Raven Enterprises
(Inuvik) Ltd.

Inuvik, Northwest Territories

Moira (Mo) Grant arrived in Canada from Scotland in 1972, planning to stay for six months. More than nineteen years later, Mo is a successful businesswoman in Inuvik, a community of 2,700 people located on the east channel of the Mackenzie River Delta. Raven Enterprises (Inuvik) Ltd is the company name under which she operates a newsstand and gift shop called Mac's News, a restaurant called Road's End Deli, and a boating tour company called Midnight Express Tours.
Through hard work, perseverance, and despite various setbacks, Mo has several successful businesses. With Mac's News, she offers a wide variety of items, many of which are not available elsewhere in Inuvik. For example, hers is the only shop to carry newspapers and to provide them on the same day that they are published. The deli is the only one in town and offers an alternative at lunchtime. Midnight Express Tours does have some competition, but Mo offers several unique trips, including tea and bannock at a local camp and a midnight champagne cruise. Her story begins when she came to Canada to visit in 1972.


Mo recalls how she came to Canada and ended up in Inuvik.
"A friend of mine and I planned to spend about six months in the United States and about six months in Canada. We ended up coming to Canada first and we never did go to the States. We intended to work as we went along, so we went to Prince Edward Island. The only job we could get was at the fish plant. It was hard work. We rented a cabin that cost us about $60 a week and we were making only $60 a week each. Then one of the ladies felt sorry for us and she gave us room and board for the summer.
"We saw just about all of eastern Canada and then we hitchhiked to Jasper and worked there for awhile. Then we went to Vancouver, but it was tough to get a job and find a place to stay. Then we saw an advertisement for cocktail waitresses in Hay River. We thought that it was just another part of Canada that we hadn't seen yet. So we went to Hay River and just hated it when we first got there. It was spring time and muddy.
"Since our employers had paid our way, we had to stay long enough to pay them back and then we planned to leave. But by the time we paid them back, a month had gone by and then we liked it a little bit more and had started to meet people. We ended up staying there for three years."

"Then we heard a magical word, 'Inuvik'. I think everybody talked about Inuvik in Hay River because it's at the other end of the Mackenzie River. I had a friend who had moved to Inuvik, so I decided to visit her on my way to Whitehorse. My first job in Inuvik was in the bar at the Mackenzie Hotel and I worked there for one week. That was enough of it because it was pretty rough and wild. Then I worked at another bar for a few years but I got tired of drunks and I didn't want to be a barmaid the rest of my life. So another friend and I bought a business.
"In 1979, we bought Mac's News, a pool hall, and the two-story building that housed the businesses. We formed two companies, one for the building and one for the store and the pool hall. We didn't have much money so we had to take out a bank loan. The person we bought the businesses from helped us a lot. He financed a portion of our purchase and gave us security at the bank so that the bank would give us the loan. Without his help, we probably couldn't have done it. However, it was a good investment because the store was successful from day one.
"We had a big building with virtually nothing in it except the store and the pool hall, so we leased some space out to a hairdresser and a newspaper office and made three or four apartments. Mac's News was about 2,400 square feet. I added a gift store, which took up about 800 square feet. The building was run down so we fixed it up with a grant for business improvement from the government, which made a real big difference. Then we formed another company for a delicatessen, a bakery, and a restaurant.
"We were putting in incredible hours but the partnership just wasn't working so we decided that we would split up the businesses in 1982. I kept Mac's News and the pool hall, which was operating under Raven Enterprises. I ended up closing the pool hall soon after so that I could concentrate on running the store.
"Then my landlord had problems and the bank foreclosed on him. The whole building was in receivership and I was the only tenant in there. So I made an offer to the bank and they accepted my offer on the land. But the actual signature wasn't on the bottom line. Then about two or three days after they accepted my offer, the building burned to the ground, in May 1987.
"I talked to my lawyer and he suggested that it would be better to say there was no deal rather than fight it. The bank probably thought the land was worth more without an old-broken down building on it, because they put it up for tender. I bid on it but my competition bid higher and he ended up with the land. He built a grocery store and is competing with me now."
Mo recalls her feelings after the fire."Lots of times after a period of hard work I had said in passing 'I wish this place would burn down'.

