Business Person of the Year.
The other major award winner was Citizen of the Year Ron Anderson, who could not attend the ceremony as he was recovering from his 16th round of chemotherapy in a tough battle against cancer. Anderson said he was shocked and happy to be chosen for the honour.
Citizen of the Year
Ron Anderson came to Squamish as president and CEO of Squamish Terminals 26 years ago and never looked back.
“I was recruited to work here and thought it would be a wonderful place to live,” he recalled in an interview with The Squamish Chief. Anderson and his wife, Debbie, had a three-year-old daughter at the time; their son was born a year later.
“Both of them were raised in Squamish and had a fantastic life. Squamish is a wonderful place for children… all the sports, all the activities.”
His job was busy, but Anderson soon began volunteering. He served 22 years with the chamber of commerce, including four terms as president, and 17 years with the West Coast Railway Association including twice as chairperson. He has also served for a time as president of the Rotary Club of Squamish and as chairman of the Corridor Mayors’ Committee, which was successful in getting major improvements to the Sea to Sky Highway.
He enjoyed volunteer work and acknowledged it was possible only because of the support he received from his wife and work colleagues.
Anderson, 62, retired Nov. 1, 2014, after several months of medical leave. He has been battling colorectal cancer that has progressed to his liver and has gone through 16 rounds of chemotherapy.
The chemo, which he receives every two weeks, “put me down for a few days,” and that’s why he couldn’t be at the awards ceremony. “But I am not completely immobile,” he said. “I am still fairly active.”
He was thrilled to hear that he had been named Citizen of the Year. “I really appreciated that…. I was shocked and happy at the same time.”
“It is time that Ron is recognized for his dedication, experience, integrity, professionalism and overall leadership in everything he does,” Squamish Terminals’ Kim Stegeman-Lowe said in the nomination.
Anderson praised his former colleagues at the Terminals for their actions after a dock ignited in flames on April 16. “I was devastated to understand it had happened. I know they had followed a very tight protocol and made sure no one was injured, which was a huge relief…. They handled it very well.”
He also praised Squamish people for their passion and said although issues such as the proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant create diverse opinions, “I find people can be quite civilized in their discussions. They can still continue to be nice to each other, and I hope that will continue. LNG… there are always little things like that…. If it wasn’t LNG, it would be something else.”
Business Person of the Year
Sea to Sky Gondola: Innovation Award
The dream has come true for managing partner Trevor Dunn and his team at the Sea to Sky Gondola, which was launched in May 2014.
“It has been a really exciting year for us to get off the ground and get started,” he reflected after receiving two major chamber of commerce awards. “We wanted a positive impact of the project. A lot of those predictions came true. It’s neat to see. The community of Squamish deserves credit for moving the project forward.”
As a result of the $22-million gondola, which was again busy this past weekend with visitors from around the world, hotel occupancy rates here are higher, retail spending in town is up and jobs have been created, Dunn said. “But even more than that, to see the profile of Squamish be elevated on the world stage is probably a bigger impact.”
Squamish was chosen for the New York Times’ top 52 places to see in the world for 2015. The writer specifically mentioned the gondola as a draw.
“It’s great to see that Squamish is getting the profile it deserves,” said Dunn.
He is one of three founding partners, along with Dave Greenfield and Michael Hutchison. Dunn and Greenfield hiked the mountains for years to find the right spot to locate the gondola, the summit lodge and the trails, which offer spectacular views of Howe Sound and surrounding mountains.
The gondola has been popular with people visiting the area, he said. “We were creating an outdoor experience that everyone can do, to appeal to more people.”
As the summer season begins May 1, the gondola management projects visitor numbers will be up 50 per cent this year.
Construction is currently underway to create a new plaza area near the Summit Lodge. Dunn said this summer, a food trailer will offer new food options, in addition to the cafeteria-style food during the day and table-service dining at night.
The gondola is also expanding its trails and connecting with local schools for a junior ranger and junior engineering programs.
Dunn started out as a mechanical engineer and is humbled to be Business Person of the Year in Squamish. “There are people in this community who have really built it, Owen Carney, Bob Fast and Bill McNeney. To be honoured by an organization that has honoured those people is humbling. It’s a privilege to be considered in that group.”
He added, “It wouldn’t have happened without the team at the gondola. They work hard to make it a world-class tourism destination.”
Nesters: Service Excellence, large Business
Manager Sean Daly was surprised Nesters Squamish won this award, as the grocery store had already received a chamber award in 2011. “I thought it would be a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so I was shocked,” Daly told The Squamish Chief.
But Nesters was selected this year for helping local families during times of crisis. One family had a house fire, while the other suffered loss from a tragic vehicle accident.
“We just helped rally the community to give them a place to donate things and also donated food to the families,” Daly said. “We have done it before… We are just trying to help out people in need. Those families were really in need, so we jumped on board.”
