It was one of those picture-perfect August days: warm with a feather-light breeze. The sun was lighting up a large white tent that stood in contrast to the surrounding emerald field. It was a big field, one that our team had scouted out specially for this event. We liked that it was outside Mount Tremblant proper because it was a quiet escape from the hustle and bustle of Quebec’s most popular resort town… although the quiet didn’t last long.
We had planned, after all, as Canadian a team event as you could possibly imagine.
Our client, Loblaw, had asked us to create something unique to celebrate their Canadian roots. The event was to be a positive reminder of the importance of being a homegrown corporation, particularly in light of the growing influx of retailers from beyond our borders.
That’s when we came up with the theme, Coureurs Des Bois. A literal translation for Coureurs Des Bois is runner of the woods, but a more accurate definition would be unlicensed fur traders from New France (circa the mid-1600s).
Our proposed Coureurs Des Bois would be an affordable, one-day event that would take place in the great outdoors; and through a series of Canadian-inspired activities and cuisine, it would encourage a nationalist pride in Loblaw and in each other.
“When we presented the idea to our clients, they were very enthusiastic,” says Terry, our Executive VP, who was one of several Meridican team members that brainstormed the high-energy–some may say, zany–activities. “No one had ever done anything like this before.”
And no wonder. First, 240 participants, made up of head office personnel and store managers, had to look the part. Each person was given a sash, similar to those worn by the Coureurs Des Bois. The sashes were in multiple colours, each one representing a different team.
Next: the games begun. In addition to an archery competition (with archers on hand to provide initial instruction) and a snowshoe relay race–that’s right, in summer, on grass–the all-out Canadiana extravaganza also included:
1. MATCHLESS FIRE. The goal: build a roaring fire without matches with flames tall enough to burn through a rope 3 ft. high. For those who didn’t know how to start a fire without a match, our very own Meridican team members stepped in to assist. (Yup. In addition to our many other talents, we can also build you a mean fire without using a single match!)
2. PORTAGE. In this version, participants were instructed to empty a canoe overflowing with stuff (random stuff), then carry the canoe approximately 100 yards through a windy forest maze (with lots of tight corners) and back to the starting point where they proceeded to fill it up again with the supplies they had originally emptied.
3. CROSSCUT SAW COMPETITION. You know this type of saw. It’s the one with two handles on opposite ends and a long, toothy blade in between. It’s a two-person pull-pull job that takes practice and precision, which is why we hired real-life lumberjacks to instruct each team. The team who managed to muscle through the wood first, won.
4. BARE-HANDED FISHING. One brave team member was charged with filleting and preparing 10 rainbow trout, but first they had to catch the slippery characters in a bathtub-sized vat filled with 3 ft. of water and 300 trout–sans fishing rod. “It wasn’t as difficult as it sounds,” Terry reasons, “there was a butcher or a grocer on every team.”
Then, all too soon, the setting sun signalled the end of the games and the beginning of the evening finale. Inside the big tent participants mingled at the bar in period finery: royal monarchy regalia, early Canadian settler clothing and, of course, Coureurs Des Bois outfits. They sat down to a trout dinner–the very same rainbow trout they had caught and filleted earlier in the day–prepared by the chefs from the Fairmont hotel who cooked all the courses that evening. It was the crowning glory to a day of joy and celebration, and an important reminder that there is power and pride in being uniquely Canadian.