What is it like to work at the outfitters?
During the summer of 2021, we invited Kevin Callan (AKA The Happy Camper) to head out on a road trip with us to several of our stores that provide rentals and outfitting Algonquin Park. This trip all the way around Algonquin Park gave us the opportunity to speak with several of our store managers about what it’s like to provide such memorable experiences for clients, how the Outfitters has changed in the last ten, twenty or even forty years and where they see things going in the next forty years.
Algonquin Outfitters 60th Anniversary Interviews
Kevin Callan heads out to interview a number of Algonquin Outfitters managers to help celebrate their 60th. anniversary. It’s a big road trip around the oldest park in Ontario to visit some iconic store locations for Algonquin Outfitters. As we speak with Gord Baker, Jerry Schmanda, Austin Bonvivere, Jake Piegon, Nate Smith and even Rich and Tanner Swift!
Algonquin Outfitters Key Staff
Founded in 1961, Algonquin Outfitters (AO) is a family-run chain of stores that has been growing and evolving over the past six decades. As the business has grown, so has the roster of key staff members. Here are some of the people on the AO team who work hard to make sure all the stores offer the best possible selection of products and top-notch customer service.
Andrea Waldron has been a full-time member of the Algonquin Outfitters team since 2008, serving initially as the warranty manager. Based at the Huntsville store, she now manages shipping, receiving and inventory. In that capacity, she’s one of the first to see all the new gear arriving each season, which is a fun part of her job!
She particularly enjoys canoeing in the fall, Andrea says, but she also loves winter activities such as building igloos. In fact, she and her husband are renowned for the igloos they built annually during Algonquin Park’s winter events.
As a winter-fun enthusiast, Andrea values good, warm socks! Smartwool, Icebreaker and Darn Tough make excellent socks and, she points out, have great warranties. She also likes the versatile Arcteryx Atom jacket as a stand-alone or layered piece. As well, she wouldn’t want to be without a headlamp for outdoor activities or, if the power goes out, for indoors too!
Andrea offers this canoeing tip: Take a small dry bag for essentials, whether you’re going out for a few hours or a multi-day trip, and attach it securely to a thwart or seat where it will be easily accessible. Even if you tip, vital items will be safe and dry – from car keys, phone, wallet, headlamp and pocket knife to first aid kit, fire starter and toilet paper.
Austin Bonvivere started working for Algonquin Outfitters in 2014 as a seasonal member of the Lake Opeongo store team, often driving the water taxi as well as assisting customers in the store. Now, he’s the store manager there and plays a vital role in the company, even though the Lake Opeongo location is only open seasonally.
Being able to work outdoors in Algonquin Park is one of the most enjoyable aspects of his job, Austin says. Early spring is his favourite time of year, particularly when he can slip away to do a little fishing!
Oboz boots would be Austin’s top pick for AO gear. However, he also notes, sunglasses are important tools for most daytime activities, just as reliable fire starters like waterproof matches are essential for camping.
His advice for new canoe-campers is this: “Know your limits and choose a route that is reasonable for your skill level.” Outfitters’ staff or someone familiar with the area where you want to go can provide some great insight on planning a route that is appropriate for you.
Bob Sutcliffe joined the Algonquin Outfitters team in 2003 as the Alpine ski manager and buyer, based at the Huntsville store. He has continued in the same position at the same place since then, although he’s also involved with events hosted by AO at other locations, such as local ski hills.
Since Bob is a “people person,” he particularly likes the part of his job that allows him to interact with others – both customers and staff. He also enjoys the fine art of matching people with products, which is the essence of sales.
Although snow sports dominate his work life, when it comes to picking a favourite seasonal activity, Bob says it’s a toss-up! He equally enjoys mountain biking or fat biking and Alpine skiing or cross-country skiing.
His favourite pieces of clothing from AO are all made by Arc’teryx, and he would not want to be without a Leatherman tool. For new canoe-campers going on an inaugural trip, he advises going only for one or two nights, and he says that a tent should be at the top of the list for essential items to take, as well as snacks like PowerBars!
Colin Bruce became the rental and outfitting manager at Algonquin Outfitters’ Oxtongue Lake location in 2015. He has continued in that full-time, year-round position since then. In this role, he oversees the transport of canoes from that base to points within Algonquin Park or elsewhere and back again – often delivering them himself. That’s important to note because one of the things he likes best about his job is the opportunity it affords to be in the fresh air!
He identifies winter as his favourite season, even though he doesn’t have as many work-related reasons to be outside. When it comes to picking a favourite piece of AO clothing, he’s hard-pressed to decide, but he does note that he wouldn’t be without a knife of some sort. And, of course, AO has a great selection of knives to choose from.
For rookie canoe-campers, Colin says it’s important to “go at your own pace.” He also points out that food is an essential element to carefully consider when planning a trip. The Oxtongue Lake store has a nice selection of packaged food that’s created specifically for camping – many of these items are also used in the AO outfitting trip packages.
Gord Baker began his career at Algonquin Outfitters in 1992, based at the Oxtongue Lake store. In those early days, he was one of the few full-time year-round employees and, even though he didn’t have an official title, one of the main components of his job was marketing. He still works at the same base but he’s now the company’s assistant general manager, and he still enjoys talking with enthusiastic customers about canoe tripping!
Gord finds it hard to pick a favourite season. He very much enjoys the fall, especially for canoeing, just for the day or for multi-day trips. However, winter is a close second because he loves to ski, and he’s happy to zoom down groomed slopes or bushwhack in the backcountry.
When he’s camping, Gord wouldn’t be without a good quality rain fly or tarp. He’ll also have a pocket knife with him almost anywhere he goes – there are many great options at AO. His favourite item of AO clothing would be the Arc’teryx Covert jacket.
