Goulais tourist outfitter thriving despite pandemic

Despite repeated shutdowns due to the pandemic, and a slow start to the tourist season, the owners of a tourist outfitter near Sault Ste. Marie say business is booming - and that the pandemic may have actually helped their business.

The business is called "Forest The Canoe" and is the dream-come-true for co-owners Ryan Walker and Shana Shipperbottom. The couple moved from Southern Ontario in search of a more nature-based lifestyle.

"I went to Sault College for Adventure Recreation and Parks Technician, recently graduated and that's where we kind of wanted to fulfill our dreams of having a nature-based outfitting company," says Walker. "Getting people on the water, out on the trails, pretty much just anything outside."

Shipperbottom says the pair launched the business last November, and that it was a rough start due to the constantly evolving situation surrounding COVID-19.

"December 26th we were shutdown until about mid-February, and then we opened up again," says Shipperbottom. "We were able to do a few snowshoe tours in the winter. And then in April we were shutdown again until pretty much late-June we were able to fully operate again."

However, she says the shutdowns seemed to get more people interested in the outdoors.

"Everyone was looking to access nature more, so it actually seemed like a more opportune to launch (the business,) just because people wanted to explore Ontario and just have a different experience."

Walker says while many of their guests come from the Soo, there's been a lot of interest recently from outside the region.

"We really appreciated that and that's that community that we want to help service," says Walker. "But there's also a bunch of folks coming from the GTA area, people who have never been in a canoe before, never had s'mores before. So if we can check those two off on a tour, life goals are complete."

Walker and Shipperbottom say fall tourism numbers, especially visitors from Southern Ontario, have spiked. Being an all-season business, they're hoping for a busy winter as well.