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February 12th, 2007

The Northern Challenge Culture, Heritage and Tourism Sustainability




In recent news and like no other time in Canada, the environment is one of the greatest concerns on the minds of Canadians. A poll conducted by the Strategic Counsel for CTV News shows a startling rise within the past 12 months in the importance attached to this issue. A quarter of the population has chosen the environment as the #1 issue of concern. This is up to 26 % from 4 per cent a year ago.

A recent CTV/Globe and Mail poll declares, "About 93 per cent of those surveyed said they were willing to make some kind of sacrifice to solve global warming, according to findings from the poll conducted by the The Strategic Counsel."

According to the results in part:

-73 per cent would reduce the amount they fly to times when it is only absolutely necessary
-61 per cent would reduce the amount they drive in half.

The issue of global warming is accompanied by a discussion of peak oil. Whether you agree with the idea that we are running out of oil or not, the price is rising. "Something that we're going to have to get used to", is how Steven Harper summed up his comments about high gasoline prices at a news conference in April 2006. You will notice the Government marketing that promotes domestic and local tourism in anticipation of rising aviation fuel costs that will inhibit foreign travelers according to the Ontario Tourism Strategy.

Ontario's tourism industry faces serious challenges in the future:

-Tourism has been severely damaged due to external events such as 9/11

-SARS, the perception and reality of border crossing delays coupled with security issues, continue to negatively affect travelers from the U.S.

-Research suggests that an aging population will result in a reduction of domestic travel, as outward trips, particularly to warmer climates in the U.S., will grow.

-In the next quarter-century, the proportion of adult Ontarians born outside Canada is projected to increase substantially. Research indicates that recent immigrants have a lower rate of travel in Ontario.

-There are transportation issues (gridlock, lack of public transit, connections between destinations) across the province that act as barriers to smooth travel for tourists.

-Tourism interests need to be balanced with environmental principles.

These comments and the previous information demonstrate that it will be a challenge to get visitors into the local area let alone directed to any particular venue, institution or attraction. The biggest challenge facing tourism in the local area is before the visitors arrive. Attendance at all facilities is drastically down - it's no secret.

The National Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating (NSGVP), in a 2004 Survey found that; "more than two thirds (69%) of non-volunteers said that they lacked the extra time to volunteer and nearly one half (46%) said that they were unwilling to make a year-round commitment. Other significant barriers were giving money rather than volunteering (38%) and not having been personally asked to volunteer (37%). About one quarter of non-volunteers said that they had no interest in volunteering (25%), had health concerns or were physically unable to volunteer (24%), younger Canadians were far more likely than their older counterparts to say that they did not have the time to volunteer (76% of those aged 15 to 24; 80% of those aged 25 to 34; 39% of those aged 65 and over) or had not been personally asked to volunteer (49% of those aged 15 to 24; 43% of those aged 25 to 34; 27% of those aged 65 and over)." Given the declining population of youth due to the popularly termed, youth out-migration and loss of young working families, the prospects look dim for gaining youth interest in heritage tourism.

All are significant considerations for marginal communities in Northern Ontario and there are some serious questions to ask regarding the future of smaller operations and institutions largely dependent on volunteers with less disposable income. Interesting to note is the concept that many public tourism venues such as small museums and community partnerships are expected to operate largely on the support of volunteers and donations. With a declining economy and factors relating largely to personal survival considerations and the rising costs of living or youth outmigration, the volunteer and donation pool is shrinking fast. Burnout is occurring. It is known that funding programs such as the Trillium fund experienced requests totaling as much as 3 dollars for every dollar distributed.

In the case of smaller and seasonal, not for profit organizations there are no funds offered for operating expenses from the government nor are sufficient donations generally available for the kind of "partnership and marketing strategies" desired by funders. This will spell a decline in heritage and other protection efforts at the grass roots level. Grant and Loan programs offered to arts, full time and for profit institutions afford them the capacity to develop their programs with the assistance of qualified development staff and resources that are not available to the smaller institutions. In a community already struggling from economic challenges, common to rural, remote and resource based communities, distant from large economic centers, it demonstrates the failure or effectiveness of economy driven, Hub (GTA) centric, government funding tendencies.

The grand topic of our currently challenging times is sustainability. How do we keep the doors open when the funds are clearly unavailable to the local efforts and ensure that they remain open to fulfill the crucial role that local culture, heritage and tourism plays in it's contribution to society. Museums, galleries and libraries all play an integral role in the social well being of the community through maintaining and restoring a window to the past, defining our qualities and hopefully demonstrating our finest traditions and values. It seems overly stated in discussions of northern sustainability , that the challenges of many northern communities are being faced bravely, by hardy stock reminiscent of our pioneer forefathers and their stubborn determination to survive nature. The comments seem to imply that it's fine that northerners are so challenged and there is time because they are independent, strong willed and they are "up to the challenge". Yes, that's true and they know better than anyone that sometimes " a change is as good, as a vacation".

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