With Alan Cranston

As told to Matt Prokopchuk, Photo by Shannon Lepere

Not many can say they’ve been employed by the same company for over half a century, but Alan Cranston is one of them. Cranston, whose name is synonymous with Thunder Bay’s Fresh Air business, officially retired earlier this spring, having started in 1970 working at The Cycle Shop (which would morph into Fresh Air Experience) as a high school student. He would continue in various management roles and be a fixture in the business’s community outreach. Cranston spoke with us about his career, a local partnership that’s very special to him, and what he’s looking forward to doing more of in retirement.


On his 52 years in the outdoor recreation business:

Everyone thinks that when you open a store to sell whatever—whether it’s bikes, skis, footwear, or any other type of retail stuff—that what you want to do, your whole goal in life, is to sell as much stuff as you can [and] make as much money. But right from the get-go, in 1970, we put a bike race on when all we sold was bikes. That was the first bike race in Thunder Bay. Quickly you realize, ‘Oh jeez, this is kinda cool,’ because all of a sudden all these people are looking for your shop to be part of their life—because biking was taking off and it was so cool, and all of a sudden here’s a shop that wants to do what you’re doing. Same thing happened when we did skis and camping and footwear. We got involved in that community […] and we did education stuff—lots of education. That was kind of my gig, doing all of those, and all the events. […] There was no reason for me to ever leave and go find another job because I had the dream job.


On a longstanding bike clinic with George Jeffrey Children’s Centre:

About 25 years ago, one of the [physiotherapists] approached me about putting on a bike clinic essentially just to try and get some of these kids that were probably able to ride a bike as long as there was some adaptive needs to the bikes. We said, ‘Sure, let’s do that.’ […] It’s a two-day thing. We’ve been doing it for 25 years now […] and all these kids are there—for some of them it’s the first time they’ve ever been on a bike, and there’s huge grins, lots of smiles. Sometimes parents will tear up a little bit because all of a sudden their son or daughter can get on something and propel themselves down through the parking lot at George Jeffrey’s, and the kids are beaming, parents are beaming and it’s just a very cool thing. [Cranston says this is an initiative he will continue to be a part of post-retirement].

On what he hopes to spend more time doing in retirement:

I’m going to spend a lot of time at camp this spring and summer. We bought a camp about five years ago and now [I] can go out and spend that peak time of the year, a lot of days out there. We’ve got a young golden puppy that’s eight months old right now and needs lots of training and I’m able to do that, just because I’m [now] free all day. So, if I go out, the dog comes with me. It’s awesome for the dog and I’m quite enjoying that. […] And I’ll continue doing volunteer stuff. So I’m quite happy to be retired, more or less, and just doing stuff that I want to do.

On what his favourite outdoor activity is:

Cross-country skiing—that and hiking. Thunder Bay is one of the three main centres for cross-country in Canada and we have such a strong ski community here just in terms of size, the expertise it carries, […] and high-level volunteers that’ll end up going to a World Cup or Nationals. Thunder Bay’s a special place.

On who he looks up to:

There’s so many—whether it’s athletes that have done amazing stuff, or community leaders that have done so much. I’d say Peter Crooks. Peter was the venue manager for the [Nordic World Ski Championships] when they were here and then he got hired on as the area manager at Kamview, and developed tonnes of stuff there. He’s a community-minded guy as well—retired now, still volunteering in the ski business and he just helps everyone out. If there were more people that were givers of their time, as opposed to takers, we would be so much better off.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.