BARRY’S BAY – A Madawaska Valley Township councillor is criticising South of 60 on what he calls a lack of “proper festivals” in the municipality.
Councillor Ernie Peplinski grilled Culture and Tourism Coordinator Danielle Paul at the recreation, heritage and culture committee meeting on January 12.
Paul was there to outline the 2016 Madawaska Valley Visitor and Art Centre business plan to committee.
“Much of this has been formed by the strategic plan of council as well as learning through the OVTA and Ontario Highlands Tourism Organization,” she began.
The business plan includes the installation of a second phone line at the railway station. Mayor Kim Love questioned the reasoning for this.
“The second phone line is something that we identified as a need over the last couple of years, particularly when we are busy in the summer,” Paul replied. “The single phone line is shared by our credit and debit card machine and the office upstairs. What happens is sometimes you lose a sale when a visitor is in a hurry and someone is on the telephone upstairs and the transaction cannot be processed.”
The cost for a second line would be somewhere around $20 per month. That’s on top of the $50 already paid for the first phone line.
Paul then touched on the upcoming Cultural + Community – Phase II event (an extension of the cultural summit last year) planned for May 2016.
“We are looking at capitalizing on existing assets right here in the township in terms of tourism, looking not just at tourism operators but also the supporting businesses,” she said. “It’s an effort to reach out to as many of our local businesses across the township as we can to help them come together to improve our offering to the visitor.”
Recreation and Community Development Coordinator Paul Nopper said the goal is to create ambassadors in every business.
“We have heard in the past visitors asking questions like, ‘where’s the beach’ and the employee didn’t know,” Nopper said. “This would give training to staff – information on the area, things to do, attractions.”
Committee asked what happened to the welcome package that was commissioned two years ago. The township received funding to develop and print a welcome package, containing a comprehensive business directory.
“It hasn’t been dropped, but we haven’t had direction to proceed with it at this point,” Paul replied. “We have the draft, we have the groundwork, it’s just a question of updating it.”
Nopper clarified that parts of the welcome package will be included in a new tourism-based website and a paper copy is still being considered.
“I think a digital copy would be far more useful because that information does change fairly rapidly,” Mayor Kim Love said. “As soon as we print it, it would be out of date.”
Next up, Councillor Ernie Peplinski asked where money goes from exhibition sponsors. Paul explained that each sponsor contributes $400 to the exhibition, which covers costs of promotion, invites and other expenses.
He questioned which department pays for the weekly print advertisements. Nopper said advertisement costs are split and exhibition ads are paid through South of 60 funding.
“I think it’s very important to know who is paying for this,” Peplinski said.
He then turned to the topic of festivals and events, contained in the 2016 business plan. Councillor Peplinski said he has received “lots of calls” related to the There’s Art in Your Woodpile competition last year.
“I know there was considerable amount of money spent on this initiative,” he said. “I would love to see at budget time what was spent on this. I understand a prize was given out, that wood was delivered there and there was a cost associated.”
Paul explained that the wood was originally due to be donated.
“Unfortunately the person who was donating the wood was unable to do so,” she said. “Literally, the week before it happened, we had to go out and buy the wood.”
Following the competition, the wood was donated to the Wilno rink to warm up the shelter on site.
Peplinski also asked how wood relates to culture or economic development.
“In terms of wood pile art being a part of our culture, wood is a material that is the Valley,” Paul replied. “It’s taking a different spin on it. In terms of value, I think the visitor numbers and the votes tell quite a story because it was extremely popular. If we can bring visitors into our town or get them to stop as they drive through town during one of those shoulder seasons that is not a peak season, we think that’s a big benefit.”
She outlined that staff time cards are now altered for 2016, to show how employees spend their time on administration, exhibitions, etc.
Peplinski remained on the topic of culture, asking Paul how her committee decides what is important to the culture of the area.
“Who do you speak to?” he asked. “Do you have open houses? Because you are not from here Paul [Nopper] and I don’t think Danielle [Paul] you are from this area…As I look at the programs being offered, I see nothing – this community does nothing for the Irish people – there is no Irish music promoted.”
He acknowledged that there is a strong group in Wilno preserving and celebrating the Polish/Kashubian heritage.
“What is your group doing about that particular aspect of our community? Nothing, as far as I can see,” he said. “We got wood piles.”
Get your January 20, 2016 edition of The Valley Gazette to read the full story.