Life’s fine under the big tent

MARSH LAKE When an Anchorage event planner asked the owners of Marsh Lake Tents and Events to stage an elaborate awards dinner for 250 people atop…


When an Anchorage event planner asked the owners of Marsh Lake Tents and Events to stage an elaborate awards dinner for 250 people atop Llewelyn Glacier, the Yukon company’s owners did not blink an eye.

Within a few days, they drafted a plan to fly 250 passengers from a cruise ship in Juneau to Atlin, then up to the glacier by helicopter for a sit-down dinner in a sparkling white tent – heated, of course.

However, there was one hitch.

The cruise ship passengers could not make it back to Juneau in time. Their ship would have sailed without them.

In a few days, Ray Chaykowsky, president of Marsh Lake Tents and Events, will travel to Bennett to find an alternate site for the June 11th event.

According to plan “B,” the passengers will travel on the White Pass train from Skagway to Bennett for dinner.

Even though it will be summer, the client has asked for a cold and icy theme. The all-white tent will sit on a snowpack. It will be decorated inside with carved blocks of ice.

“Really, the service we provide is logistics,” says Chaykowsky. “We get the tent to the site, the generators, the fuel, the kitchen facilities, the tables and chairs, and the washrooms. We supply everything they need for a first-class event.”

Chaykowsky is one of four partners who own Marsh Lake Tents and Events.

The partners — Chaykowsky and his wife, Jienna Earl, and Helen and Craig Smith — live at Marsh Lake.

Although the four partners come from different backgrounds — in construction, catering, fashion design and administration — everyone pitches in to get a job done.

They got their idea for the tent supply business in the late 1990s and spent a few years studying the market and developing a plan.

“We watched the functions held by various tourism groups in Whitehorse,” says Chaykowsky. “They were taking place in school gymnasiums, and hockey rinks.

“We saw a demand for a full-package, first-class venue with no limits, so events could be held any time, anywhere.”

For the past seven or eight years, the company has provided a full-line of services for events of all sizes.

“An event for 1,500 people would be typical for us, but we can supply shelter for 15,000 if needed,” says Chaykowsky. “We also do events for 30 people.”

The 2002 World Special Olympics in Anchorage drew 4,000 people daily and required 75,000 square feet of shelter.

The tent for the 2004 Arctic Winter Games in Fort McPherson covered 55,000 square feet, enough to house five 737 airplanes.

Last year in Calgary, the company provided 75,000 square feet with an in-floor heating system for 21 days. The job was for one of North America’s leading natural gas producers.

At the Lions Trade Show on the weekend, the company supplied piping and drapery, tables and chairs and floor coverings for the exhibit booths.

It also set up the booths.

For its own exhibit, Marsh Lake Tents and Events set up a 1.8- by 1.8-square-metre tent, a size that can accommodate up to 35 persons.

Inside were tables set with china, glassware, table linens and decorations for a wedding feast.

The exhibit provided an example of products the company has supplied for many backyard weddings in the Yukon.

When extremely large spaces are needed, the company sets up modular structures that can span huge areas without interior supports.

These larger shelters utilize interlocking steel trusses covered by a polyurethane fabric that remains supple in cold temperatures.

They can be reconfigured and set up at different sites for different purposes.

The Arctic Winter Games tent, for example, could end up as part of an airport hangar in the Yukon.

“We’ve been providing well over one million square feet of coverage per year. That’s the same as building 15 Wal-Marts every year,” Chaykowsky says.

About 60 per cent of the company’s gross annual income comes from clients in Alaska. Whitehorse events account for 30 per cent of the company’s income. The rest comes from Alberta, BC and the Northwest Territories.

Typically, Marsh Lake Tents and Events works on three-to-four events a week, 52 weeks a year.

At the moment, the Yukon company keeps a $1.4-million inventory, but that will fluctuate as the market changes.

To keep abreast of trends, the partners attend industry trade shows in Canada and the US.

The company buys Canadian-made tents and supports Yukon business by purchasing items locally when possible.

The owners design and make some items themselves, tables and washroom facilities, for example.

Like the tents, the mobile washrooms can be reconfigured according to the client’s needs.

“The Arctic Winter Games needed more showers, so we added more showers. For another client we might take out all the showers,” says Helen Smith, vice-president.

Smith has attended local events and watched women coming out of her company’s mobile washrooms.

“They are thrilled with the bathrooms. They are happy they don’t have to use porta-potties.

“The quality of an event reaches a whole different level when you bring a washroom trailer on site,” Smith says.

Safety is a main concern at any event, and the Tents and Events team always has a qualified person on site to ensure all’s well.

“Wind is a tent person’s worst nightmare.  We’re always watching the weather and we know when the tent is safe,” says Chaykowsky.

One of the owners’ favourite events took place in August 2000 and 2001. The Alaska AIDS Vaccine Ride raised $6.2 million for AIDS research.

Twenty-five hundred bicycle riders rode 160 kilometres per day from Fairbanks to Anchorage. Five hundred volunteer workers accompanied the cyclists on the five-day trip.

Marsh Lake Tents and Events provided a range of products and services to make the event run smoothly. The company supervised volunteers and supplied transportation logistics, tents, heat, electricity and other infrastructure.

Each day it hauled 75,700 litres of fresh water onto the site.

At night it hauled the wastewater away.

“Our camp every night was the seventh largest city in Alaska,” says Chaykowsky.

Each year Marsh Lake Tents and Events contributes $100,000 to sponsor events in the Yukon such as Canada Day, Run for Mom, the International Klondike Road Relay and Walk for Life.

Morale in the events industry is good, so life is good for the Tents and Events team. “People don’t have to put on these events,” says Chaykowsky. “If they want to have fun, they have fun. Everybody is happy. If we can make it happen, that’s great.”

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