After 35 years owning and running Churchill River Canoe Outfitters (CRCO), Ric Driediger has decided it’s time to step away and go paddling.

Located in the little town of Missinipe in Northern Saskatchewan, CRCO offers full canoe trip outfitting, guided trips, paddling courses, shuttle services and cabin rentals to those looking to explore the wild Churchill River and surrounding lakes and rivers. Although the company has seen many owners over its 60 years, Driediger has ferried it from modest beginnings—at first only serving a couple hundred clients each year to now close to 6,000.

Driediger says he loves running the business, but last summer he began to notice he wasn’t enjoying the administrative aspects of it as much as he used to. That realization combined with the fact that he’ll be turning 70 this year got him thinking it might be time to sell.

“If I wait longer, pretty soon I won’t be able to do the canoe trips I still want to do,” he explains. “It just felt like I have to move into this next chapter of my life while I still can, rather than have the next chapter be lay down and die.”

two men sign documents at Churchill River Canoe Outfitters
Driediger (left) and Bernardin (right) making the sale official. | Photo: Courtesy CRCO

Making the sale

Driediger figured it might take a while to find the right buyer. The ‘right buyer’ to him being somebody who wouldn’t break up the company and sell it off in pieces. And someone whom he could entrust his clients to.

“My guests have become really good friends in a lot of cases,” he says, “and I wanted to know they would be looked after.”

His process of looking for a buyer was simple: start talking to folks he knew who he thought might be a good fit, including some of his staff.

“The embarrassing thing was, the guy that was really interested, he didn’t cross my mind,” laughs Driediger. “And he’s absolutely the perfect person.”

That person would be Martin Bernardin, owner of Kisseynew Canoe Company and Montreal River Outpost. Both companies are located 80 kilometers south of Missinipe, in La Ronge, providing Bernardin and Driediger plenty of opportunities to work together over the last decade. They share many of the same clients through their outfitting businesses, and CRCO even rents out Kisseynew canoes.

Bernardin heard through the grapevine that Driediger was looking to sell and decided to give him a call.

“I didn’t really think he was serious about selling,” says Bernardin. “But when I called him and said ‘Hey, Ric, everybody that comes into the store here is telling me you’re trying to sell. Is this real?’ he’s like ‘Martin! This is perfect!’ And basically since that moment, in Ric’s mind, the business was sold. So then it was more on me, like holy smokes is this really what I want to do?”

After some more consideration, Bernardin decided it was the right choice and the deal was made.

“This will help us grow our business,” he explains. “We could either continue to grow Montreal River Outpost and grow organically, or we could take a huge step forward and take over CRCO and all that entails. This way we were able to have a step changing growth versus what would’ve taken us years to grow on our own.”

Driediger knew Bernardin was the perfect fit not only because he knows the industry and shares many of the same clients, but also because they “have the same kind of commitment to looking after people.”

“I have felt really good about this sale,” Driediger says. Not least because he says he doesn’t like to think about what the outcome would have been had he been unable to find a buyer.

At some point, he explains, he would have put the business on the market in a more official manner. But if that still didn’t yield a sale, he would have ended up breaking the business up and selling it off in pieces.

“But then the business would be gone,” Driediger says. “That is not what I wanted to do.”

Thankfully, it didn’t come to that.

view of lakeside buildings at Churchill River Canoe Outfitters
Bernardin has already implemented a new online reservation system for trips and cabin rentals. | Photo: Courtesy CRCO

Making the transition

Bernardin has already begun running operations at CRCO and has been keeping busy with summer bookings rolling in.

CRCO offers a few services Montreal River Outpost doesn’t, including guided trips and cabin rentals.

“It’s challenging and it’s exciting,” says Bernardin. “It’s a people thing, but it’s also a big logistics plan. It’s coordinating all these things that all have to work together in order to run the business effectively and efficiently.”

Despite the learning curve, he says the similarities between the businesses have made the transition easier. As have some early changes he’s made, including implementing an online booking platform. Due to the distance between the two outfitters, he’s also working on getting systems up and running that will make it easier for him to manage things from La Ronge.

He’s also asked Driediger to stick around CRCO and continue to do what he loved most about the job: telling stories and talking to groups. And while Driediger has agreed, he’s being cautious about the commitment.

