Neighbours seek economic and tourism development

Local businesses and residents gathered at M&L Hall in Madawaska on Feb. 9 for a meeting entitled Economic & Tourism Development. It was the second of two sessions for South Algonquin Township facilitated by Chris Fullerton, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Geography & Tourism Studies at Brock University and his students, Sam Olson, Taran Lennard and Cam Rolz. In her introduction, Mayor Jane Dumas said that for several years South Algonquin has collaborated with Brock University on various projects to encourage community growth. South Algonquin Councillors Joe Florent, Richard Shalla and Sandra Collins joined in the discussion with the community participants.

Fullerton said South Algonquin recently adopted a community-led strategic plan that identified certain key goals and one of the priorities was economic development. To stimulate discussion about this priority, Rolz presented an analysis of the community’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

The group of approximately two dozen people discussed the current tourism assets in the area. Some of them referred to the significant competitive impact of the areas west of Algonquin Park such as Muskoka. This influence is experienced to some extent in the Madawaska Valley. However, while MV is part of the Ottawa Valley tourism region, South Algonquin is officially linked with Algonquin Park in the tourism region located beyond the West Gate. Other participants noted that South Algonquin Township also faces a challenge because of its distance from the seat of Nipissing District, North Bay. This is another challenge that Madawaska Valley can relate to, as MV is the municipality farthest away from Pembroke in Renfrew County.

The two municipalities also have more in common. They share a rich history dating back thousands of years to the ancestors of the Algonquin peoples and more recently to the story of the lumber camps and the railway that linked Ottawa to Parry Sound. Although the trains are gone, JR Booth’s legacy is still in full force connecting our villages via recreational trails which were once the railway tracks.

Over the past few years the Township of Madawaska Valley has invested in the development of a recreational geology touring guide which includes sites in both townships and a permanent exhibit in the Railway Station. More sites in both townships were identified as suitable for potential development. The Madawaska River, which attracts thousands of paddlers each year, is another asset shared by South Algonquin and Madawaska Valley. While cross-border collaboration was not specifically on the agenda that afternoon, it seemed clear that there is a lot of potential for further mutual support and collaboration between the two townships – at least in terms of tourism and community growth.

The Brock University team also asked for feedback from participants about an ecomuseum concept. Fullerton said an ecomuseum is not a single building, but rather a community-wide approach to conserving and preserving local heritage. He described a Canadian example at Kalyna Country in Saskatchewan.  Click HERE to view the Kalyna Country ecomuseum website.  An international example can be found in Tuscany, Italy. Click HERE to view the Ecomuseum of Casentino.

Embracing our shared heritage and geographical landscape as a springboard for tourism development may well provide a joint boost to economic development.

Editor’s note: In contrast to the proactive stance of our neighbouring municipality, the benefit of tourism in terms of economic development does not appear to be similarly recognized by MV Council at the present time. It is to be hoped that the current discussions concerning the future of the Railway Station will go some way towards remedying this.

About the author: Anya Gansterer reports on the meeting through the lens of her experience as Culture and Tourism Coordinator for Madawaska Valley Township from 2003 to 2017. She remains dedicated to enlivening space through culture.

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