Is the Station back on track?

Railway Station Park, August 2017    Photo: Cathie Corrigan

Part 2 in a series on the Railway Station

ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL RETURNS FOR THE MADAWASKA VALLEY

Face of the Valley

The Railway Station in Barry’s Bay has been called the “face” of the Madawaska Valley because, for visitors, it is the first opportunity to meet our people, encounter our history and culture, and learn about our natural, recreational and cultural attractions. For a while it was thought the Valley’s public face was diminished and its important role threatened, but new developments suggest that this cultural asset may soon be up and running again. (see Decision on Railway Station – the Current Feb.5)

Residents hopeful

Residents throughout the Madawaska Valley are hopeful that under a new proposal the Railway Station will once again be a fully functioning community hub. Recently we learned that the newly-formed Madawaska Valley Culture and Heritage Society (MVCHS) is to enter into talks with the Township of Madawaska Valley. MVCHS’ goals are to operate the Railway Station building and park under a lease agreement as a Tourist Information Centre, Museum, Gallery and Activity Centre; to regularly host the Farmers’ Market; and to coordinate special events and festivals like Taste of the Valley. MVCHS was formed by Madawaska Valley citizens who recognize the Railway Station’s impact on the community’s economic and cultural future. They are not alone.

2016 report recognized culture is a stimulant for economic growth

At a special municipal council meeting held May 18, 2016 at the Paul J. Yakabuski Community Centre, Recreation and Community Development Co-ordinator Paul Nopper presented a report entitled Visitor and Information Centre Scenario Review. (Click HERE to read the report.) In it he acknowledged that the Station was “a unique facility that provides a venue for tourism, art, culture, heritage and economic development for the Madawaska Valley.”

Local historian sees value in “Community Hub”

Theresa Prince’s historical research has made her appreciate the economic importance of the Station for the entire Madawaska Valley. Prince’s recognition of the Station is not just limited to history and economics, however. She appreciates its importance as a hub of contemporary community life:

The Station provides an outlet for social involvement, increases a sense of cultural identity, and contributes to the economy of the area.

She goes on to say that the activities there

foster community identity and pride; increase tolerance, cultural diversity and free expression; revitalize the community; and promote volunteerism.

Prince is on point with the Province of Ontario. In 2015 a special advisory group was appointed to investigate community hubs and how they are changing the framework of communities. The result was a new strategic framework entitled Community Hubs in Ontario: A Strategic Framework and Action Plan.

Farmers’ Market vendor sees positive aspects of station

Ian Lodge points out that the Farmers’ Market has been important in making the Station a weekly summertime destination. Lodge is clear that positive economic development is essential for the Madawaska Valley and cautions that changes to the mandate or programs of the Railway Station should be considered carefully:

Losing any positive aspects would be a big mistake. It would be terrible for the community.

Lodge is also in line with the framework laid out in Community Hubs in Ontario. The Station is an excellent example of a community hub as envisioned in that document. In his 2016 report Nopper was referring to this when he identified the Station as a hub:

It is an area where economic development occurs through farmer’s markets, selling products for and supporting of entrepreneurs, production of tourism based products, marketing and promotion, festival and events development, and the development of business information sessions for the community. It is an area of culture hosting local history and heritage artifacts, museum, and community art space. The [Station] is a place of educational and learning through programs for youth, adults and seniors, hosting space for clubs and groups and an area for small seminars.

Combermere business owner values Station

Sandy Lynch of Pilgrim Reader Books in Combermere considers the Station to be a “valued contribution to the local community.”

It has been a good place to advertise our existence by placing rack cards at the tourist information spot, plus we have been among the sponsors for the concert seasons and the poetry project. We consider it an important centre for our community, bringing to us an appreciation of the talents of the artists and musicians in our area as well as celebrating the historical roots of the Valley. The staff there have done much to enhance our community.

