Robin Nasmith’s Skican-do spirit

Robin Nasmith
Robin Nasmith

Robin Nasmith may seem an unlikely person to found a ski-based business.

He grew up in an Alcan mining town in Northern Quebec, the son of an engineer, and like his father, also became an engineer. Armed with a science degree from Mount Allison and later the Nova Scotia Institute of Technology, he started his working life as a civil engineer.

He found himself in 1960s Montreal, where there were many young professionals with an English-speaking background but not a lot of money. When one of them wanted to visit his girlfriend in the Bahamas, he was aghast at the price of a flight. Robin and his friend, Moose, aka “Mr. Hospitality,” thought a group of them could all go if they chartered a plane. They ended up with 105 flying in a chartered Nordair plane. At that time you had to be part of an affinity group to set up a charter. At a bar one night, Robin and his friends named themselves the “Ridgewood Get-to-know-Montreal-better Club,” Ridgewood being the name of the street where some of them lived. The group continued to offer charter flights every so often, while continuing with their regular jobs.

Robin was an engineer with the firm working on the Canadian pavilion at Expo 67 when he met Sheila. Originally from Toronto, Sheila moved with her family to Montreal as a teenager when her father was transferred there. She later trained as a nurse at the Montreal General, followed by a year of public health training at McGill.

When Robin’s firm asked him to relocate to their Toronto headquarters in 1968, he was all too willing to make the move, and he and Sheila were married that summer. Robin told Sheila that he really wanted to see if he could make a go of a charter business, focusing on skiers. After all, a number of his friends in the Montreal crowd were originally from Western Canada, and they lamented the fact there were only ski trips to Europe in those days.

Thus was born Skican Ltd., in 1969, with a nod to Robin’s family’s connection to Alcan for the “can” part of the name. Their first year, they ran just six charters but managed to keep their heads above water. They gradually increased their draw so that instead of chartering from a small airline like Quebecair, they were eventually working with Wardair and Air Canada.

So where does Leaside fit in? We can thank the “look” of Northlea School for attracting the Nasmiths to the area. Leaside felt similar to what Sheila had grown up with in Forest Hill. When a 3-bedroom plus sunroom house on Bessborough came on the market, they were sold.

Skican is still doing well. Daughter Karen, another engineer with a Master’s degree in urban planning, is now president, and the company is thriving.

About Lorna Krawchuk 177 Articles
Lorna Krawchuk is publisher of Leaside Life. She is actively involved in St. Cuthbert’s Church. Her volunteer activities with the Leaside Property Owners’ Association led to her being elected a Councillor in the Borough of East York for 9 years before amalgamation in 1998. She also held a variety of volunteer leadership positions with the Girl Guides of Canada for over 30 years. Lorna has been a Leasider since 1968.