But when it did, the only thing that went through my mind was to get up and get going again. I've got regular customers in this town. One of the things they like is their magazines and their daily newspapers. There's a lot of loyalty and I had a lot of support from everybody in town when the fire happened. My only thought was to get something going for them.
"The same day of the fire, a local company offered to sell me a doublewide trailer. I went down and looked at it and decided it would be big enough for the time being. The question was where to put it. The Inuvialuit Development Corporation had a piece of land on the main street that they said I could use temporarily. They charged me very little for using it. I had my doors opens in two weeks after the fire with a lot of volunteer help.
"I operated Mac's News there for almost a year. Then I had to move and I ended up making a deal to buy six lots on the main road. After I made that deal, the space I'm currently leasing became available. Rather than commit myself to putting up a new building, which I didn't think I was quite ready to do, I ended up moving in there. I still have those lots and I might put up a building and move into it in the future."
Memories of the fire are still painful. Mo recalls, "I can never forget the fire. It was arson, but unfortunately nobody was caught. I got a phone call about 2:00 in the morning saying that there was a fire call at Mac's. I was there in two minutes and I thought I'd need the key to get in to find where the fire was but when I got to the store, there were flames and smoke coming out of the top story. It destroyed the whole building but it took about three or four hours to reach my part of the building. It was very sad. They were lucky to keep the fire away from the other buildings because it could have easily kept going."
Mo opened Road's End Deli in 1988. It is a restaurant located across the main street from Mac's News. Even though Mo puts in many hours with Mac's News, "I felt it would be good for this town to have a deli. I had a concept of what I wanted the deli to be and several interested partners. We started operations but the partnership broke down because my partners weren't prepared for the requirements of running a business. I was not prepared to close the doors so I ended up running the deli."
The first full summer of operations for Midnight Express Tours was in 1989. Mo recalls why she started the boat tours, "The tourists would come to Inuvik and there was very little for them to do. I had people almost begging to go out on the river in my little speedboat but I didn't really have the time to take them. I started the boat tours because it's something I really enjoy."


Mac's News
Mac's News is open seven days a week throughout the year. The selection of goods carried has changed over the years. Mo says, "When we first started, we didn't sell groceries. We had magazines, T-shirts and souvenirs. But now I carry fresh flowers and I have a gift selection. I've expanded into areas where there seemed to be a high demand. I used to get to the store at 8:30 a.m. or 9:00 a.m. and leave around midnight. My schedule hasn't changed much. I don't put in as much time, but I still put in a lot of hours." Generally, customers for Mac's News live in Inuvik, but newspapers are mailed regularly to the surrounding communities.
The suppliers for the goods sold in Mac's News are southern. Mo says, "I use Stanton's for potato chips and North Star for pop and chips. My flowers are shipped in from Edmonton once a week. I carry hundreds of magazines and I get three boxes of novels that come in once a week. Finally, I go to the gift show in Toronto every year in August to order for Christmas. I buy anything that's new, especially brass and wicker items."
With the magazines and novels, Mo says, "I give my buyer a volume for the magazines. He gets new magazines in and sends them. If I get too many of one kind then I ask him to cut back on it. We receive a selection of novels. A customer can place an order for a certain book and it takes about a week to receive it."
Stock for Mac's News and the deli is stored at a warehouse that Mo owns. It is close to both locations and Mo goes back and forth as required during the day. Mo explains, "I have a huge walk-in freezer that is full. Even though it takes time, I feel that it's better to have it out at the warehouse than to give up any retail space." There are three full-time staff for the year and some part-time. During the summer, there are four more full-time staff.
Mo does not do much advertising for Mac's News. She says, "I'll advertise when I have a sale but I haven't done a lot of advertising for Mac's. I feel most people know it by now." Mac's News is not subject to extensive regulation. Mo says, "There's fire and safety [regulations] and you need a business license."
Mo enjoys being a woman in business in the North. "I don't think I get treated any differently as a woman. I think that I might be patting my own back, but because I've worked really hard, I've gotten respect from many business people in town. People's help after the fire proved that there are a lot of people out there who care what happens to me. That made me feel good."
In reviewing her business philosophy, Mo states, "When I started I didn't know the first thing about business, so I was learning all the time. My attitude hasn't really changed very much. The challenge from one day is still a challenge everyday, but it has become more familiar.

Road's End Deli

As was mentioned, Mo and two partners started Road's End Deli at the beginning of 1988. One partner left shortly after the deli opened and Mo is in the process of buying out the other partner. The deli is also up for sale.

Mo says, "Our hours right now are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The people that are thinking of buying it over may add a dinner menu. We're closed on Sundays so that all staff get a day off. In the summer, we had three full-time staff and a few part-time. For the rest of the year, we've only got one full time person and a few part-time."
Most of the business comes from people off the street coming for lunch. They have few business accounts and cater for meetings. Mo says, "We'll get orders if someone has a open house. For example, CBC had an open house today. They ordered about eighteen dozen pastries for it. The government will also order bag lunches for business meetings."
Mo continues, "My supplier is the Grocery People out of Edmonton. We get most of our bake-off products from the Grocery People, since we don't bake from scratch. We order our produce from Stantons. Then we order cheese and meat from Vancouver; it comes in once a week."