“I don’t know what it’s going to be like to be there and not running it,” Driediger comments. “I think I can do it. But if I can’t, I’m just not going to be there because it’s just not fair to the new owner.”

a large canoe rack with canoes in winter at Churchill River Canoe Outfitters
There will now be a greater integration of gear and boats for purchase and rent between Montreal River Outpost, Kisseynew Canoe Company and Churchill River Canoe Outfitters. | Photo: Courtesy CRCO

Looking back and looking ahead

While Driediger helped grow the client base throughout his time running CRCO, business boomed during the pandemic. With travel out of province and internationally limited or not recommended, many Saskatchewan and Alberta residents chose to explore closer to home.

“Our business went way, way up during Covid,” says Driediger.

Once restrictions lifted, however, many of CRCO’s new clients began tripping elsewhere. This didn’t result in a downturn in business post-Pandemic, though.

“Now we’re starting to get the European people back again, and we’re starting to get the American people back again,” explains Driediger. “We’ve had some bookings from Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and B.C. And we weren’t getting those during Covid.”

“I thought Northern Saskatchewan would become a more popular canoe destination. Because it’s the best canoe country in the world.”

He wonders if CRCO will see another increase in business in a couple years, once the new clients they picked up during the Pandemic have had time to explore elsewhere.

“I expect we haven’t lost those customers,” he says.

Still, Driediger says he expected to see a lot more growth during his time at CRCO.

“I thought Northern Saskatchewan would become a more popular canoe destination. Because it’s the best canoe country in the world.”

He has some theories as to why this growth hasn’t happened—transportation woes being a leading cause. It’s difficult to get to Saskatchewan period because of a lack of flights, and then the 80 kilometers of road between La Ronge and Missinipe is a rough drive.

“Saskatchewan has a reputation of being just prairie,” Driediger adds. In fact, one-third of the province is Canadian Shield.

Bernardin is on board with the dream of increasing the popularity of canoe tripping in Northern Saskatchewan.

“Eventually we want to develop CRCO into a larger business,” says Bernardin. “Especially on the guided side of things, it’s pretty untapped up here. I think there’s a lot of potential to improve or grow the business. Getting people from Ontario to come to Saskatchewan.”

As a start, he’ll be traveling to the Outdoor Adventure Show in Toronto, Ontario and Canoecopia in Madison, Wisconsin in the spring. And while he isn’t sure tradeshows will be the answer, he feels confident they’re a good place to start to get the lay of the land.

“You get a good feel for people’s aspirations and goals and what they want to do,” Bernardin says. “You can talk to customers and see what they know about Saskatchewan.”

From there, he can start tailoring guided trips to what prospective clients are looking for. And figure out how to better reach paddlers with the message that Northern Saskatchewan is a canoe tripping paradise.

the previous and new owners of Churchill River Canoe Outfitters shake hands
Ric Driediger (left) hands the reins to CRCO over to Martin Bernardin (right). | Feature photo: Courtesy CRCO

Driediger says he thinks Bernardin will be successful in drawing more paddlers to the province. As he passes that mantle on, he reflects on what he was able to accomplish at CRCO.

“The reason I got into this business was because I love sharing wilderness with people,” he says. “I’m hoping that’s something I’ve instilled in my staff and in the people that come through here. That that kind of an attitude, that kind of a love of wilderness and a love of sharing wilderness with people continues.

Ric Driediger (left) hands the reins to CRCO over to Martin Bernardin (right). | Feature photo: Courtesy CRCO



  1. Congratulations, Ric! I’ve done several trips with you company over the years, when I was outfitting and guiding canoe trips for the Science Museum of Minnesota, St. Paul. And you’re right: Saskatchewan IS the best wilderness canoeing in the world. Why? Not much rain–and when it does, it’s seldom a long downpour. Relatively light on bugs–those nasty black flies are big in Ontario, Manitoba, NWT and Nunavut. But they’re comparatively very mild in northern Saskatchewan. Generally, warm summer days and lots of sun. Also, lots of challenging rapids; but the water is warm enough that if you capsize, you won’t die! And absolutely TERRIFIC campsites–best in the world, with beautiful eskers and sand beaches that sometimes run for miles! You could put 100 tents of some of them! The fishing is spectacular too. I’ve done a number of SK rivers: Fond du Lac (5 times!), Cree (4 times), Porcupine, MacFarland…and they’ve all been WONDERFUL! Really, Saskatchewan IS the best wilderness canoeing on the continent–maybe any continent.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here