Dave Dormer

An image of Dave Dormer
Dave Dormer | Photo: Dave Dormer

Dave Dormer

The history of cannabis comes to life through rich storytelling

Heritage Park just got a little more interesting.

That’s because a new tour at a historic theme park—where guests visit to turn the clock back to an approximation of the way Alberta used to be before the iPhone—is truly an example of the past meeting the present moment.

The History of Cannabis Tour at Heritage Park is the latest offering from Cannanaskis, an independent cannabis tour company created by journalist Dave Dormer.

Dormer, a digital producer at CTV and former city hall reporter for the Calgary Sun, is a raconteur, someone as well-versed in the history of weed as Harry the Historian is on the details of Calgary’s architectural evolution.

Cannanaskis tells a 12,000-year backstory with more twists than a Vin Diesel Fast and Furious sequel.

“It’s an amazing story,” Dormer says about what he calls, “the most unique plant in the world.

“Cannabis,” he adds, “is partly responsible for civilization itself.”

Come again?

That’s when he drops the nugget that cannabis was one way early humans moved from the mesolithic, or Middle Stone Age, to the neolithic, or New Stone Age.

“One of the first plants humans farmed was cannabis,” he says. “It was a textile to early people. In a sense it didn’t change civilization—it helped create it.

“People built structures from it.”

Admittedly, talking about the history of weed and starting at the very beginning—of humanity—can get a little trippy. 

It’s a storytelling challenge to fit 12,000 years of human history into a three-hour tour, but Dormer isn’t your ordinary storyteller.

He’s a master.

“I talk about how it went from a textile then to how we have cannabis shops today,” he says. “The story between those two points is so much. And it’s still evolving.”

The Tour

The History of Cannabis Tour blends a sampling of cannabis, which can be purchased legally from FivePoint Cannabis in Bridgeland, or guests can bring their own. During the three-hour, outdoor event, Dormer explains the evolution of cannabis, from a textile used in India, China, and Mesopotamia, to a narcotic, medicine, and food source, to an emerging industry and now a potential tourism sector over the past 120 centuries or so.

That includes a glimpse at a 1548 book by William Turner, believed to be the first published reference to cannabis sativa.

Dormer also has a copy of the handwritten court record of one of the first Canadians busted for distribution. 

If 16th century literature isn’t your jam, the tour also drops in nuggets of Calgary’s cannabis history, much of it centred around the figure of Tommy Chong, one half of Cheech and Chong, the comedy duo who turned cannabis into comedy gold in the 1970s.

According to Dormer, cannabis tourism is an emerging growth industry, with plenty of green shoots popping up across North America.

“There’s a few companies that have started up in Canada now,” he says, pointing to Wicked Weed Tours in Kelowna, which blends wine and weed, along with walking tours in the Kootenays, a golf course in Smith Falls, Ontario, and places like Colorado, where cannabis tourism has turned into a $30 million a year industry.

A board member of the Alberta Cannabis Micro-License Association, Dormer is working with the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission (AGLC) to bring farm-to-gate to Alberta as the next stage of creating a new kind of tourist sector, one that blends Alberta’s spectacular topography with cannabis consumption.

How big could cannabis tourism become in the home of Banff, Canmore, Jasper, and dinosaur country?

“I’m sure we can eventually do tens of millions a year in Alberta,” he says.

Sharing the Story

But maybe what cannabis tourism needs to really catch fire as an industry is someone to share its story.

And if stories are what’s missing, there’s no one better than Dormer, in large part thanks to tools sharpened by two decades in the media industry.

“Being a journalist has helped immensely,” Dormer says. “I start the tour by saying: I’ve been a journalist for the last 24 years and a stoner for the last 22, I put those two together and created Cannanaskis.

“As a journalist, I’m a storyteller and that’s what my tour is all about. I tell the real, 12,000-year story of how cannabis came to be and I have books, papers, photos, and court records to help me do that. It really is fascinating. I’m also good at digging into the root of stories and knowing what parts people will find the most interesting. 

“The thing about me is, I love cannabis,” Dormer adds. “I’m fascinated by it. I can talk about it all day long. There’s so much to learn and know.”

The Cannanaskis tour van, which picks tour participants up at FivePoint, now includes visit to first place Chong smoked up in downtown Calgary in 1957.

It’s all a bit of a pivot for Dormer, who launched Cannanaskis in 2018 as a blend of weed, storytelling, and mountain splendor.

That version features a tour through Kananaskis country, a locally-sourced lunch and Dormer’s stories.

However, when his summer tours wound down, he deduced that it was going to be a challenge to get people out to Kanaskasis, so he approached Heritage Park last year and found a receptive audience.

“That’s the tie-in they like, the history of cannabis taught at a historic park,” he said.

The Heritage Park experience is all outdoors, taking place at Weedon School yard. There’s a dinner option and guests can consume cannabis.

An image of a man giving a presentation to a group of people on a lawn at Heritage Park
History of Cannabis Tour | Photo: Courtesy of Kyle Thiessen


The final element in addition to landscape, food and storytelling that Dormer hopes to bridge in the post-pandemic is to add music to the Cannanaskis broth.

He’s aiming to bring a cannabis-friendly music festival, curated by himself and Matt Masters, to Heritage Park in 2022.

“There will be no sales of cannabis but people will be allowed to bring and smoke their own,” he says. 

What could Cannanaskis become?

“I would like to see Cannanaskis become known as Canada’s best cannabis travel and tourism company. I’d like to see us set the standard for tours, events and concerts, promoting education, safety and responsible use.”

The journey of his startup has been fraught with the stops-and-starts every small business faces trying to navigate a pandemic. He stopped it in December 2020, and then re-launched in June 2021, once the province progressed to Stage 1.

Since then, he’s had to start and stop a number of times due to rising case numbers and provincial health orders. It’s been a bumpy ride but for Dormer, the bumps are part of the journey.

He grew up in Kamloops, British Columbia, where his dad was the mayor for a term. He migrated to Calgary to work for the Sun, finding himself spending long Mondays at city hall, covering the same municipal politics that his dad used to try to get the best of back in Kamloops.

He’s also a cyclist and a cancer survivor, who has had over two dozen surgeries, and keeps bouncing back, both as a journalist and now as a budding cannabis tour operator.

Maybe the best story Dormer has authored to this point has been own.

“Anything is possible,” he says. “If you have a dream, don’t wait, get after it, and don’t be afraid to fail.”

About The Storytelling Project

On November 16, 2015, Calgary Arts Development hosted a working session with approximately 30 creative Calgarians from various walks of life. Many of the small working groups voiced the need to gather and share more stories of people living creative lives.

That need has turned into The Storytelling Project.

The Storytelling Project raises awareness about Calgarians who, by living creative lives, are making Calgary a better city, effecting positive change and enriching others’ lives.

Have a story to share? Email us at submissions@calgaryartsdevelopment.com.

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