Cultivating Tourism In North Grenville

As part of my platform of ideas, I want to pursue tourism as an economic development opportunity for North Grenville. I believe that we have a number of tourism elements already operating, it’s just a matter of bringing them together to build something bigger. Day trips to North Grenville for residents of Ottawa and even Montreal could bring a big boost to the local economy.

I believe that the first step should be a gathering of tourism stakeholders including the Municipality of North Grenville. This would include community organizations, local business groups, the United Counties of Leeds & Grenville and individual business owners who potentially could directly or indirectly contribute to the growth of tourism in the area.

The second step should be the creation of a tourism organization that includes the range of stakeholders that could potentially be involved in tourism locally. This could be a North Grenville organization or even a regional organization. Sharing of resources would be key at the beginning stages of development of the group.

The third would be to develop a strategic plan on how to bring our local tourism assets together and create a tourism attraction(s) that would bring people to the area. One of these attractions could be an agri-food tour where people get a full day tour to several of the agri-food businesses in the area to see how these businesses operate and try samples of their work. Blue Gypsy Wines and Grahames Bakery could be two of the stops on this tour.  There are also assets like the Ferguson Forest Centre and the Kemptville Campus that could be developed into active transportation or nature-based tourism activities.

The final step would be to create a marketing plan to promote these attractions in order to draw people here. In the east, the market could be from Ottawa to Montreal as they are close enough to be able to do a daytrip to North Grenville. According to research, one of the hottest trends in tourism is taking “a look behind the curtain” and learning about how things are done or made. An attraction like an agri-food tour could capitalize on this trend.

Agricultural Community Improvement Plan – Investing In Rural North Grenville

I believe that there is significant potential in the fields of agriculture, agri-food and local food for the North Grenville area. A focus on these areas would encourage entrepreneurship and lead to the creation of local jobs. Through my work with the farmer’s market, my writing about local food for the North Grenville Times, my work on the North Grenville Rural Summit and attending different conferences and events around Eastern Ontario, I have spoken to literally hundreds of people about the potential for economic development in agriculture. The recent acquisition of #KemptvilleCampus and its significant lands appears to align quite nicely with these key areas.

With this in mind, I would like to see North Grenville develop a Rural or Agricultural Community Improvement Plan (CIP) that encourages rural residents and business owners to invest in their rural businesses with matching grant funding from the Municipality of North Grenville up to a pre-set maximum amount. There is currently a CIP in place for the Downtown area of Kemptville and I would like to see that type of investment in our rural areas too.

Why not invest money in agriculture in the rural areas where this type of investment would have the most potential to make an economic impact?

The First Step

Hi everyone! This is the first step in releasing some of my ideas and thoughts that will be part of my campaign. These ideas will give you an idea of my vision for North Grenville. Please feel free to comment and of course share with others. I’ve gathered some of these from the door-to-door canvassing I’ve done so far and some have been part of my listening/researching/writing efforts over the past four years. Here’s the first one….

I believe that we should do a comprehensive review of the operations and services offered by the Municipality of North Grenville. I believe that there are significant opportunities for us to save money and improve the efficiency of how we operate the municipality and the services that we offer to residents. For example, can we re-distribute municipal staff resources to be more efficient in providing services to residents?

What do you think?

NG Rural Summit 2018

Edit – I was very proud to have a major role in the North Grenville Rural Summit. I would love to see one of these happen every year with a wide range of topics covering rural living.

This Saturday will be the culmination of months of work, planning and hundreds of emails. The North Grenville Rural Summit will be taking place this Saturday April 7 at Parish Hall on the campus of the former Kemptville College. Though it has been a labour of love for the organizing committee, make no mistake, it’s been a labour.

All of us on the committee sincerely hope that everyone who attends goes home motivated with information that they can use right away. One of the people that will definitely help provide the motivation part will be our keynote speaker, Moe Garahan. Whether she’s speaking to hundreds of people at a local food conference, or conducting a small scale agriculture workshop with a dozen people outdoors, Moe is passionate, opinionated and incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to agriculture and food.  She has been “fighting the good fight” as the Executive Director of Just Food in Ottawa since 2004. Just Food is a grassroots, non-profit organization that was created by community members who were concerned about a lack of food security in the National Capital Region.

Originally from Northern Ontario, New Liskeard to be precise, Moe has been involved in agriculture for her pretty much her entire life. Specifically, she has been advocating for and working on food and farming issues in Ottawa since 1995. Focused on community development and community economic development issues, she has facilitated the establishment of many ongoing community and regional food initiatives in Ottawa, while supporting provincial and national food programs. Since becoming the Executive Director of Just Food, Moe has been working with teams to integrate food access and food localism within the mixed urban and rural settings of the Ottawa region.