Station promoted tourist business

Mark Smith and Yvette Boudreau-Smith are the owners of the Pinewood Inn in Barry’s Bay. Boudreau-Smith says that since they moved here in 2010, the Station has been an important part of their professional lives.

The Railway Station acts as a much needed tourism centre, and as we are a tourist-based business, the impact of that is substantial. We rely on the Station to direct tourists unfamiliar with our area to local destinations such as accommodation and restaurants. Many other businesses in our area rely on tourism too.

At the 2016 meeting Nopper pointed out that the Station is guided by The Township of Madawaska Valley Community-Based Strategic Plan 2015-2019 and The Township of Madawaska Valley Economic Development Plan 2010-2014, and it is successfully completing goals from these plans. For example, when the Station remained open for the winter season, it helped to achieve the strategic plan’s goal of making MV an all-season destination. Investment in the Station has paid dividends to the local economy as tourism has increased in the winter. Snowmobilers access accommodations, restaurants, retail and the trail networks helping to create a sustainable economy throughout the year. Nopper writes:

A strong sustainable year-round economy ensures that the local businesses will be stable, provides opportunity for new business to move to the area, and highlights the Madawaska Valley as open for business.

The Station’s contribution to our economy

According to a document prepared for Council by Station staff in 2015 which incorporated research from the Ontario Highlands Tourist Organization and the Ottawa Valley Tourist Association, the Railway Station Visitor Information Centre welcomed more guests each year than any other visitor information centre in Renfrew County. This success was largely due to the fact that the Station was more than just a tourist information booth. It had become a space where culture and MV’s wilderness adventures and tourism were showcased to visitors, residents and potential entrepreneurs.

The Visitor and Information Centre received over 13,000 visitors in 2015. Municipal staff plugged this number into a web-based calculator – The Ontario Tourism Regional Economic Impact Model (TREIM) – to predict the economic impact of these visitors’ spending on the local economy. Considering spending on accommodation; the purchase of food and beverage in stores, restaurants and bars; recreation and entertainment expenses; and amounts spent at clothing and other retailers, our 13,000 visitors made a financial impact in the region estimated at $4,768,124.00.

The Station’s social dividends for our community

Social Return on Investment (SROI), is an indicator identified in the Community Hubs in Ontario: A Strategic Framework and Action Plan.  SROI is a calculation that measures social, financial and environmental values relative to the resources invested. In other words, it attaches a dollar figure to the social benefits in the community that result from every dollar invested in the hub.

In May 2016 MV municipal staff used this tool and calculated a Social Return on Investment value of $4.60 for each dollar spend on the Station. Given the Station’s 2016 net budget of $72,222.22 (which was 2.2 percent of the MV’s total taxable levy) the Station’s social benefit to the community was valued at $359,822.21. The monetary value associated with all of the social and cultural benefits of the Station was almost five times greater than the actual investment in the Station made by the municipality.

Station still vital to Madawaska Valley

Madawaska Valley’s historic Railway Station located in Barry’s Bay has certainly been making news in recent years. People who live, have lived, have roots, who visit, or have visited the Valley are expressing renewed interest in this cultural treasure. In the age of rail, the modest clapboard Station in Barry’s Bay was a symbol of community pride, a locus for regional economic activity, a link with the world beyond, and a meeting place. Times have changed and the Railway Station’s function has certainly changed, but residents know, and statistics and models indicate, that it is still vital to the cultural, social and economic life of the Madawaska Valley.

2 Comments

  1. Stephanie Park

    Thank you for this article! Recreation and tourism are invaluable to the cultural well-being and economic development of our community. I am very grateful to the MVCHS for taking on the important part of our community and the co-ordination and planning of the events at the Railway Station.

  2. Johanna Zomers

    In Eganville, our economic and cultural development efforts include identifying opportunities to create a “hub” for our community—a lively place with heart and soul such as the Railway Station embodies in Barry’s Bay. Such a treasure should not be discarded!

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