Standing on the corner of Scott & McRae is a unique post and beam building that looks like it would be as comfortable on the shore of the Nahanni River, as it is in the trendy neighbourhood of Westboro in Ottawa. This same profile could be said of the owners and staff of the building's principal tenant Trailhead Paddle Shack. Originally two separate stores Trailhead and Paddle Shack both have a rich history of serving Ottawa area customers.
The Trailhead Story
Trailhead began in 1976 with the merger of two five-year-old companies. In 1971 Wally Schaber created the guiding service; Black Feather Wilderness Adventures and Chris Harris started a separate outfitting business Harris Outfitters, in 1971. They knew of each other but it was not until a mutual friend Gary Schofield hired them both to teach his new Wilderness Outdoor Recreation course at Algonquin College in 1974 that they saw the potential in a merger. It was Gary who suggested the name Trailhead–-the starting point.
In 1976 the first Trailhead was opened in a 700 sq ft garage at 1358 Wellington Street. The focus was rentals, programs and trips to the Northwest Territories. The wave of enthusiasm for every new route pioneered and new product tested and brought to market was incredible.
If the signs that identify the 27,000 sq ft Scott St. building seem a little eclectic, they actually tie us to our history. Wally and Chris were lucky to have Bill Mason as a mentor and motivator. In 1978 when Trailhead moved to a 4000sq ft store at 1341 Wellington Street, Bill presented them with a 30ft hand-carved sign as an opening gift. This same sign is mounted on the north wall of our Scott St. Store today.
Over the course of the next 15 years (1976-1990) Trailhead expanded to open stores with partner friends in Montreal, Toronto, Mississauga, Kingston and Ottawa’s Byward Market. Black Feather went on to run licensed trips on all the great rivers in the Mackenzie watershed as well as Baffin, Greenland and Ellesmere.
1990 marked another milestone as Chris and Wally bought a piece of property at the corner of Scott & McRae and started construction on the now-iconic Trailhead building. They put together their own plans and building crew and built what was at the time the biggest commercial post and beam building of its kind in the east. It takes a lot of money and friends to complete such a project. In order to focus all resources on the Scott St. project the other locations and side ventures where eventually sold or closed. Long time partners and friends bought key parts. Wendy Grater bought Black Feather and continues to guide it to new heights. Similarly, James Malcolm bought Kingston Trailhead. By December 1991 Trailhead’s new home was finished.
The Paddle Shack Story
Paddle Shack founder Jason Yarrington has been an outdoorsman all his life. He has been involved in the paddling industry since 1996 as the owner of Algonquin Bound a rental outfitter in Algonquin Park. Building on his success there he opened the Ottawa Paddle Shack in 2001. Due to its knowledgeable staff and outstanding customer service, the Paddle Shack quickly built a reputation for being one of the best paddling stores in Canada. In 2007 Algonquin Bound was sold and all energy was focused on the Paddle Shack. The original location was starting to feel a bit small, so in 2008 the Paddle Shack moved further down the street to a new bigger location. The Paddle Shack continued to grow, and in 2011 when the original Trailhead owners were looking to take a well-deserved retirement, the Paddle Shack was the logical choice to keep the tradition of excellence going. Initially, only the paddling and skiing side of the store was bought by the Paddle Shack. In 2012 the store grew again, Chris White the new co-owner brought his 20 years of expertise as a sales rep in the outdoor industry to the team. Together Chris and Jason bought the remainder of the Trailhead store and we became Trailhead Paddle Shack, Canada’s premier outdoor gear specialty store.