Sundance Lodges has been a labour of love for our family, one of those real life stories based on 'build it and they will come'. I was a high school teacher and Brian had a busy farm equipment dealership in Claresholm in the early 80s when he read a magazine article in Field and Stream on the ingenious design and history of the Plains Indian tipi. Something made him keep it, and in 1989 we bought our own tipi, Tipi Chief, painted it with the help of our kids in the backyard and set it up on a friend's ranch in the Porcupine Hills west of town with beds, blankets, and an old cast iron stove in the middle. Our kids, Ryan and Stacy, loved it. I admired the artistic design, Brian the practicality.
Brian was also farming at the time. One day, while on the tractor doing some seeding, he suddenly had this vision of a campground with all these beautiful tipis that families could rent and stay in - that was the beginning of a totally new chapter in our lives. Sundance Lodges was established in 1989.
Our focus would be 'comfortable camping' - giving those families without RVs or the money for expensive hotel rooms the opportunity to go camping for a reasonable price. For hotel travelers without their own camping supplies, we would also have these available for rent.
We decided there was only one location that was equal to the beauty of the tipis - the spectacular government recreation area in the mountains west of Calgary called Kananaskis. We found our piece of paradise by the Kananaskis River - mixed forest with a wide open area perfect for the main building. After several years of hard work, we were ready to start developing the site.
In late August, 1991, with chainsaw and survey plan in hand, Brian and his crew of one or two guys spent the winter clearing trees for the roads and campsites, living onsite in a trailer. In a few places he was able to use some clearings and part of an old logging road because we wanted to keep the landscape as natural as possible.
During the building phase, the kids and I stayed in Claresholm. I didn't know much about the accommodation business but I covered the essentials that winter including setting up our ability to take credit card payments, finding someone to sew covers for our rental bedding, hiring staff, designing and printing reservation cards and ordering giftware. In March, Brian and I picked up our 25 tipis. While he headed back to the mountains to continue developing the site, I organized crews of former high school students, as well as family, to help stake and paint all the tipis on the backyard lawn at home in Claresholm.
On June 15, 1992, with our kids, Ryan (11) and Stacy (9), and two staff, we opened Sundance Lodges. Ryan and Stacy worked here in the summers throughout school and university, making money for school and travel. At first they helped the older staff, soon they became staff themselves, and have continued lending a hand with construction, marketing, IT, web design and advice. It has truly been a 'family business'.
Families, youth and church groups loved the Tipis as well as the Trapper's Tents that we added a few years later. Our unique camping concept also proved appealing to unexpected markets such as international visitors, small tour groups and post-graduate educational institutions. Hosting 375 soldiers from Winnipeg's Princess Patricia's and the RCMP for 13 days during G8 in 2002 was one incredible experience for all of us. Over the years, our family has had the opportunity to meet interesting and wonderful people, local and international, as well as staff members, who have become great friends. There have been thousands of other visitors we haven't met personally but we thank them all for being part of our Sundance dream.
Amazing what one article in a magazine can do...
Sheryl and Brian Green