One aspect of the day that hasn’t got much attention to date is the lunch that will be served. Local caterer Catered Affairs will be preparing the meal with help from Jim Beveridge who helped to procure some of the ingredients. The meal itself will be a full course farm-to-table lunch (not just soup and sandwiches) whose ingredients will all have been sourced within 100km of North Grenville. Even the coffee was roasted locally. The meal alone will be worth the $30 price of admission.

We’ll also have some special guests joining us who will be walking around the building, so feel free to stop and chat with them as they wander. Maybe even take a second to ask them how they plan to support agriculture in the future.

Needless to say, we’re beyond excited to see our collective vision unfold this Saturday. We’ve done our best to make sure that there will be something interesting for everyone. So, don’t forget to register by Wednesday at to secure your spot. See you Saturday!

Just One Streetlight – Why Wait?

Edit – adding a streetlight to County Road 43 seems like a small gesture that could make a dangerous area safer. CR43 continues to raise concerns for some residents of North Grenville.

This past summer, there was a tragedy on County Road 43 (CR 43) as a local resident was struck by a vehicle while walking at night. Local resident Gary Boal 63, died while doing the responsible thing of walking home (instead of driving) after having a few alcoholic drinks at a social event. The particular section of road where the tragedy took place has a bridge and is unlit. The bridge has a very narrow sidewalk (that amounts to little more than a ledge) to walk on, in order to cross the bridge.

CR 43 has long been a safety concern for vehicles and especially pedestrians and cyclists. The proposed expansion of CR 43 to four lanes has been the subject of a multi-year campaign by the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville (UCLG) who are responsible for the maintenance and control of CR 43. Insisting that they need Provincial and/or Federal Government funding to complete the proposed $30 million expansion, the project remains on the shelf, but “shovel-ready”.

On February 11, the North Grenville Times sent an email to UCLG Public Works Department after a concerned resident pointed out that the sidewalk on the CR 43 bridge was impassable because of the buildup of snow and ice which was as high as the bridge itself. The resident also identified that a number of people (especially young people) sometimes must walk sections of CR 43, especially if they work at any of the businesses in the Colonnade development. The resident also wondered why there still wasn’t a light at the bridge to make that section safer at night, especially in light of the tragedy in the summer at that exact spot.

UCLG Public Works responded “We will clean up the snow on the bridge tonight and ensure our operators use the plow wing to maintain conditions in the future”. True to their word, the snow was indeed removed that night, but the ice underneath remained so that it was still not walkable.

Impressively, two nights later, a front-end loader was seen attempting to scrape the ice from the bridge sidewalk, but was unsuccessful because it had to put two wheels on the sidewalk in order for the blade to reach up onto it. This meant that the loader itself was tilted and therefore the blade couldn’t sit flat enough to scrape off all of the ice. Not long after, mild weather melted the ice and the sidewalk was usable again. However, as of press time, snow was piled up on the sidewalk again.

As far as the lighting of the bridge part of the email, the reply from the UCLG indicated “Regarding street lights, we have a design that is proposed as part of the improvements planned for CR 43”. It’s difficult to understand why a simple temporary light of some kind couldn’t be placed at the bridge to make that section safer for everyone until the “planned improvements” could be completed. This does not appear to be an unreasonable request, it’s only a single street light.

Every once in a while, what appears to be an obvious opportunity presents itself for someone to step forward and demonstrate leadership. Rather than fall into a discussion over whose responsibility something is, you hope that someone steps forward, takes on the responsibility and simply does what they need to do to resolve the situation. In this case, a public safety situation.

Is The Kemptville Campus A Fit For Local Food?

Edit – is the Kemptville Campus an opportunity to take over distribution of local food products after the recent loss of that activity from Two Rivers Food Hub in Smiths Falls?

The local food community received some disturbing news this past week with the announcement that the Two Rivers Food Hub in Smiths Falls was shutting down its distribution operations. This means that Two Rivers will no longer distribute local food products made by small to midsize farms and food processors to area restaurants, stores and institutions. This will leave a number of farmers and local food businesses looking for alternative ways to get their products into the hands and mouths of consumers.

