In 1975, a love of skiing and desire to be a ski bum brought Blair Craig to the small, snow-peak-encircled town of Fernie.
Now, 46 years later, he and his wife Lynn Muller have been honoured for their summer sport business, Canyon Raft Company. The couple were recognized at the Fernie Chamber of Commerce’s 2021 Business Excellence Awards with the Chamber ‘Legacy Award’.
“We were very honoured and touched by that award,” Craig said, adding that it was “a little bit unexpected.”
Many people have stopped them in the street to congratulate them, he said. They are very proud to have the recognition.
Their award-winning business was started in 1995, and today offers both whitewater rafting and scenic float excursions on the Elk and Bull Rivers as well as stand up paddle boarding.
Craig and Muller met in 1993, and both worked as river guides in Golden prior to launching their own company. Craig’s beginning in river sports started much earlier though. He began canoeing after his first winter working at the ski hill. That summer, he learned to build canoes out of fibreglass and wood. Then, he hit the waters.
The love of outdoor sports and the need to fill the void when there was no skiing in the summer kept Craig on the rivers.
“The white-water sports were a great summer pastime that could tide you over ‘till the next winter came,” he said.
He really took to the sport, becoming an avid canoer and kayaker. By the summer of 1978, he was building kayaks out of a garage in West Fernie. He was also working at the ski hill helping to build the first chairlift — there had only been t-bars prior to that time.
River sports were still in the early stages of becoming popularized then. It was likely in the 1960s when people began to kayak in the rivers seriously, he said.
“Back then… that was kind of the way to get into the white-water sport, was to build your own equipment, and away you go and try to learn… We just wanted to enjoy it for ourselves.”
When Craig and Muller began Canyon Raft Company in 1995, they had two rafts and a van. As business picked up, they added more rafts and started hiring some staff.
Their time spent river guiding in Golden taught them how good the waters could be for a rafting business.
“So, yeah, in ‘95 we just decided we should get going here, and see where it took us,” Craig said.
In 2021, business is “very good,” he said. July and August are their busiest months, as people are on holidays or travelling. They have had some “very successful summers” despite COVID-19, because river rafting is an outdoor activity. The pandemic affected them a bit, but through their busy months they have been able “to maintain the business strong.”
“Rafting has the natural advantage of frequent washing to keep us clean of COVID. The waves are splashing over us all the time, so that helped. People realized that it was a safe activity.”
Both Craig and Muller are originally from different parts of the country. Craig comes from Regina, and Muller from Toronto. But Craig likes to tell people that he’s been in Fernie long enough that the locals can’t remember whether or not he was born here.
“We love Fernie, and the energy that people bring to Fernie. You know, everybody wants to be here. And we’re just honoured to share the beauty of [the Elk River and Bull River] with people that come here for their vacations.”