We all breathe a collected sigh of relief when Labour Day passes. Kind of a “Phew, we did it!” moment. Our “phew” moment doesn’t really come till the end of October and I am always counting down the days till I can sit in my jammies and sip my morning coffee. Next year will be our twentieth year at the inn (how did that happen!) and the last two have been particularly busy ones. I should be curled up in a semi-comatose state but here I am struggling to write this piece for you. Why then? Because I want to introduce you to your “tourists” and to share with you who they are, why they are here and what they experience. We have such lovely people come to stay and I think that gets lost in the whole “tourism” conversation.
We tend to forget how staggeringly beautiful our Valley is and how lucky we are to know what fresh air smells like, what quiet sounds like and what dark looks like. But each season, when travellers arrive from all around the world (we had guests from 24 countries this year), I get to see the Valley through their eyes and am reminded to not take it for granted.
One young woman from the UK, with a look of total awe on her face, after coming back from Algonquin park said,
I have never seen anything like it. It was absolutely incredible. I will never forget it.
I know she won’t.
Beyond a doubt, Algonquin Park is the number one tourism draw in our area. The Madawaska Valley is very fortunate to be on the Ottawa–Algonquin Park route. Most overseas travellers head here from Montreal or Toronto, often doing circular routes, which will take in Gananoque and Kingston too. But, and it still amazes me when this happens, some guests drive straight from Toronto airport to our inn, spend a week in Algonquin and the Valley, then fly home again. Humbling. “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world …” Well, you get my drift.
This year, our guests were overwhelmingly European. There are so few wild spaces left in Europe and people are willing to cross the ocean to get away from it all. We have found, over the past few years, that the average age of these guests has dropped drastically and the length of stay has increased. Both things are fantastic. These delightful young people are here to get back to nature. They want to get into the forests and wild places. They want to hike and paddle. See moose and bear. Breathe fresh air, listen to the quiet and see the stars. They are not disappointed. Many will and do return. Honeymooners from Germany that stayed with us years ago returned this year with their children so they could spend time again in our “hood.”
Guest messages written on the Inn’s blackboard (Photo submitted)
We had so many guests from China last year and this fall that our catchphrase at the inn was, “China has come to visit.” Visits to Canada from China were up 11.8 percent in 2017 from 2016. That is 680,000 people! Our beautiful lakes are high on their list of must-sees and October is their preferred month to visit because of the leaves and, serendipitously, our autumn coincides with China’s week-long holiday in October called “Golden Week.”
Our Chinese visitors are on the move to see and experience as much possible. Who can blame them when they have travelled so far? Usually they stay for one night. Often one person in the party will have some English, but not always, and I think how brave they are to travel without the language, translation apps aside. They are keen and excellent photographers. I had one group of women who had gotten half way to the Park only to come back because they hadn’t taken a picture with me. (Tears welled up, I can tell you.) They are interested and appreciative of any help you may offer. One couple with little English whom I helped find a room late one October night, drove back 20 minutes the next morning to present me with a tin of “special tea” before carrying on once more towards the Park. (Again, the tears welled up. I really have to work on that.)
If I could have you take away one thing it would be to see the individuals who come to stay not as tourists, but as people paying us an incredible compliment by choosing to visit our area. I know the stores get crazy and we may have to wait at the stop sign longer than usual, but of all the places in the world, these really gracious people have come to our Valley — and they love it here. How great is that?
About the author: Nancy Fortune is a Ryerson University hospitality grad who has worked in the industry from the age of 14. She and her chef husband, Warwick, built a cottage in the Madawaska Valley in 1982 and moved here with their two children in 1992. They opened Fortune’s Madawaska Valley Inn in 1999. This year, the inn hosted guests from Germany, France, Spain, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, China, Portugal, the UK, USA, Mexico, Australia, Japan, Czech Republic, Hungary, Denmark, Turkey, Finland, South Africa, Puerto Rico, and Israel.
Featured photo: Brett Zeck on unsplash.com