Weatherhaven – Shelter to armies and NGOs

Shortly after a major wind storm, crews arrived at an Arctic mining camp expecting the worst.

When they arrived they found, as expected, their permanent wooden camp buildings were destroyed, the pieces strewn around like matchsticks.

What they didn’t expect was what they noticed next—the only things left standing were the portable, temporary shelters supplied by a Burnaby company, Weatherhaven.

“They were virtually left untouched,” said Weatherhaven CEO Ray Castelli with a laugh.

For almost 30 years, Weatherhaven has been building portable shelters for everything from the military and the eco-tourism industry to mining and oil-and-gas exploration companies.

The shelters, built in a South Burnaby plant overlooking the Fraser River, are made of aluminum or steel frames covered in layers of polyurethane and insulating material. They can be taken down on a moment’s notice, moved and reinstalled in a new location, as the armed forces are apt to do in warzones, such as in Afghanistan, where Weatherhaven’s installation is home to 2,000 Canadian soldiers. Within a matter of hours, a new base camp can be ready for use.

And these are a far cry from a typical camping tent. These are a home away from home, fully equipped with electricity, heat, air-conditioning, clean water, washrooms, kitchen, exercise and sewage treatment facilities, said Castelli.

In Afghanistan, the shelters are complemented by another Weatherhaven product, modified shipping containers where the sides are designed to fold down, tripling the floor space. The containers are used to house complete kitchen, washroom, medical or surgical facilities.

As for the shelters themselves, they’re highly insulated and designed to withstand the hottest and coldest climates in the world, ranging from 50 degrees above to 50 below Celsius, making them ideal in both baking hot deserts and icy cold tundras.

While showing off a shelter being built for the Australian military, Castelli said, “You can put these in the middle of the Australian outback and even without an air conditioning system it’ll feel 20 degrees cooler inside.”

Weatherhaven was born for simpler purposes in 1981.

Co-founder Jim Allan was a pioneer in the eco-tourism industry and decided what his adventure tourism expeditions could use was an environmentally-friendly, portable base camp shelter system designed for extreme weather conditions.

After coming up with some designs, he connected with Brian Johnson, an engineer and owner of a residential construction company who had a reputation for being able to build anything architects presented to him.

The pair founded Weatherhaven and started out doing small projects with sales in the several-hundred-thousand-dollar range, said Castelli. Today, the private company earns annual revenues of $30-million to $40-million.

In addition to the approximately 70 staff at its 100,000-square-foot facility in Burnaby’s Big Bend it has another 30 staff at partner facilities in Peru, Brazil and South Africa.

Its clients include 12 militaries, among them Canada, U.S., U.K., Switzerland, Australia, NATO, Japan and Malaysia.

Its products provide shelter for 80 per cent of the base camps in Antarctica, and its shelters have been stockpiled in Japan as preparation for disaster relief. The United Nations uses Weatherhaven shelters in its international aid initiatives. And the world’s most northerly park headquarters, in Canada’s Ellesmere Island, has been using the company’s facilities since the late 1980s.

Weatherhaven is also involved in helping Canadian athletes bring home medals at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The company built a high-altitude training facility for the Canadian Olympic ski and snowboard team on the Farnham Glacier in the Rockies.

Calling it their most unusual project, Castelli said it allows the team to train year-round at home.

Castelli said with a smile that the Canadian Olympic ski team calls the Weatherhaven facility their “secret weapon.”

Source: Burnaby NewsLeader
Author: Wanda Chow