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Rush for Banff campsites sees 13,500 bookings in 2½ hours, plus a litany of complaints

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Eager campers snatched up Banff campsites at a rate of 90 per minute on Wednesday morning, overwhelming Parks Canada’s computer servers and frustrating would-be visitors who say they were often frozen out of the online booking system.

Summer reservations for frontcountry campsites in Banff National Park opened at 8 a.m. on Wednesday. By 10:30 a.m., a record 13,521 bookings had been made, Parks Canada says.

That exceeds the 10,292 bookings that were made on the entire first day of reservations last year.

Calgary resident Michael Kwadrans spent an hour trying to book a campsite at Two Jack Lake, as the website repeatedly crashed. 

“It would give me errors like ‘This site is unavailable’ or it would tell me I had to log in again,” he said.

“At one point, I had a site selected at Two Jack Lake and I put in my credit card details and hit submit and it just hung, hung, hung. Nothing happened.”

Eventually, he managed to secure a campsite for himself — and then scoop up another one for his friend. He said more sites suddenly came available an hour after the reservations opened, which he figures was due to the system releasing sites that had been tentatively booked by other users who didn’t manage to get through the payment process.

“I guess I have more patience than most,” Kwadrans said. “And so I kept attempting to book a site while others probably just walked away.”

Cars line up outside the east gate to Banff National Park. (CBC)

Joe Bowser was one of those who gave up.

The Vancouver resident is planning a trip through both Jasper and Banff this summer but said he couldn’t finalize his booking for a Banff campsite Wednesday morning due to the website freezing.

“I had it selected but then I couldn’t get to pay,” he said.

He eventually quit trying because he had to leave for work. He said he still plans to make the trip to Alberta this summer but will look for campsites in provincial parks or other accommodations outside of Banff.

‘Many inconvenienced people’

Greg Danchuk, visitor experience manager at Banff National Park, said “there was a problem for a short time” when the reservations opened that resulted in “many inconvenienced people,” but most of the issues with the website were resolved within a couple of hours.

“So the system was working, in the end,” he said.

By 12:30 p.m., he said, more than 15,500 bookings had been made.

Danchuk said Parks Canada has continued to improve and refine the online booking system and has taken steps to spread out the demand, such as staggering the opening dates for reservations in the most popular parks.

Jasper, he noted, opened for bookings on Tuesday, and he said the process went relatively smoothly.

Reservations are also accepted by phone, Danchuk said, but only “a very small percentage” of bookings are made that way.

“It’s really hard to get through,” he said. “There’s only so many operators and each operator can only do one at a time.”

There are 2,400 frontcountry campsites in Banff National Park, Danchuk said, and the vast majority can be booked through the reservation system.

Prior to 2006, he said, campsites were booked on a first-come, first-served basis, but Parks Canada moved away from that because it led to long lineups and disappointed people who were turned away with no alternative accommodations available.

Banff increasingly busy 

The surge in online traffic mirrors a growth in physical traffic through Banff National Park.

The park recorded nearly 4.2 million visitors in its 2017-18 fiscal year, which runs from April 1 to March 31. That was up three per cent from the year before.

Other national parks are not nearly as busy.

Bowser said he managed to book a campsite at Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on Vancouver Island earlier this year but, when it comes to Banff, there’s simply too many people trying to visit.

He said Parks Canada could make things better by staggering the opening day for reservations within Banff, itself, rather than making all the campsites available at once.

Danchuk said the agency would consider that.

“We could do that way in the future,” he said. “We’ll certainly look at it.”

Visitors wanting to catch of glimpse of golden larch trees near Moraine Lake, Alta., wait for a shuttle bus. (Chris Franklin/CBC)

For Kwadrans, who regularly makes trips to from Calgary to Banff, the number of visitors to the park “is getting a little bit ridiculous.”

“From a user’s experience, it’s not great,” he said. “There’s too many cars, too many people.”

Danchuk said it’s something Parks Canada is trying to address, in general.

“Camping in Canada is a very popular activity,” 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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