Surrounded as she is by an inventory of 600 canoes and kayaks, one would think Pamela Robertson spends her summers on the water near her Waverley, Nova Scotia home.

She’d love to. But as vice president of Old Creel Canoe & Kayak Inc., she’s too busy. The Halifax-based company supplies 36 outlets and outfitting operations in Canada’s four Atlantic provinces-New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island.

“You’re working so hard from April through September,” she says, “you don’t have time to paddle yourself.”

The pleasant Canadian with short, black hair and rimless glasses earned a master’s degree in home economics at Washington State University in 1982.  Robertson returned to Pullman last fall for a little R&R and to visit with her thesis committee chair and mentor at WSU,
professor emeritus Gladys Jennings, now of Seattle. The two have stayed in touch over the past 20 years. “She continues to be my biggest supporter, and always makes a point to send me newspaper clippings, articles, or a card of congratulations,” Robertson says. The two have also managed to visit periodically in Pullman, Seattle, Boston, Halifax, and Las Vegas.

Some people may consider home economics to be a “non-significant major,” but Robertson doesn’t. “The life skills it gives you and the management skills are transferable to all sorts of careers,” she says. “It doesn’t matter if you are ordering food for a hospital with 600 patients, or planning a budget for kayaks for the next year, the skills are the same.”

Robertson previously worked as a community nutritionist with the Ministry of Health in British Columbia, and spent five years with a major pharmaceutical firm developing new markets in eastern Canada. In 1989 she founded Executive Plus Business Centre, 8,000 square feet of office space in Atlantic Canada’s largest industrial park. The space was divided into individual offices, furnished, and leased to national companies. She sold the business in May 2002.

“I met a lot of people and enjoyed the challenge, but it was time for a change,” she says.

Her climb up the ladder with Old Creel Canoe & Kayak has been rapid. Nearly four years ago, while still overseeing her own company, she volunteered to work weekends with the boat firm “just to have some fun and learn to kayak.” As her knowledge increased, she was hired to handle the accounting three days a week. The rest of her time was devoted to organizing kayak tours for customers and working in the retail shop. A year ago May, she became vice president.

Every week she organizes a paddle and fires off an e-mail message to 600 clients outlining a new adventure-a paddle to the Bay of Fundy, Mahone Bay, or an inland lake.

The company is the largest dealer of canoes and kayaks in Atlantic Canada, selling a wide variety of Canadian lines, including Boréal Design, Sun, Azul, Nova Craft, and Esquif as well as kayaks from Finland and England. The company also manufactures and distributes its own line of canoes, “Old Creel.”

Priced from $600 to $2,000 Canadian, the canoes come in lengths of 14 to 17 feet. The 16-footer is the most popular. They are made of a wide variety of materials, including fiberglass, kevlar, royalex, and cedar and canvas. Some canoes weigh as little as 36 pounds. Kayaks range in price from $400 to $5,000 Canadian, with the average sea kayak priced around $1,500. In a price-sensitive market, plastic kayaks are still the most popular in eastern Canada, but there is a growing interest in the lighter, faster, and ultimately more durable fiberglass and kevlar kayaks.

Kayakers are generally well educated, well spoken, “looking for something that is fun, and are nice people to deal with,” Robertson says. Typically, they are over 45 and “empty-nesters” with discretionary income. Potential buyers may test-paddle kayaks in front of the company shop located on the historic Shubenacadie Canal System.

President Bob Thorne launched Old Creel Canoe & Kayak 16 years ago. The avid fly fisherman was looking for something to do when he retired from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. From a backyard business, it has grown well beyond his expectations.

Robertson should know. “As busy as we are in the shop during the peak paddling season,” she says, ” I . . . enjoy spending time with our  customers, and it . . . give[s] me great pleasure to see them enjoying our boats.”

“…management skills are transferable to all sorts of careers.”
—Pamela Robertson