Daly, who has been at Nesters almost 10 years, said the award reflects his staff. “It’s not really a Sean Daly award. It’s a Nesters staff and customer service award. It’s won by all the staff. They just make me look good.”
The grocery store staff appreciates the customers, he said. “Squamish is a great place to be doing business. A lot of great customers.”
Canadian Outback Rafting: Excellence, Small Business
Partner and manager Graham Young of Canadian Outback Rafting says he’s honoured and humbled by the small business service excellence award from the chamber.
“It is such a great group of businesses in Squamish, and Squamish is growing into this whole new entity, so it was humbling to be considered for it,” Young said.
The rafting company is rated number one for this region on the influential Trip Advisor website, he said. The rating comes from reviews.
“We are focusing on that customer experience,” he said. “We are working hard to make sure every customer is treated well.”
Canadian Outback Rafting offers half-day tours on the Cheakamus River, a full dayon the Elaho-Squamish River, and a two-day rafting trip that includes camping on a river island with glacier views and a three-course meal prepared onsite. “We are trying to give that B.C. coastal experience.”
The company is also partnering with other businesses in the area as it grows to offer tourists package options to stay in Squamish longer, Young said.
“I am so happy,” he said of the award. “This is my first year as co-owner of the business. I am so excited to be in business in Squamish. There is so much potential here… The energy that is coming into this town is amazing.”
Squamish Food Bank: Non-Profit Service Excellence Award
At the Squamish Food Bank, the service excellence award comes at a time of growth and higher demand.
Coordinator Christina Rupp said she is “thrilled that our work has been recognized. We have a team of extremely dedicated volunteers who put in many hours in order for us to provide a service that continues to grow in this town. They too appreciate the recognition.”
Demand for food is increasing, she noted. “The continual increase in food prices, rent and other living expenses makes it very difficult for people to make ends meet. Seniors are unable to stretch their pensions. Those on minimum wage are unable to pay rent and bills and have enough left over for food.”
At its new location, the food bank aims to increase its fundraising efforts and ensure they are reaching those who need help. The food bank welcomes donations, which can be made online at squamishfoodbank.com or by mail to PO Box 207, Garibaldi Highlands, B.C. V0N 1T0. Food donations are also welcome, especially canned fish and meat, vegetables (fresh or canned), beans and pasta sauce; and diapers are also needed.
Michelle Neilson: Arts & Culture Award
Award winner Michelle Neilson is passionate about advancing the arts in Squamish. She’s the new chair of the Squamish Arts Council – a position she moved into this week – and in that role she is a key player in Squamish Wind Festival organized by the council.
“Why I am crazy enough to get involved at this level with the arts council is I want to help move the conversation forward about having an arts centre in Squamish,” Neilson said. The group is pulling together users who need space for rehearsal, storage and creating, she said. “The Pavilion Park little house isn’t cutting it at all.”
She is optimistic the arts council will be able to push forward. “We have a solid team… now we just have to get into action. We have to kickstart things in Squamish.”
Neilson, who has been volunteering in Squamish since 2006, is the owner of McLean Meats.
After consulting user groups about the arts centre, the council will reach out to the larger community with information sessions and “a road show to kickstart this conversation” beginning in June, she said.
Be Clean Naturally: Green Award
Kirsten French of Be Clean Naturally received the chamber’s Green Award for being eco-friendly.
The natural soap manufacturer, which opened a shop on Cleveland Avenue last fall, sells soaps “naked” without packaging and also refills bottles.
“We are working hard to keep the landfills not so full. Let’s reuse stuff instead of recycling it,” she said.
The company also sells other local brands that choose ingredients that do not harm local waterways, French said.
It’s a busy time at Be Clean Naturally, which has its first major international contract and will ship large quantities of soap to Hong Kong, she said.
Locally, Be Clean also provides handsoap for local businesses and offers a bottle exchange program, which keeps costs down and makes for a smaller footprint, she said.
Residents of Squamish have embraced the business, French said. “We have had really great support from our community,” she said, ending the interview so she could serve the customers who had arrived in the shop.
Businesses recognized for 40+ years:
• The Britannia Mine Museum
• John Hunter Co.
• Squamish Mills Ltd.
• Whittaker Equipment Ltd.
• Alta Lake Electric Ltd.
• Squamish Heating & Sheet Metal Work Ltd.
• Carney’s Waste Systems
• L&A Equipment Ltd
• Diamond Head Motors
• Bryan’s Auto Body
• Squamish Terminals
• Cardinal Concrete Ltd.
• Race & Company LLP
• Easter Seals Camp Squamish
• Diamond Head Yamaha
• Harusch Steel Fabricators
• Garibaldi Graphics Ltd.
• Alpine Paving Ltd.
• Duro Construction
• Squamish Marine Services
• Duncan Auto Body
• Bank of Nova Scotia
• Royal Bank
• Save on Foods
• BC Telus
• Squamish Valley Golf & Country Club
• Squamish Credit Union
• Bank of Montreal
• Cheakamus Centre