As we reach the mid-point of the winter season, and we look forward to the approaching spring, it is difficult not to reflect on the lost opportunities in this region for recreation and tourism.
While many areas of the province take full advantage of winter, offering indoor and outdoor recreation and culture activities, in South Dundas and the broader SDG area, there are few current options. This is a lost opportunity. Individuals and families who live here and want to enjoy an activity, they must travel to do so. And those who are not from here have little reason to spend their travel time and budgets visiting.
Many of the volunteer-run events like winter carnivals have fallen by the wayside due to volunteer fatigue. Pandemic shutdowns and restrictions were the final nail in the coffin for many events like these. The flat topography of the area does not lend itself well to certain outdoor activities. However the breadth of publicly-owned land offers many opportunities to unlock and draw people here.
South Dundas’ largest tourist attraction – the St. Lawrence Parks Commission – is dormant from the time the final Christmas lights are turned off at the Alight at Night Festival just after New Years, until the Victoria Day weekend. That’s four months where the historic village could highlight life in Upper Canada during the winter – which did occur in the 1860s too. The SLPC’s holdings include over 7,000 acres of land and 200 kilometres of shoreline from Ivy Lea to the Ontario/Quebec border, all needlessly dormant.
There are a few organizations that take full advantage of this traditionally slow season to innovate. The St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage has – for many years – tailored its musical line up to attract music-goers from around the region in winter. Building off that success, the Upper Canada Playhouse has expanded its musical shows, first as a “pre-season” to its regular theatrical line up, now as its own winter season. The Friends of the Upper Canada Migratory Bird Sanctuary also offer programs for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on weekends. This is but a drop in the bucket of what could be done to bring winter tourism here, and improve winter activities for those who live here.
While government is not the solution to all the problems in a region, as the major landholder in South Dundas and neighbouring areas, the provincial government and the SLPC do have a major role to play in opening up more opportunities for winter activities for locals and tourists alike. The municipal government also has a role, especially in attracting and growing new businesses opportunities.
Our area is a beautiful part of Ontario and has all the building blocks needed to develop and grow our winter activities to the benefit of everyone. It just needs that spark, some investment of time and capital, to make it shine 12 months of the year, and not hibernate in the winter.