Midnight Express Tours
Mo received government funding for the second time, to purchase boats in 1988. Her first full season began in July 1989. Mo says, "My first season went well. But the season is so short that it's going to take a few years to start making some money and paying of the boats."
Tours included trips to a local bush camp for tea and bannock, a day cruise to Tuktoyatuk (Tuk), a midnight champagne tour, and a cruise to Aklavik. Mo has three boats to make the boat tours. "I've got a little speed boat that will take six people. I have a cabin cruiser that will take eight people, and I have another boat that will take twelve people. I use the big one most often for the trip up to Tuk. I use the little one for the midnight champagne tours and the tea and bannock tours."
Mo recalls the first tourists of the season.
"Many of my first tourists this year were seniors from across Canada, who were involved with the Elder Hostel program. I took a couple of elders to Tuk and they just loved it. They hadn't been that far north before. They were about 80 years old. I took some of them on the midnight champagne tour. We went out about 10 o' clock at night and came back at 1:00 in the morning. They thought being out in the sun at midnight in July was the greatest thing.
"I did quite a few tea and bannock tours that I charged $35 or $45 for, depending on which boat we used. I went up to a local camp about nine miles away and had tea and bannock with some really good friends of mine. It's great. Both of them have great personalities. I had from two to six customers at one time. On some of the early trips I took only one person at a time. Even though by the time I pay for tea and bannock, I probably only break even with one person, at least I had one happy person. I take them and I don't really count my time. The way I look at it, it gets me out of the store.
"We had a trip to Tuk almost every week, priced at $250 a person. We picked Thursday for trips to Tuk and Tuesday for Aklavik. But we never had any trips to Aklavik. I think that if I hadn't specified Thursdays, and just said daily trips or on demand then I could have had a lot more trips to Tuk."

"It's a whole day's trip to go to Tuk. We leave at 8:00 in the morning and sometimes we get back at midnight. When the whales are in during July, I find that people don't want to go right into Tuk. They want to go out on the boat and look at the whales. I give them lunches from the deli, sandwiches and potato salad. I tied in with Western Arctic Air, so my tourists can go up to Tuk and back by boat; they can go up by boat and fly back, or vice versa. They can see it from the air or actually be right over the water."
Aklavik doesn't draw people like Tuk does because it's not on the Arctic Ocean. Most people only go on one tour and everybody picks Tuk. They can go dip their toe in the Arctic Ocean and go back home and tell everyone. The other tour I offered was the midnight champagne tour for $60 per person. I didn't have many of them but my customers really liked it. I barbecued caribou, musk ox and arctic char on the lake."
For advertising, Mo has a pamphlet, which describes the tours. "I sent them to the tourist bureaus at Dawson and Whitehorse in the Yukon and I sent them to Yellowknife. I also sent some to the town office for people who write in for information then they can get the pamphlet in on of the packages."
Mo states, "We get a lot of tourist traffic especially in July. We're getting more people coming to Inuvik because we have more for them to do. At one time they'd come and turn around and go right back, sometimes on the same day. They would come and ask, 'What's there to see? Where do we go?' I would feel terrible, because I couldn't think of anything. There's a lot more for them to do now."
Staff are reliable in the deli and the store, so Mo does most of the tours herself. Mo says, "I may have a friend coming back next summer who will work with me. He's a local person who's had more experience on the river here than I have. I've had my little boat for about five years now and I've done a lot of boating. I used to go to Tuk every year for trips and camping and I've taken a trip down to Norman Wells. I've learned how to follow the buoys and the markers. I've also learned a lot by asking questions of the coastguard."
Safety is important and Mo has not had any accidents in the years she has been boating. "I've had my share of sandbars this year. The river is really wide and there are some shallow spots, and even out on the ocean its shallow. In some places, it's only two or three feet deep so you really have to watch the coast guard markers. I've hit about two sandbars when I was carrying tourists."
Mo continues, "I really love boating. I could stay on the river day and night. It's hard to start doing it as a business. A friend said to me, 'You're dumb because now you're turning a hobby that you really enjoy into work.' There is that downside to it. When I go to Tuk with tourists, I have fun but I never totally relax as I would if I went with a bunch of friends. When I'm with a group of tourists, I always have in the back of my mind that I'm responsible for these people. It's not a problem so long as I can decide to take a boat sometimes and relax because I don't take tourists every day."