When Covid-19 forced the closure of the NWT’s borders, tourism took a huge hit. A lot of family-owned businesses have either closed down temporally or even permanently.
Not so for Only Way Outfitting owner Jimmy Kalinek, who says he always had the realization that tourism could go dry in the back of his head and has been able to re-purpose his business to assist with scientific research.
“It’s just about other finding ways to keep busy and having a backup plan in case something did happen,” he said. ” That was my thought, ‘What if one day, tourism crashes? What else am I going to do?’. Going into tourism and big game hunting, I kept asking ‘What else can I offer that may work without tourism?’ I can’t just base my business on straight tourism because if tourism fails, what else am I going to do?
“I don’t like to fail.”
Normally taking tourists up and down the Mackenzie River on boat trips, showing them drum dance shows, wildlife and scenery, Kalinek noted having more than one way of bringing in a profit helped him adapt to the changing business environment.
During the normal tourism season, he normally guides tourists around the Beaufort Delta and during the off-season he keeps busy teaching traditional knowledge to youth. When he’s not doing either, he’s hunting and trapping himself to keep his skills polished.
“Usually in the summers I have tourist groups that I do programs with and other tourism outfitters get in contact with me,” he said. “In the spring we have game hunting and throughout the season I work with the schools on their on-the-land program, Close to half of my summer was usually tourism based and the other half was research based.
“In the winter I’m usually hunting and trapping for myself and my family. It’s something that I love to do. It’s why I’m in this business today, I love to share stories and my harvest. It was just the way I was brought up, it’s an important thing to pass on.”
What kept his ship afloat this year, however, was taking on more responsibilities with research conducted by Natural Resources Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which involved deploying and retrieving a number of scientific instruments to take readings on water temperature, turbidity, pH balance and other factors, as well as to record beluga whale sounds and determine where the whales were.
Kalinek said the operation ran smoothly in large part because of the strong communication between the parties involved. He anticipated he would be in business for years to come yet.
“When things don’t happen right, it’s usually a communication gap, but there was none so it worked out well,” he said. “We had a good crew and a good team up here, and everyone understood and had all the tools to get the job done.”
He expressed his thanks to his team for sticking it out and for a summer well-done and said it was good working with the Inuvialuit co-management board.
“They did a good job this summer, it was good working with them,” he said. “We make a great team and I’m looking forward to working with them again next year.”