Judy May began working at Algonquin Outfitters full time in 2001. Initially, she worked primarily in the reservation department at the Oxtongue Lake base but, before long, she relocated to the Huntsville store as the company’s bookkeeper. Throughout the different facets of her career, one thing that Judy has always enjoyed is answering the phone. “Each call is different,” she says, which is what makes it fun.
She likes summers best but is reluctant to identify a particular seasonal activity – there’s always something to enjoy during the summer in Muskoka! However, she is willing to name her favourite piece of AO clothing: the Arc’teryx Beta AR jacket.
Judy wouldn’t be without a small Buck knife, almost anywhere she goes, and she recommends taking a comfy camping chair when heading out on a camping trip. For those new to canoe-camping, she says it’s important to talk to an expert. To do that, you just need to call Algonquin Outfitters – you may get to talk to Judy herself! If she can’t answer your questions, she’ll direct you to someone who can.
Lindsay Cormier began her career at Algonquin Outfitters in 2012. She started working part time as a sales associate in Huntsville and, now, is the Bracebridge store manager and tech clothing buyer for the company.
Interacting with customers is one of the most enjoyable parts of her job, Lindsay says, but she also feels privileged to work with so many wonderful staff members. “Working at AO has allowed me to meet some of the greatest people I know,” she comments, adding that she has met some amazing customers whom she always looks forward to seeing.
Lindsay would pick the Arc’teryx Atom AR jacket and Blundstone boots as her favourite pieces of AO clothing. As well, she likes having a small pocket knife handy for routine, daily tasks, particularly at work and, of course, AO has many knives to choose from!
A knife definitely would go with her on a camping trip, as would a Jetboil stove. As far as she’s concerned, this lightweight stove is essential equipment and, Lindsay points out, it’s important to pack light when canoe-camping. First-time trippers may not think about the weight of their gear until they begin carrying it across a portage!
When Mark Sinnige began working for Algonquin Outfitters in 2004, he was based at Huntsville his title was the controller. In the intervening years, his title and base have remained the same, but his job has significantly changed. The scope of his work has evolved to include elements of strategic planning, operations, marketing, health and safety concerns and human resources management.
Mark regularly interacts with staff at every AO location and says he enjoys working with so many smart people who share a passion for the outdoors. Summer’s his favourite season at AO because it’s “go time,” he explains, when all the behind-the-scenes planning and preparation bears fruit.
Items available at AO that he would particularly recommend include the Marmot Quasar Nova jacket, Hestra gloves and a Spyderco Byrd knife. Mark considers an ENO hammock to be camping essential and advises that if you’re heading into the woods for the first time, you should be sure to make a list of what you’ll need before you start packing! He also encourages people to take pictures as reminders of the trip.
Nate Smith started working full time at Algonquin Outfitters in 2015. He’s always been based at the Huntsville location in the capacity of the store manager and buyer, but, he notes, he’s working on upgrading his title to “Crotchety Older Store Manager/Buyer.” That may take a few more years! Despite joking about being crotchety, the part of his job that Nate identifies as most enjoyable is helping people – both coworkers and customers.
He readily recommends Fjall Raven trousers as his top-pick for AO clothing and says he wouldn’t be without his Leatherman Sidekick knife. His favourite season is “Septummer,” since that’s the best time for paddling, as far as he’s concerned.
To him, a canoe is essential camping equipment; in other words, why would you go camping when you could go canoe-camping? For anyone planning a trip in Algonquin Park, Nate offers this triptych of advice: “Give yourself time to relax and enjoy it out there. No soap is safe to use in the lake. Leave your site how you would like to find it, and that includes the thunderbox.”
Randy Mitson initially joined Algonquin Outfitters in 2002 as a seasonal canoe trip guide. Before long, he also began working at the Huntsville store as part of the retail sales team and as the paddlesports buyer. His duties gradually shifted to marketing and, now, he’s the company’s marketing director. In this role, he particularly enjoys the opportunity to be creative and learn new things, as well as work with a variety of different people.
Randy says his favourite season is fall when he enjoys canoe-camping. If he’s on a canoe trip, he’ll usually have an MSR stove and Outback Oven, a hammock and a first-aid kit with him, but he’ll always have his Algonquin Outfitters canoe pack and camera! He also likes to have a headlamp handy, no matter where he is – “I have so many, they seem to be everywhere,” he says, estimating he probably owns about a dozen. Some of his favourite pieces of clothing are merino wool socks and Buffs, both of which he considers essential for any outdoor activity.
When offering advice to first-time canoe trippers, Randy notes that it’s important to play it safe. He suggests taking a friend who’s done such a trip before, consulting with experienced people or hiring an AO guide. As well, he points out, there are a lot of useful videos on the AO Youtube channel and elsewhere.
Rob Zonneveld worked part-time for Algonquin Outfitters in the Huntsville bike shop, 1998-99, and then moved to British Columbia. He soon returned to Huntsville and, in 2000, began working full time as the surf/snow/optic/watersports buyer. Now, he’s a senior buyer for the company and regional manager for several of the satellite stores; Bracebridge, Haliburton, Minden and Port Carling. Since some of those locations are only open seasonally, however, he’s based at the Huntsville store for the rest of the year.
Rob honestly likes every aspect of his job but, he notes, he particularly enjoys engaging with customers and helping them find what they need. He admits that, over the years, he’s found a lot of things he needs at AO! When asked to pick a favourite piece of clothing, he says, “All of them!”
Similarly, he can’t pick a favourite season – there’s something to enjoy about any time of year, as far as Rob is concerned. For camping trips, though, he can easily identify an essential element; take a partner or friend along, he advises. He encourages anyone new to wilderness tripping to go with someone who has knowledge and experience. But, of course, you can also call AO to consult with an on-staff expert or hire a guide.