By Emily Stonehouse
For so much of life, our careers define us.
At parties, for introductions to strangers, as a sense of belonging.
I thought about this as I drove to Barrie Martin’s house last week for an interview.
The tourism maverick will be retired as of June 25, 2023, winding down a career that spans decades in helping others. In giving back.
How do I define his career in a short article?
For those who know Barrie, they know all that he has done. From being named Highlander of the Year in 2002 to being crowned a tourism champion from the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario, he has left his mark on the community in more ways than one.
As I pulled up his gravel driveway to the log cabin he and his wife, Pat, call home, I figured out my angle. Many people know who Barrie Martin is. What he does. Some folks know the timeline of his career, and that his heart and soul beats for the Haliburton Highlands.
But what about his “why”? Why did Martin dedicate an entire career to giving back to his community?
“It’s in my genes,” he said as we settled onto the outdoor patio, myself with a cool water and Barrie with his standard hot coffee and maple syrup, “from my early days of working, we were always finding ways to partner and collaborate so that we could succeed together.”
Barrie was referencing his chapter at the Frost Centre, where he worked for 24 years before it was closed down in 2004. “That part of the county doesn’t always feel like it’s part of the county, so we would do whatever we could to connect with other partners along the way.”
Shortly after the Frost Centre closure, Barrie transitioned to the Trails and Tours Network, which was a not-for-profit through the Chamber of Commerce. As president and co-founder of the organization, he was able to secure over one million dollars in funding for local trail development for Haliburton County.
In 2006, through working with the Trails and Tours Network, Barrie noticed a gap in community-led collaboration within the tourism world of the Highlands, and in 2006, the concept of Yours Outdoors (YO) was born.
YO is a tourism company that focuses on creating experiences that are memorable, sustainable, and above all, collaborative. With nearly 100 experience providers scattered across the county, YO offers experiences like rock climbing to glass blowing and everything in between. The company acts as a means of connecting the dots for all the great things this region has to offer. “Yours Outdoors was a big leap,” said Barrie as he swatted away a rogue blackfly from sampling his coffee, “I went from 28 years as a civil servant to suddenly being an entrepreneur.”
But being an entrepreneur of his own business didn’t slow Barrie down when it came to volunteering. “My biggest marketing strategy was to just always be at the table, whatever table that was, as much as possible. To be present and active,” he said.
With that in mind, he became the chair for both the community tourism stakeholder group and Adventure Haliburton, the president of the Haliburton County Folk Society, the director of the Haliburton Highlands Land Trust, and the vice president of the Haliburton County Community Cooperative, to name a few.
Like any new business, YO took a bit of time to get off the ground, but Barrie said that his biggest measurement of growth was when other tourism stakeholders began to express interest in working together, and the reviews for the experiences started rolling in. “That really feeds your sense of success,” he said, “helping to foster the spirit of collaboration in the community.”
But Barrie doesn’t attribute his successes in the company solely to his own hard work. Instead, he credits the community that makes Yours Outdoors thrive. “Haliburton County has a sense of volunteerism, of innovation, of great experiences,” he said. “We have the landscapes, the culture, and that was the canvas for me to build this business.”
He also expressed infinite gratitude for the experience providers that hopped onto the idea of YO, and provided exceptional experiences for all participants. “I would not be successful were it not for the experiences, and the experience leaders,” he said, “they’re the real strength of the organization.”
When asked about what’s next for Barrie Martin, he couldn’t help but laugh. To know Barrie is to know that he’s a man who never slows down. But he knows that it’s time. “I have to change my pace,” he said, “and that’s okay. Actually, I am getting used to the idea!”
Haliburton Forest purchased the YO business from Barrie in 2020. As for a succession plan, the Forest intends to keep the branding and the experiences from Barrie’s decades of development, and he is confident that YO will be in good hands moving forward.
As the sun shifted and the blackflies began swirling around our ears on the patio, Barrie reflected on his years of working and his next steps. His years of bringing the community together, and celebrating the Haliburton Highlands. He has an air of coolness about him; of comfort, of peace.
“We are stronger as a community,” he mused as he finished his coffee, “each one of us can do good things on an individual basis, but we can really do so much more together.”
For so many of us, as careers wind down, there is a sense of loss. Of confusion. Of wondering what’s next. But for Barrie, his career wasn’t just a job. It was who he was. He poured his heart and soul into this community, and he will continue to carry that forward in whatever his next project will be. And trust me, there will be another project on the horizon. One day soon. Because celebrating the Haliburton Highlands, will always be Barrie Martin’s “why”.