Two Rivers will continue to rent commercial kitchen space to farmers and food processors, as well as continue to rent space in their long-term freezers and cool storage facilities. This institution has provided a much-needed link in the local food system by allowing small to mid-size farmers a way of selling their products outside of places like community farmers’ markets. Quite often these farmers aren’t able to produce the large quantities required to be able to sell at the reduced cost that is demanded by the large wholesalers. These large wholesalers currently dominate the distribution channels to almost all restaurants, large food retailers and institutions across Canada.

Rather than look at the announcement as a “doom and gloom” scenario, maybe this creates an opportunity for another group, private company or organization to learn from the Two Rivers experience. If someone else stepped forward with a different business model or perhaps with more private money, this story could have a happy ending for all. Food hubs are best described as initiatives that support the local food value chain (system) by creating a direct link between smaller scale local farmers and customers in larger markets who are interested in the kind of delicious, nutritious, high-quality foods that these smaller producers can deliver.

The upcoming announcement of the acquisition of the former Kemptville College by the Municipality of North Grenville pops into mind. Is a local food distribution centre a good fit for the new Kemptville Campus? There’s an industrial kitchen there in the main cafeteria that could be used and a number of unoccupied buildings that could be used as short-term or long-term storage. The Kemptville Campus is closer to potential producers in Grenville County and neighbouring areas like Dundas County and the rural areas of the City of Ottawa. The close proximity to the 416, the 401 and the US border could allow for easier access to major markets like Ottawa and beyond to Montreal and the US.

There are enough potential pieces to begin a food hub on the Kemptville Campus, but it’s doubtful that there is enough local food capacity right now to support two food hubs within thirty minutes of each other. However, even if the Kemptville Campus option just did local food distribution, it would go a long way towards preserving the trailblazing work done over the last three years by the group at Two Rivers. There appears to be potential in this area with Two Rivers having distributed over $1 million in food since it began limited distribution activities in 2015. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) has been very supportive of the Two Rivers operation, so it would be logical that they would continue that support at Kemptville Campus. This could go a long way towards gaining access to grant money for the new operation.

With a door closing in Smiths Falls, could one open in Kemptville?

Transit System Anyone?

Edit – we never actually heard the result of this application for funding. An expanded transit system could have been a very positive development for North Grenville.

It was the first step and it was a big one. At Tuesday night’s Committee of the Whole meeting, North Grenville Council voted to approve a municipal staff recommendation that the Municipality of North Grenville apply to the Community Transportation Grant Program offered by the provincial government for funding that would allow the municipality to implement a community transportation service. The recommendation also included that “staff be authorized to explore partnering with Allegiance Transportation Services (ATS) to apply for the funding”.

ATS was chosen as the required strategic partner (applicant municipalities must have at least one community partner capable of offering services or possessing significant transportation assets) because they were the only organization that was capable of providing (and currently offer) accessible transportation services. In addition, ATS provides a weekday commuter service to and from Ottawa. ATS recently reached an agreement to take over operation of North Grenville Accessible Transportation (NGAT) as of April 1st, which provided taxi-like accessible bus service to persons with disabilities in the Kemptville area.

When a municipality attempts to establish a public transportation service, it must be accessible. The commuter service combined with the accessible transportation service provided by ATS are the first two pillars of a complete public transit system for North Grenville. The other components of the system would be to first provide an internal service route within Kemptville and then to roll out a commuter service between the outlying hamlets of North Grenville.

The grant proposal would focus on the creation of this internal service route through Kemptville and provide any necessary enhancements to the existing accessible transportation service. Under those conditions, the funding could be used to buy an additional bus, bus service infrastructure (signage, ramps, shelters etc.), cover operations and maintenance costs, which would include legal fees and other costs associated with establishing the service.

Director of Planning and Development Phil Gerrard stated that the proposal came together under a very tight timeline as the announcement about the grant program was made in December of last year, but work on the proposal didn’t start until the new year. The deadline for the grant application was February 28, so Planner Jordan Jackson and Economic Development Officer Matt Gilmer had to pull everything together quickly. The NG Times was able to contribute in a small way towards the development of the proposal as the Municipality used data from last year’s NG Times online survey which asked residents questions about the prospect of a transit system.

As far as the funding goes, the amount of grant money available is up to $500,000 over five years. If the application is successful and the maximum money is received, it is anticipated that between the fees paid by system users and the grant, the transportation system should not require any additional municipal funding over the first five years. The Municipality intends to closely evaluate the service over the five years of the grant funding to ensure that the service is sustainable and has enough people using it. If not, the project may be cancelled at that point.

