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Visitor numbers to National Parks decline after special free entry offer ends

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If you make it free, they will come.

Parks Canada’s free entry program for the country’s 150th birthday saw Canadians and other visitors flock to national parks and historic sites in record numbers. An extra 2.5 million visitors poured through the gates in 2017.

In the first eight months of 2018, the number of visitors fell 10 per cent from the same period in 2017. In some parks that saw the biggest jumps in 2017, visits are down more than 30 per cent.

“We expected we would see a big increase in visitation in 2017,” said Ed Jager, director of visitor experience for Parks Canada. “We also knew that we would see sort of a return to the previous trend.”

Jager said Parks Canada’s chief social scientist — Parks Canada has a chief social scientist, and an economist, and data analysts — predicted exactly what the free admissions in 2017 would do to visitor numbers. He said the good news is that the 2018 numbers are still higher than in the previous years when there were fees, reflecting ongoing marketing efforts to keep visitor numbers growing.

Entry is still free for anyone under 18, which it didn’t used to be, but adults once again pay between $3.60 and $9.80 for day passes to different parks.

‘They came back in 2018’

The number of visitors to national parks between January and August was up about three per cent compared to 2016. Visits to historic sites are about even, though final numbers could change because some visits, such as by tour groups, might not all be accounted for yet.

Kathleen Yetman, owner of Birdie’s Perch restaurant and the Point Pelee Trading Post, said her business had never seen anything quite like what happened in 2017.

“It was a gift,” she said.

Yetman’s place is just outside the entry gates to Point Pelee National Park, billed as the southernmost point of Canada and a birdwatcher’s paradise. It saw the biggest increase in visitors of any park, with 217,229 additional visitors in 2017 compared with the year before. The number of visitors in July and August was double the previous year’s.

In celebration of 125 years of Glacier National Park and to mark 50 years of Parks Canada and Canadian Forces’ joint avalanche control efforts, the Royal Canadian Artillery fire off Howitzer canons during the 1812 overture at Rogers Pass Discovery Centre, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011. (Parks Canada/Canadian Press)

Yetman said the crash in 2018 was expected but she said things were still busier this year than in 2016.

“It was still very brisk and I do think 2017 brought people in and that they came back in 2018,” she said.

The number of visitors to Point Pelee fell almost 40 per cent in the first eight months of the year, compared with 2017, but is still about six per cent higher than in 2016.

Yetman said she would love for Ottawa to decide to make all parks free again but isn’t expecting it happen. She said the government is clearly working on keeping Point Pelee attractive, with improvements to infrastructure.

“Point Pelee just keeps getting better,” she said.

‘Pretty good deal’

Banff National Park, with nearly three million visitors, is the country’s most popular, and its attendance numbers varied very little regardless of the fees.

But the Banff Park Museum inside it, with a normal entry fee of $3.90, saw attendance soar 230 per cent to more than 72,000 people in the first eight months of 2017. For the same time in 2018, visits plunged to below 30,000. Though that’s still a few thousand more than visited in 2016.

The government estimated the freebie year would cost about $76 million in foregone admission fees and extra costs to handle all the visits. Jager said the biggest leftover benefit for the parks from Canada 150 is the two million people who signed up for email updates and notices about park programs. That helps market the parks and has resulted in a significant increase in the number of people buying annual passes to get into any national park, he said.

Jager said there haven’t been piles of complaints from people who want the parks to be free again. He says in reality, the small fees are a “pretty good deal.”

“If I’m going to go to a movie with my family it will probably cost me $40 and maybe $80 if I want to get popcorn and a drink and that’s comparative to $20 to spend a day in one of the most beautiful places on the entire planet,” he said.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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