At the time, Dad was employed by Otis Elevator Company in Toronto and was known as a mechanical trouble-shooter with proven talent to resolve difficult technical problems.
In the 1960s, Airstream travel trailers were dramatically more complex and advanced than any other RV on the market; however, compared to the elevators in a 50-storey building, they were still pretty simple.
At the Airstream rallies, Dad was constantly in demand to “just take a look at this.” It rapidly became apparent to Dad that an Airstream store with a technically advanced service department would be a solid business venture and a great way to use his mechanical prowess and creativity to help the many people who enjoyed RVing as he did.
In 1969, with the financial backing of Airstream owners Al Hamill and Dr. Lew Hersey, Dad launched such a venture. Can-Am Trailers was born.
The early years
The cost of land in the Toronto area made a large service department unaffordable there. So, in February 1970 at age 39, Dad left his safe job, sold his Toronto home and relocated his young family to London, Ontario.
The partners purchased 17 acres on Highway 4 between Highway 401 and the then-to-be-built Highway 402, in the southwest corner of London, known then as Lambeth. They built a facility that housed four large indoor service bays—something that was unknown in the RV industry at that time—and a small office and reception area.
Dad worked tirelessly to make the venture a success. It wasn’t uncommon in those early years for Mom to pack up dinner and us kids to go to the dealership so we could eat with Dad. On nights when he did come home for dinner, we learned to eat quickly so he could get back to the shop again, often taking Mom with him to help with bookwork or preparing trailers for delivery.
News of Can-Am’s unique and high-quality service spread throughout the RV network. Dad knew little about selling RVs, but he believed Airstream was the best trailer available. Shored up by the steady
demand for its service offerings, Can-Am survived those formative years and began to thrive. In 1972, Can-Am was recognized as Canada’s largest Airstream dealership.
In 1974, Airstream launched the Argosy motorhome (“the painted Airstream”) and Can-Am expanded our inventory to include motorized RVs. Two decades later, the dealership took on a line of high-quality fifth wheels to complement our travel trailer and motorhome offerings.
A family business
Can-Am remained a family business. In the early years, Mom helped Dad out at the shop, and throughout high school, Nancy, Kirk and I would work there on weekends. In the early ‘80s, during those years of double-digit interest rates, Dad bought out his silent partners.
I could hardly wait to graduate so I could be at Can-Am full-time. Nancy followed me straight into the business and we both enjoyed our work with customers. Little brother Kirk went off to Toronto where he completed his undergraduate degree in Marketing, but after a few years of working for a major Canadian firm, he found his way back to Can-Am as well.
From the beginning, Andy Sr. was always very fussy about properly setting up hitches and matching the right tow vehicle with a trailer.
In 1977 when car manufacturers began to produce smaller vehicles, everyone felt it was the end of the RV industry. But not Dad. He applied his considerable technical skill to the problem and soon proved that the smaller cars, with smaller engines, were actually superior tow vehicles.
This brought a whole new group of clients to Can-Am and for several years we sold more properly outfitted tow vehicles than we did trailers. Our continuing journey of learning more about hitches, tow vehicle properties and towing in general began.
I spent many of my teenage years working alongside my Dad at the shop. We’d spend hours reasoning out towing challenges and experimenting with vehicles, trailers and hitch combinations. And eventually my younger brother Kirk got pulled into the process too. Together, we developed a body of knowledge that forms the foundation of Can-Am’s towing expertise today.