By Darren Lum
Ontario Minister of Tourism Lisa MacLeod had nothing but good things to say about the Highlands as she walked through the Haliburton Sculpture Forest last week as part the “Reopening Ontario Tour.”
“It’s a perfect mix of nature art and heritage and it just has an abundance of beauty and meaning. I’d come back for sure” she said.
Although the minister confirmed there will be a delay to the expected announcement of $350000 funding for tourism marketing for this region as part of a $13 million funding partnership with Destination Ontario and Destination Canada local representatives remained optimistic.
MacLeod said she loved the Welcome to my Ward concept and plans to take it and share it with other communities that could benefit.
Welcome to my Ward is an initiative of Dysart et al’s COVID-19 recovery committee featuring councillors promoting their ward highlighting points of interest boat launches and parks websites for lake associations and businesses.
“With initiatives like that a little money goes a long way … the best way we can grow that idea is by taking it provincewide and so we’re looking at that and it’s only been five minutes” MacLeod said as she walked through Glebe Park.
Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts said she welcomed the opportunity to have the concept shared.
“I’m thrilled. I imagine a lot of communities are doing the same thing. We just have a really catchy name but it’s also from a personal experience. I started to walk trails more right here in Dysart. I started to put my kayak in some boat launches that are 15 minutes away from my house as opposed to thinking I have to go far away to travel” she said.
Roberts said this mindset is in line with what the minister called “hyper-local staycations.”
She welcomes more funding from the province.
MacLeod said the challenge for recovery is the “social crisis” facing society.
“Will people feel comfortable again to get out and circulate not just in their own community but across the province? So we’re really trying to focus on that and demonstrate as the three of us today [are doing] showing we can safely take in a trail. A trail I’d never seen before with natural beauty and history as well as art all combined in what I think is a tourism attraction” she said.
She said the Sculpture Forest is a prime candidate for a promotional video to draw prospective visitors.
After her tour of the Sculpture Forest the minister visited the Minden Whitewater Preserve on Horseshoe Lake Road in Minden. Her visit included a short talk about the facility and she spoke to high-level whitewater paddlers who were showing their skills on the rapids.
Haliburton County Warden Liz Danielson said she was disappointed by the delay in funding but appreciated the visit and opportunity for promotion for the area.
“It’s always a good idea to promote the area particularly during these times to have some promotion and understanding: ‘Hey you can get out and enjoy things.’ We’ve got lots of beautiful things to enjoy and the tourism industry has been hurting and this helps to promote it” she said. “Am I disappointed that there is no funding announced? Yes. But we’ve been assured that there will be funding to the area. It’s just that now we could probably use it.”
The municipal politician credited tourism staff with organizing the tour and said the tour allowed her to see freestyle kayakers ride and negotiate the rapids for the first time.
MacLeod said appealing to Ontario residents to travel in their own province is called “hyper-local marketing.”
“Hyper-local marketing means please go back out to your local farmers’ market. Please come down and visit your local waterways. Please come out and visit your local trails like your forest sculptures. Take a trip to a local patio. Join people together at your local ice cream shop” she said. “It’s safe to do so otherwise the chief medical officer of health would have said no. And so we’re trying to demonstrate here that you do not have to leave your community to have an impeccable summer vacation. You can go out. You can stay at home. You can stay at one of your local hotels or resorts or a cabin but it’s safe to do so right here in this community. Why wouldn’t you want to? I mean if I could stay another week I would.”
Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization executive director Nicole Whiting was also disappointed by the funding delay but said the minister’s intended return when the province is in Stage 3 of reopening brought her hope.
“In terms of the announcement yes it was disappointing but we recognize it was really a logistical decision. There’s still a commitment to providing [the] same funding the RTOs [regional tourism organizations] have received across the province.”
Ontario’s Highlands is the second largest region of 13 in Ontario and is also known as RTO 11 which includes Haliburton County Renfrew County and Lanark County and portions of Hastings Frontenac and Lennox and Addington Counties.
This was Whiting’s first trip away from her home region since the provincial shutdown started and she said it was great to travel and see how well operators and businesses are coping with the reality of COVID-19 protocols.
Ontario Tourism Minister Lisa MacLeod looks at the sculpture A Walk in the Woods made by sculptor Mary Ellen Farrow with Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts and Infrastructure Minister and local MPP Laurie Scott seen behind at Sculpture Forest on Thursday July 9. /DARREN LUM Staff
The effort is about getting people to broaden their view on travel options which are closer to home.
“We are very optimistic about that because we’re already seeing it even before the marketing dollars are in place. I’ve talked to a number of operators that are saying they are very relieved to see the business coming in during the summer so that’s very encouraging. We’re going to try and keep that momentum going into the fall and I think it sets us up really well for 2021 as well” Whiting said.
One major attribute of the region is space to explore which makes it easy to physically distance.
Motioning towards the Gull River at the Whitewater Preserve Whiting said “This is exactly what people are looking for right now. Like we can naturally social distance [here] … get outside move around rather than being cooped up. We’ve been cooped up for months. Whether it’s whitewater kayaking hiking or biking or just getting out on the water. We have so many opportunities to do that. I don’t want anybody to be discouraged by the change of plans. Do not be discouraged. We are very much involved with those funding decisions. It’s just a matter of time.”
Municipal leaders said they were disappointed that expected funding was not announced during the visit but they remained optimistic that money would be forthcoming. MacLeod said she was impressed with Dysart’s Welcome to my Ward campaign which highlights different parts of the municipality encouraging people to visit their own community.