By Sue Tiffin
Much-anticipated provincial funding to support the tourism region that includes the Haliburton Highlands was announced last Monday, Dec. 7, with $350,000 awarded to Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization to help offer relief to organizations hard-hit by COVID-19.
Lisa MacLeod, Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries made the announcement virtually via online teleconferencing tool Zoom, with Laurie Scott, MPP for Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock; John Yakabuski, MPP for Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke; Daryl Kramp, MPP for Hastings, Lennox and Addington and Nicole Whiting, executive director of Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization (RTO 11).
“I know that our sectors were hit first, hardest, and will take the longest to recover as a result of COVID-19,” said MacLeod, before announcing $350,000 to support the regional tourism organization, she said, “so
they can engage and support hyper-local tourism activities within the region, in order to position us for a comeback for a year of Staycation 2021.”
Previously, MacLeod said the government had invested about $2.9 million this year in initiatives including community museum operating grants, which included funding for the Haliburton Highlands Museum, public libraries across the region, including the Haliburton County Public Library, and heritage organizations and iconic events.
“All told, this $3.25 million, in this critical part of our province, is required to do two things,” said MacLeod. “One, is to aid and guide the economic recovery of the heritage, sport, tourism, culture industries, as we move forward to 2021 and beyond. And the second thing, and this is probably the most important thing, it’s about community. It’s about where we live. It’s about pride of place and pride of people. The investments we’ve made through this ministry hit to the very core of what it means to be an Ontarian and why we love to live where we do.”
She said she was proud to “deliver this news right before Christmas, so that we can provide stability and continuity in our sectors despite how challenging these times [have been.]” Region 11 includes an entirely rural area from the Haliburton Highlands to the Ottawa Valley Tourism Region, encompassing six counties and 45 municipalities.
“Haliburton and the surrounding area is one of the most photographed regions in our province and is a beautiful jewel in the natural beauty within Ontario,” said Scott in a press release. “The provincial funding announced today will help support the families and businesses who work in the local
tourism sector, which has been hampered this year by the impact of COVID-19.”
Nicole Whiting, executive director of OHTO, (RTO 11), was thrilled with the announcement, thanking MacLeod for her “unwavering support of our industry.”
“As it turns out, our region has exactly what people were looking for, so many of the businesses that were not sure how they would fare ended up [doing well], some even having their best summers ever,” she said. “That isn’t to say there isn’t still a lot of struggle still out there, for sure, but we are
really excited about how our industry has come together and responded to being there for the consumer in terms of the product we have to offer.”
“Our communities are surrounded by world-class natural assets, but it’s the character of our people that brings our natural environment and our rich cultural heritage to life,” she said. “The investments made in our region will help preserve an incredible legacy of collaboration, creativity and resilience… The provincial support behind our sector is what allows us to feel hopeful for the future, for sure.”
The funding announcement was expected this past July, when MacLeod and Scott visited the Highlands together as part of the “Reopening Ontario Tour.”
“All funding to assist with our tourism initiatives is welcome, even when it comes through a bit later than expected,” said Haliburton County Warden Liz Danielsen. “This funding goes a long way towards assisting the region, and Haliburton, in proceeding with several programs underway both during the pandemic and as we move forward. We are hopeful to hear a further funding announcement in the very near future and appreciate the province’s commitment to tourism as an industry that we rely upon so heavily.”