Wells Gray Tours celebrated its 50th anniversary on May 20, offering a complimentary tour to some of its most travelled customers. (Submitted photo)

Wells Gray Tours celebrated its 50th anniversary on May 20, offering a complimentary tour to some of its most travelled customers. (Submitted photo)

Wells Gray Tours celebrates 50 years of tours

Wells Gray Tours celebrated its 50th anniversary last week in Wells Gray Park, the company’s birthplace. Owner Roland Neave and staff are hosting clients on four special tours of the Park.

The first tour departed on May 20 and was complimentary for the company’s most travelled customers, some who have taken over 75 tours. Wells Gray Tours planned some special events, including a nostalgic evening with 1970s attire and Neave appeared in his polyester orange leisure suit, the same one he wore on tour 50 years ago. Now, how many of us would be able to fit into such old clothes?

The story began in 1972 when Neave, a Simon Fraser University student, learned of a plan by BC Hydro to build seven dams on the Clearwater River. Neave, age 20 at the time, had enjoyed many hikes in the Park with his parents, especially his father after whom Mt. Hugh Neave near Hobson Lake is named. The proposed project would have turned most of the Clearwater Valley into a series of reservoirs.

To Neave, this was unacceptable. An environmental group called STRRADA took action and protested the project by operating bus tours to the Park, showing people how the landscape would be forever impacted by the dams. Even the bottom of famous Helmcken Falls would have been flooded.

Neave was a volunteer guide that summer of 1972. The all-day tour with dinner included cost $5 per person. BC Hydro backed away from its plans, and Neave, needing a summer job during university, continued to use his love and knowledge of this great wilderness area to create day trips into Wells Gray Park.

He operated these tours for the next three years with help from other geography students at SFU. After graduation, he began to expand his tour destinations, and from these humble beginnings grew the company still known today as Wells Gray Tours.

Over the past 50 years, the company has expanded to become British Columbia’s largest outbound tour operator with five retail offices. The head office is still in Kamloops, and there are sales offices in Kelowna, Penticton, Vernon and Victoria.

The four 50th anniversary tours are operating each weekend from May 20 to June 10. The first Park tour actually went on May 20, 1972. Each is a three-day tour, staying two nights in Clearwater including all meals, a cruise on Clearwater Lake and the major attractions. A nostalgic lunch is held each Sunday at the TRU Wilderness Centre and is a re-creation of one of the original 1970s lunches. All four tours are sold out.

In May 2023, Wells Gray Tours will be celebrating again with its 51st anniversary. Neave has chartered a ship for a seven-day cruise on the Douro River in Portugal. That tour is also sold out with a long waiting list.

Neave remains passionate about Wells Gray Park. He and his wife, Anne, have a weekend home on 300 acres in Upper Clearwater. His 400-page guidebook, Exploring Wells Gray Park, is a popular seller and only a few copies of the 6th edition are still available in local stores.

Submitted by Roland Neave


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