Life goes on

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On the edge of the Niagara Escarpment, on the Bruce Peninsula

It’s remarkable surely that people the world over continue to go about their daily lives and business – living, loving, making plans and so on as if the world isn’t on the edge. What strange creatures we mortals are: somehow able to keep on keeping on as if the future is not in clear and imminent . . . well, mortal danger.

What are we supposed to do? Stop living? It suddenly occurs to me maybe some have. Who knows how many have made that choice on account of the political situation in the United States of America, and its impact on the rest of the world.

Someone, it appears, has taken the lid of Pandora’s box, and all manner of craziness has been set loose to run amok.

Yet, one way or another, most of us carry on with our lives.

I cultivated a patch of garden ground here at my Hope Ness farm yesterday for garlic planting. My young friends Michael and Svenya got a few rows in today even as a cold rain started to fall.

Who knows “the shape of things to come” early next spring when those brave little garlic sprouts start to appear.

And not that far away a new generation of young entrepreneurs are among those making brave, new plans for next year’s local tourist season. By all means let us welcome visitors from every part of the world. Yes, indeed, hope springs eternal, especially when you’re young.

During much of the past 35 years a lot of people, in the local tourism business and in local governments, have worked and tried hard to grow the local tourism industry. In the 1980s, into the early 1990s, the focus of the Grey-Bruce Tourist Association was on promoting the region as a four-season destination, as well as increasing summer visitation.

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Reliance on a short summer season, with a peak season of 10 or 12 weeks, and the vulnerability to the temperaments of weather conditions that entailed, was not a sound basis for building a viable, and sustainable industry.

The four-season approach never paid off to the extent hoped. The GBTA, based in Springmount near Owen Sound ceased to exist, as the two upper-tier county governments decided to take a leading tourism-promotion role in their separate areas. That essentially remains in place, with Bruce County’s “Explore the Bruce” promotions.

But “governance” specific to tourism challenges and issues in certain areas is lacking, for example, on the Bruce Peninsula. That’s especially true of the upper peninsula where the two national parks in the last couple of years finally have a peak-season tourism boom. But it has become, in effect, too much of a good thing for the Tobermory area.

Concerns about the existing municipal and tourism infrastructure being overwhelmed and unable to cope with the sudden popularity of Tobermory and the national parks as a tourist destination reached a critical level of urgency a year ago, after a very busy 2016 season. Among many issues raised at two public brain-storming meetings was the fact many tourists couldn’t be accommodated at local attractions and had to be turned away. Thousands of people leaving the area after such a bad experience was the last thing the local tourism industry needed. Something had to be done.

A meeting at the Lion’s Head Rotary Hall, and a follow-up meeting in Tobermory, ended with hundreds of yellow, sticky-noted suggestions that community-based Bruce Peninsula Environment Group organizers, led by Megan Myles, tried hard to come to grips with.

Myles is one of a new generation of community-minded, environmentally conscientious, tourism entrepreneurs hoping to unravel the virtual Gordian knot of local tourism. Or put another way, how is it possible to develop a viable tourism industry while protecting the natural environment and community that are its reasons for being?

Ultimately, the local group came to the conclusion the challenge was so big and complex they needed to reach out for expert help.

The local committee approached RT107, one of 13 not-for-profit corporations that receive $38 million annually from the Ontario government for tourism planning and marketing initiatives in various regions. RT107 agreed to pay for two-thirds of the cost of a study. The Municipality of The Northern Bruce Peninsula, Bruce County, and Parks Canada agreed to cover the rest.

A Canadian tourism consulting firm with international reach, Twenty31, based in Vancouver and Toronto, has been hired, and introduced to the local community at a public meeting Oct. 18 in Tobermory.

The consultant is expected to comer up with a “sustainable tourism management plan,” following extensive consultations and research to help develop “new sustainable tourism destinations and infrastructure to accommodate the demand.” That’s according to the request for proposals issued last summer by RT107.

The study will also take a close look at the changing tourist market and what potential visitors to the peninsula will be looking for, and whether they might consider, or even prefer visiting other than during the summer

The study will also look at leadership roles, or governance. Myles has said that’s “the one big question” she hopes will be answered.

A comment she made during an interview earlier this month with Sun Times reporter Scott Dunn, was insightful: “I think just the fact that we weren’t able to very clear and simply say who’s going to own this plan points to a gap in our tourism governance structure.”

It must be said that what happens regarding the strategic future of tourism on the Bruce Peninsula is bound to have an economic impact throughout the Grey-Bruce Region.

Thirty-plus years ago the peninsula, largely because of the Chi-Cheemaun ferry, was identified as the main engine of regional tourism. Now, it’s the Bruce Peninsula and Fathom Five national parks; but the underlying point likely remains true.

Clearly, there are urgent issues to address on the peninsula, but the study now beginning should also look at the broader, regional aspects. For example, what role can the City of Owen Sound play in ensuring visitors will have a well-informed, pleasant experience as they travel through the area?

It’s also important to point out, and never forget, the Bruce Peninsula was previously called the “Saugeen Peninsula,” and not that long ago; after all, what’s 150 years or so, compared with a great many more years of Aboriginal presence.

The peninsula by any name is the traditional territory of The Saugeen Ojibway First Nation, consisting of the Saugeen First Nation and the Chippewas of Nawash First Nation. They have hunting grounds on the upper peninsula. They jointly filed a large land claim lawsuit more than 20 years ago that will likely be the subject of a negotiated settlement, possibly in 2018. First Nations also now have a legal right to be consulted on any significant development in their traditional territories.

The Saugeen Ojibway should be heavily involved in this planning process, sooner than later.

I’m hopeful about the future of this area, and the willingness and ability of the diversity of people who live here to find considerate, respectful solutions to whatever local challenges we face. I’m also hopeful about the future of this good country, though more challenges – some of which we can hardly begin to imagine – lie ahead, no doubt.

Hold on to this thought above all: the vast majority of people on this beautiful little blue/green jewel of a planet just want to live and do right by each other. And for that truth alone there is reason to be hopeful.

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A version of this post was originally published in The Sun Times October, 2017.

 

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