Anyone following the election campaign knows the Barry’s Bay Railway Station remains a hot issue. All candidates have addressed it in their literature and interviews, but when incumbent mayoral candidate Kim Love spoke about it recently in an interview with The Eganville Leader, she presented a version of the story that does not match the facts. These inaccuracies should not be attributed to The Eganville Leader but to Love’s selective memory since she did not seek a correction.
A review of annual reports and presentations to Council by Station staff and insights from the Railway Station’s former manager Anya Gansterer also reveal facts not mentioned by the Mayor. The Current brought these to her attention and asked for a response or comment on them. No response was received.
Busiest tourism centre in Renfrew County
According to the Love interview, the Station operated “mainly as a tourism information centre” and at one time was the busiest of all centres in Renfrew County. Strangely, Love omits that the success of the visitor centre was the result of a municipal policy which valued the leadership and work of a director/curator who also worked for the municipality co-ordinating tourism and marketing — policy which she dismantled.
Reports show that the Station became the busiest of all visitor centres after 2004 when a director/curator was hired by the municipality to manage the visitor centre, museum and South of 60 gallery. The visitor centre had received fewer than 1000 visitors in 2002 and 2003, but after a significant increase in numbers in 2004, the municipality agreed to fund the position again in 2005 and visitor numbers rose to more than 6000. In 2009 the Station attracted more than 10,000 visitors and by 2015 the visitor numbers were at 13,500. Applying the Ontario Tourism Regional Economic Impact Model to this number allows us to determine the impact on the local economy. Based on that model, the total economic impact from those 13,500 visitors was $4,768,124.00.
Gallery sales not cost-effective
Another inaccurate statement from the Love interview is “Later, the South of 60 Arts Centre was established in the station and it gave artists from a wide area a place to display and sell their works.” Gansterer’s response to Love’s statement is clear:
This … sums up one of the biggest falsehoods around the Railway Station controversy. The purpose of the gallery in the Railway Station was not to give artists a place to sell and display work. It was an exhibition space to tell the stories of TMV (and others) through art and heritage exhibitions. The sale of art and merchandises was a side-benefit to subsidize the cost of running the gallery.
According to the interview Love also said “staff had identified that the accounting/auditing costs of selling merchandise at the station were far higher than the sales revenue being generated and so the arrangement with the arts people was discontinued.” Those statements are problematic on several levels. First, the sale of art and merchandise was never a primary purpose of the Railway Station. Second, the Railway Station staff managed the sale of merchandise. While on sick leave Gansterer offered to answer any questions about these matters, but the Township refused to communicate with her. Consequently, staff at the township office encountered difficulties because they had no firsthand knowledge of the merchandise or the multiple artisans involved.
A report presented to Council in November 2015, which included TMV’s own budget summaries from 2007-2015, revealed that annual sales at the Station increased from $515 to $1391 per year, proving that sales were a side-benefit. More significantly, the 2017 MV Budget shows revenues at the Railway Station of $35,600. Although this figure is not broken down to show art sales, and includes donations and sponsorships, it does provide an opportunity to consider the broader economic impact of the Station. The Conference Board of Canada estimates that for every dollar in income a cultural organization generates, $1.84 goes back into the community in which that organization is located. Based on the 2017 figure, the economic spin-off of the Station in 2017 was valued at $67,284.
Arrangement with arts people
Love also referred to ending an “arrangement with the arts people.” Anya Gansterer explains there has not been such an arrangement since 2002 -2003 when the Madawaska Valley Arts Council last rented gallery space from TMV. She says,
Since 2004 the railway museum, visitor centre and gallery have all been owned and operated by TMV.
Then she adds,
It should be noted that South of 60 Arts Centre has never been an independent legal entity. It was simply the name of the gallery. In 2016 TMV made the decision to drop the South of 60 name and re-name the facility The Railway Station Visitor Centre, Museum and Gallery.
Experience you can count on?
Love’s comments in The Eganville Leader profile appear to be all about damage control. They are an attempt to distance herself from the vendetta against the Railway Station and its staff that she presided over commencing in 2014. All staff who were involved with the Station have been fired or resigned; volunteers are disillusioned and without direction; and economic spinoffs are being lost as you read this.