Next council must up the game on economic development


The 2018 municipal election campaign is well under way. I am glad to see the signs in the community. The ones on private property show that citizens are getting involved and thinking about the important questions. Speaking of questions, I think The Madawaska Valley Current’s online election forum is providing a very useful service by letting voters field questions that concern them and by allowing the candidates who are participating a chance to explain their views and visions to the citizens of the Madawaska Valley. It makes it easier to vote for someone if you know what he or she stands for.

As a former mayor and businessman, I am particularly interested in the economic development of the Township of Madawaska Valley. Hearing about the sale of Madawaska Doors motivated me to write this piece. In the Eganville Leader, Mayor Love is quoted as saying “there is going to be plenty of work here” due to three high-end housing developments. That is all well and good, but the next council needs a plan and a vision to act on these projects effectively. Quite frankly, in the last four years, I have seen little positive council action on several existing and potential projects that would definitely benefit our municipality.

Here are my thoughts on several economic development issues. I would like voters and candidates to think about what could be done for each of these. I hope the mayor and councillors who are elected on October 22 will work proactively to bring ideas, investment, jobs, young people and tourists to our community.

400 Acres

Do voters know that the Township owns 400 acres of vacant land near the Bark Lake Dam? We need a plan for this land. The simplest thing a council could do would be to harvest the mature timber on it, but that is a short-term project. The next council should solicit proposals from the general public for ways to use this land which is adjacent to the Madawaska Kanu Camp. Perhaps hiking or mountain biking trails could be established there. What about yurts for camping? What about a solar power project on those south-facing hillsides? What about an RV park? The next council should seek ideas and partnerships to make this land work for the citizens and to provide jobs.

Real Estate Developments

Little Bark Bay seems to be moving along nicely and building continues on Sandhill Drive, but I haven’t heard much about the Chippawa Lodge development lately. Is Council doing everything it can to keep this project moving along?

Lakewood Developments on Bark Lake has been in the works for almost twenty years. I don’t think many people in the municipality are aware of the economic effect that a project of this magnitude could have. How can the new council bring this product to a successful conclusion which, if realized, will provide hundreds of jobs in the municipality?

Finally, you might remember that there is a large property on Kamaniskeg across from the hospital which was purchased years ago for a condominium development geared to seniors. The developer still owns this land and would like to sell it. What could a new council do to promote this property to potential developers?

Speaking of seniors, perhaps we could embark on a promotional campaign like the town of Elliot Lake in northern Ontario. Take a look at their advertising; we have all the same things they offer for a retirement lifestyle:

breathtaking scenery, sunlit beaches, golf, hiking, canoeing, and an abundance of arts and cultural pursuits … in a safe, clean, friendly community.

We could actually do better because we have greater proximity to major centres like Ottawa and Toronto. We just need a plan and the will to carry out that plan. A new council could prepare and distribute promotional packages or take a team to Elliott Lake to see what they are doing.

Tourism and Recreation

Everyone knows that tourism is the major industry in the Township of Madawaska Valley. Every day in the summer season hundreds of RVs pass through Barry’s Bay, Combermere and Wilno. Sadly, that is exactly what they do — pass through — because (to the best of my knowledge) there is no motor home trailer park in the entire municipality. Yet we have under-utilized vacant properties – some are near water and others even have water and sewage hookups. Perhaps the new council could encourage an entrepreneur or partner with a group to develop a facility like this which would encourage passers-by to become visitors who stay a night or a few days and spend their money in our community.

Then there is the former Mount Madawaska. The ski hill has potential, but for various reasons this has not been realized for the last two decades. The current owners, I am told, are interested in selling. Our Council should be promoting this actively to buyers. In addition to alpine skiing, there is sufficient land for cross-country skiing in the winter; and in the summer there are other uses that could be found for the trails. Perhaps it could be a space to host a large motorcycle rally. The lodge itself could become a desirable venue for events. Council has to help developers see the potential in this and every property in the Township.