When asked if the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville (UCLG) were also applying for this grant funding, CAO Brian Carre said that they had contacted UCLG and were told that there would be no application coming from UCLG. Brian believed that this would have negatively impacted the likelihood of North Grenville being successful, despite the fact that UCLG would have to apply to a different funding stream. He said it’s unlikely that both the upper tier (UCLG) and the lower tier (North Grenville) municipalities would receive funding at the same time.

Phil added that the project would be rolled out in phases and he wanted to assure residents that there would be multiple public consultations and plenty of opportunities for residents to provide input on everything from possible routes to the amount of user fees.

No Cape Required – The Potential For Tourism

Edit – I wrote this to highlight what I feel is the need to create a committee or have a stakeholders/public meeting to review the potential for tourism in North Grenville.

In 2017, the Economic Development Department did a complete review of all of their programming since the creation of the department. In the final report, it highlighted a number of still outstanding recommendations including two from the 2007 Economic Development Strategy prepared by McSweeney & Associates. Those recommendations involved tourism and were called “Tourism Development” and “Recreation, Waterfront & Agri-tourism Development”.

Under “Tourism Development” there are two points: 1) “Review, confirm and fully understand the tourism segments North Grenville can draw on: Sunday drivers, sports attendees, boaters, music lovers, heritage/history buffs, cyclists, nature lovers, etc. What is the demographic of each segment? What is each demographic looking for in a tourism experience?” & 2) “Review and document the current assets with the potential to draw tourists. Consider undertaking Premier-ranked tourism destination methodology, or a variation thereof”.

These two statements would appear to make sense. Gathering information before acting is logical. However, unless there is some kind of a committed group (that is invested in the outcome and has a sense of urgency) to conduct this research and then use that research, it could potentially end up being just another report that ends up shelved by Municipal Council for ten years like the above two recommendations from the 2007 Economic Development Strategy.

Forming a committed group would be seem to be a good first priority in order to move any interest in tourism forward. Sending a call out to potential partners to discuss common interests, common goals and to discover who is willing to commit to working together would be a wise first step. This should not necessarily be left to the Municipality to initiate. Any individual or organization could potentially step forward to start the ball rolling.

With the recent announcement of a new 74-room Comfort Inn and Suites Hotel ground-breaking happening this spring, now would appear to be the time to act. To date, a lack of significant accommodation space has been the biggest theoretical hurdle for tourism in terms of a willingness to commit resources. That challenge has now been addressed. Regardless, even without a large hotel, a proper tourism strategy focused on a “day-tripping” model, is a proven tourism model for areas situated beside larger urban centres like Ottawa (30-minute drive) and Montreal (two hour drive).

Rather than considering what new attractions or investments are needed to draw people to the area, it should be noted that we have a number of tourism assets already in place, that fit perfectly within a “day-tripping” framework. We are blessed with a significant number of agri-tourism assets, not to mention the natural assets we have including the South Branch of the Rideau River (Kemptville Creek), a large developing network of trails and our unique built heritage, some of which is on display for any who casually stroll through Downtown Kemptville.

A collective effort to organize and properly market these existing assets would go a long way to ensuring the success of tourism initiatives in North Grenville. Sharing information, pooling resources, pursuing funding opportunities and leveraging the skills and knowledge of individuals and organizations currently operating in the tourism field would give North Grenville a considerable advantage over other municipalities in Eastern Ontario that may lack the assets that we are so fortunate to enjoy, but have yet to properly leverage.

Tourism in North Grenville needs a champion. No cape or special powers are required.

Shiny Things

Edit – I wrote this to highlight the fact that it’s great to welcome new businesses, but it’s equally important to remember to support our existing businesses who have been with us all along.

In a recent interview given by the Mayor of North Grenville in the Kemptville Advance, he chatted about the coming year and the big things in store for 2018. These big things included; the imminent announcement of the purchase of the former Kemptville College, the ground-breaking for the new Comfort Inn & Suites Hotel and something else that the mayor alluded to that was going to forcibly remove all of our collective socks.

These are all wonderful things full of great potential and I’m sure that you join me in welcoming them coming to fruition. It’s important though that we stay focused on our existing businesses and organizations to make sure that they get at least the same level of support and attention that these new “shiny things” will enjoy. It’s easy to get distracted by the things that are shiny and new, all the while forgetting about what brought us to where we are today.

Some of you are probably aware of the challenges that Peter Vichos and his honey business faced over the past year with the Municipality of North Grenville, which were reported in the North Grenville Times. Though the situation has improved partly through the efforts of two members of council, the discussions are ongoing between the two parties. Since the Vichos Honey story broke, the North Grenville Times has been approached about other local businesses facing their own unique challenges in their dealings with the municipality.

