Chris & Rena Allin—hoteliers in Jasper National Park
By Colleen Isherwood, Editor
JASPER, AB—The year 1986 was a year of changes for Rena and Chris Allin. That was the year they gave up their careers, and got married three days before taking over a log cabin resort in Jasper, Alberta.
Was it stressful? Definitely! The couple, then in their late twenties, knew nothing about running about a hotel. Rena had been a graphic designer, and Chris a teacher.
The saving grace that first year for the rookie hoteliers was Lydia Stenko, who sold them the cabins. She did all the work herself when she was the owner, and she showed them the ropes.
“Our anniversary is April 26, and it’s been a hectic anniversary ever since,” Chris chuckles.
At that point the Alpine Village Cabin Resort had 30 cabins. It now has 50. But that growth is a story in itself—building in a national park has some unique challenges.
Here’s the irony. In the 1980s, the federal government provided 30 per cent of the financing for new cabins to encourage more building. Then building in Banff went out of control, and to avoid the same thing happening in Jasper the government slapped a building freeze on the more northerly national park in 1999.
“If Banff gets the cold, then we get the pill,” Chris notes ruefully.
In 1989, they constructed six deluxe one bedroom cabins, with prime views of the Athabasca River and six deluxe bedroom suites.
In 1994, they added an outdoor hot tub, in 1999 a home for themselves, and in 2004, they added lofts to six of the original cabins.
And that’s when Jasper’s stringent regulations kicked in. The Allins wanted to change some existing cabins to accommodate this new layout, but regulations limited them to the existing footprint and window openings.
They were able to change the fireplace and some of the walls, but they had to work carefully to configure the modern kitchen around the existing windows.
The biggest challenge was making the new logs on the top of the cabins look like the 60-year-old logs on the bottom.
They looked at sandblasting, but that process pits a soft wood like pine.
“We did corn blasting so that the wood wouldn’t be pitted while trying to make 60-year-old logs look like new ones, which are as white as can be,” said Rena.
In addition, the 1940s logs were six inches in diameter—now the norm is one foot diameter logs. They hired a local log builder to make the logs smaller so that the cabins would not look top heavy.
Complying with the regulations and keeping true to the original 1940s style was not easy. But in the end, the Allins were rewarded with a Parks Canada Heritage Award for following the original architecture.
It took them five years to get park approval for their Master Plan, but in 2009, they built two cabins, and they built the final five—completely new designs—in time for the 2012 season.
Housing their staff
Executive one bedroom interior
Earlier owners, the Kiefers, housed their staff on the property, a practice common to many Jasper-area hotels including Jasper Park Lodge. Now, the Allins rent suites for staff in town.
“We have a rental agreement where we deduct rent from their paychecks, but also a bonus system so they can get rent back. We also have a bike program with a deposit. It’s four kilometres door to door. In April, staff have a hard time with the little hill on the way, but by the end of summer, they do much better.”
The Allins also encourage staff to explore the area’s outdoor attractions “so that they don’t get caught up with what else is offered in a seasonal resort town.” They organize hiking trips and barbecues, plus trips to area attractions for staff.
They orient front desk staff, familiarizing them with local activities so that they can help the guests with such comments as: “At this time of year, the salmon are spawning.”
So have there been any interesting guests or guest experiences at the resort?
“We had a English couple with a grizzly bear sleeping under their deck,” volunteers Chris. “And there was a biologist doing a study on wolverines. He hadn’t seen one for years, and he saw one on the property.”
Guests come from all over the world—Israel, Europe, a few from China, Mexicans—but the majority are Canadians. There are a lot of regulars, coming each year from places like Edmonton, Calgary and British Columbia.
“The longest term guests have been coming for 47 years,” says Rena.