Development or Desolation

I saw a comment on The Current’s election forum expressing a concern that we would become the next Muskoka with high, unaffordable taxes. I also heard from a friend that people on Facebook were expressing their pleasure that the tourists were leaving the community on Labour Day weekend and the community would be “quiet” again. With attitudes like this, our community will stagnate and die.

We need jobs to keep our young people here; we need jobs to attract young families; we need to encourage new businesses; we need to promote the Township of Madawaska Valley as the best place to live and invest; and we need to do whatever is necessary to make it the best place for these activities.

The next council has a lot of work to do.


About the author: John Hildebrandt, a fifth generation Valley resident, started Madawaska Doors with his father – a secondary manufacturing industry adding value to the traditional timber trade and marketing Valley products internationally. He served as an elected municipal official for 13 years through amalgamation, first as Reeve and then as Mayor of the newly-formed Madawaska Valley. He is particularly proud of his work in beginning the physician recruitment program with five neighbouring municipalities (still functioning today) as well as his role in Zurakowski Park. Although retired, he is actively involved in community issues such as hydro costs and access to medical services.  The views expressed in this article are his own.


  1. John’s article and the following comments make some very good points about the need for development and employment options without too great an impact on the surrounding wilderness. Part of the solution may be to look for opportunities among current building inventories in the area. The advantage is lower cost and lower risk to convert rather than to build new. Valley Manor Long Term Care will be moving to a new facility in 2022, leaving behind a building with great potential for alternative uses. When listing the building for sale I envisioned converting the facility to a small retirement residence, a medi-spa, a retreat, outdoor education facility and many more uses related to recreation and tourism. The building would also lend itself to micro-industries with low rent and low risk. With all those uses comes employment. Rather than pave over more of the pristine wilderness of Madawaska, I think there is an opportunity here to make use of an existing building and a wise developer/investor will take a close look at how this can be done.

  2. Nat Hall

    Is this the same John that during the process of the last large development on rented Farm land near the hospital had his plot picked out while in office ? Just wondering ??

  3. Barb Cardwell

    I totally agree with Steve Brunke’s comments. We need to promote this area and attract more people to enjoy it, in order to maintain a thriving community. Marketing this as a great retirement community would be an excellent idea – it’s why I chose to retire here – but would require having adequate medicals services. Since we haven’t been successful in recruiting family doctors to even meet the needs of the existing population, I think this would be a major roadblock in this plan. Hard to expect seniors to want to move here when they’re likley going to have to wait years to have a local family doctor.
    I’d also like to point out that there is already at least one location for trailer/RV camping – the Sunny Hill Resort on Bark Lake has a campground for trailers/RV’s and another for tents.
    There needs to be a focus on attracting or developing businesses that will result in long term employment opportunities, instead of relying on building developments that only offer employment for those with experience in the trades, and then have those jobs disappear once the development is complete.

  4. Frank Mallany

    I don’t think it’s fair to get all judgemental on people because they enjoy how quiet the area becomes after labour day. That’s one of the reasons many of us moved here.
    As for the real estate developments, I can’t say that I’m happy about the 50 plus condominium site proposed across the lake from me at Chippawa. How can the developer honestly say “the development would preserve the tranquility of Green Lake and likely would not increase water traffic on the Madawaska River”. Sounds like 50 more boats, jet skis etc. to me and when did a development of this size preserve anything? I’m surprised there isn’t more opposition to this project. Yes we need to attract new residents to the area but 50 new homes on Kamaniskeg squashed together like some neighbourhood in Brampton is not what this area is all about. I understand the potential additional tax revenue is tempting but If this project is allowed to go ahead there is no turning back. The precedent set could lead to more and bigger projects and the lake will never be the same. Let’s not pave our paradise.

  5. Well said John. Tourism and attracting retirement living is the best way forward in this area. We have natural resources that are world class and just need to be marketed properly. I have shown people from all over the world what this area has to offer and all of them are left awestruck and want to return. We are very fortunate to have the open spaces, lakes, rivers and forests that we do. We need to show the world what a special place this is. People that want to keep the tourists away are just asking to watch the community have a long slow demise.

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