The December opening of the new Starbucks Coffee was big news in the community, but people were concerned about the negative impacts on our existing businesses like local favourites Geronimo Coffee and Brewed Awakenings. Through recent conversations with the owners of both places, they seem to be holding their own and have had no significant negative impact to their sales. One of the key factors highlighted for this resiliency was the loyalty of their customers and a strong desire on the part of North Grenville residents to “shop local”. However, the majority of the credit should go directly to the owners themselves who have obviously built strong businesses that North Grenville residents have embraced.

If there are conditions that are negatively impacting members of our business community, we need to be aware of them, to understand what they are and figure out if there’s anything that we can do to mitigate their impact. In today’s business climate, we simply can’t afford to take our existing businesses and their future prospects for granted. Other communities would be more than happy to have some of our great local businesses relocate there. We also can’t leave out our local community and government organizations who also contribute greatly to the community through local employment and their social contributions.

I’ll always remember one remarkable statistic from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, it explained that up to 80% of job growth in rural areas comes from the success and expansion of existing small to medium-sized businesses. So, what’s the message here? Shiny new things are great, but we simply can’t take what we have for granted. Remember who brought you to the dance or you may end up going home alone.

Circling Back To Budget 2018

Edit – This was something that I wrote about the 2018 budget.

In December 2017, the municipal budget was passed for 2018. During the budget process, there were two items in particular that caught the attention of this writer. Frankly, there were a lot more items that caught my attention, but there’s only so much space available for one article.

The first item is that there are new municipal jobs that were created in the 2018 budget. One new full-time engineering technician position was created for Public Works. One new Asset Management Coordinator position was created for the Finance Department in the second half of this past year, which was not part of the 2017 budget, but was funded by cost savings realized throughout the year. Therefore, though technically this position already existed, this is the first time that it will be accounted for as part of the municipal budget. There will be a new full-time Facilities Attendant position that has been “enhanced” from an existing part-time position to full-time. There will be a new full-time Bylaw Officer position that has been “enhanced” from an existing part-time position to full-time. Finally, there will be a new full-time Building Inspector position created, but it was stated that this position will be funded through the collection of inspection fees and will not be funded through the municipal budget.

To simplify things, let’s call each of the new Bylaw Officer and Facilities Attendant positions a half of a full-time job as they were both part-time previously. Add to this the new full-time Engineering Technician and that means that the equivalent of TWO full-time jobs were created in this budget. The total cost of all of these new positions as provided by the Treasurer is $125,000 including benefits. This represents approximately half of the proposed tax rate increase of 2%.

For this year’s budget process, Council decided that they would try a new process whereby community groups and residents who wanted to make budget requests or wanted to make some other sort of change to the budget would have to speak to a member of Council and then that member of Council would bring their request forward to be voted on. Members of Council claimed that they had collectively met with people or groups a total of approximately thirty times. Deputy Mayor Tobin believed that she received about thirty emails and Councillor Onasanya said that he received at least thirty emails regarding the budget. The other three members of Council were unable to come up with a figure as to how many emails they received. There was also mention of how consultation occurs with residents and community groups throughout the year, not only at budget time.

The total amount of money that was requested to be added or shifted for the 2018 budget by residents or community groups in North Grenville during the budget consultation process was $166,000. Some of the requests included one by the Ontario Parenting Connection (and an offer had been made by OPC to become a partner on the project) for $100,000 for a splash pad and other upgrades to Riverside Park, a request to increase the amount of money in the Community Improvement Program by $20,000 from the Old Town Kemptville Business Improvement Area (BIA) and another BIA request for $40,000 to complete the Waterfront Trail along the actual waterfront, instead of its current route which sends people for a sloped walk up Barnes Street and then to walk along Clothier Street. Each request was voted on separately by Council at a special Committee of the Whole meeting on November 14th.

After all of this consultation, the amount of money that was either shifted or added to the budget from these consultations amounted to a grand total of $500. That works out to 0.3% of the amount that was requested. It’s difficult to believe that someone was genuinely interested in consulting with people with results like that.

At one of the initial budget meetings, a video was played on a unique concept of having residents make budget requests and then the community could vote on which request they like. A list of community requests would be compiled by municipal staff and then residents would be able to vote on them electronically to determine a winner. That winner would then be put into the budget. However, there’s a big stipulation in that Council would have to decide the amount of money that was available for these requests. This sounds like a very promising concept, assuming that there’s a reasonable amount of money available. Although it certainly wouldn’t be a tough task to beat $500.