After weeks of speculation, on Jan. 4 Brewster Travel Canada announced it acquired Maligne Tours Ltd.
The terms of the deal were not made public, but the sale gives Brewster a major foothold in Jasper and adds to the company’s existing attractions in the Rocky Mountain National Parks, including the Glacier Adventure on the Athabasca Glacier, the Glacier Skywalk, the Banff Gondola and the Banff Lake Cruise.
“The entire Brewster team is very excited to add this iconic and successful business to our portfolio of unique and family-friendly experiences in Jasper National Park,” wrote Dave McKenna, president of Brewster Travel Canada, in a press release.
“We look forward to opening in the spring of 2016 and working with the existing staff and the experts at Parks Canada to ensure Maligne Lake’s culture and heritage is preserved for future generations of visitors to enjoy.”
Representatives from Maligne Tours did not respond for comment and Gerry Levasseur, the former owner of Maligne Tours, was unavailable.
The deal was completed by Brewster’s parent company, Viad Corp Travel and Recreation Group, a publicly traded company that owns travel and recreation groups in iconic destinations throughout North America.
“Maligne Tours is a world-class asset and a natural fit with our existing Jasper and Banff-based businesses, offering cross-selling opportunities and operational synergies in a geography and service line that we know well,” wrote Steve Moster, Viad’s president and CEO, in a press release.
Maligne Tours currently owns seven tour boats and operates from May to October. Last year, the company welcomed 75,000 guests.
The business also includes a marina and day lodge, as well as retail services, but offers no overnight accommodation.
In 2013, Maligne Tours put forward a proposal to build a 66-room luxury hotel and 15 tent cabins.
After a public consultation period, Parks rejected the company’s proposal for a hotel, but it approved Maligne Tours’ plans to build 15 tent cabins.
Environmental groups, including the Jasper Environmental Association (JEA) and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), decried Parks’ approval, arguing that allowing overnight accommodation at the lake contravenes Jasper’s 2010 management plan, which prohibits the release of new land for overnight commercial accommodations outside of the Jasper townsite.
As a result, in August 2014, Ecojustice, on behalf of CPAWS and JEA, filed a court challenge against Parks in an attempt to quash the decision.
The judicial review went before a federal court judge in Edmonton Oct. 28, 2015. The case is still pending.
“Brewster Travel Canada as the new owners of Maligne Tours Ltd. will have to abide by the decision of the court when it is released,” said Alison Ronson, executive director for CPAWS Northern Alberta.
“We hope that Brewster Travel Canada will recognize the ecological importance of Maligne Lake and the Maligne Valley and will operate the day use area there with respect for the grizzly bear, moose, and caribou that reside in the valley.”
Brewster also acknowledged the sensitive nature of the issue on its website.
“Brewster is aware of approved activities for the area and will work with Jasper residents, local business leaders, and Parks Canada to ensure any future development is appropriate and fits a vision of environmental sustainability.”
The company stated it has no plans to change business operations and still intends to open in the spring of 2016. It also stated that Pat Crowley, who has worked for the company for over 40 years, will remain the general manager, and there are no anticipated staff changes.
According to Brewster’s website, Parks approved its acquisition of the lease.
“As part of Brewster’s ongoing commitment to safeguarding the natural beauty in our national parks, we exercised a highly consultative process with Parks Canada as we worked through their requirements to transfer the leasehold agreements.”
Brewster currently owns two hotels in Banff, including Mount Royal Hotel and Banff International Hotel, as well as a boutique hotel located at the Athabasca Glacier.
Paul Clarke for the Fitzhugh