A project is underway to boost tourism in Northeastern Ontario and create more welcoming communities.
Cultural Crossroads: 101 Experiences is an initiative developed by the Northeastern Ontario Consortium (CNEO). The goal is to develop 101 unique tourism experiences in the region that stretches from Temagami to Hearst by summer 2021.
Experiences can range from cooking and dance classes to showshoeing, going on a guided tour or having a craft lesson.
The project has recently received $100,000 from the Desjardins Good Spark fund. It was the only project outside Quebec to be approved for this funding. The initiative has also been supported by FedNor, Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Destination Northern Ontario and Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation.
Project manager Nicole Guertin said the key to the project is having experiences provided by Indigenous communities. Her hope is to have 20 Indigenous-related experiences.
“First Nations have so much to offer within the land and with social distancing,” she said. “For me, the basis of really working with First Nation communities is the key for the success of this project."
Guertin, who lives in Haileybury, recently visited Timmins with Himani Rawat, an international student at Northern College. Rawat's experience will include a presentation about India, doing Rangoli art and making traditional tea.
Guertin and Rawat stopped by the North Grocers: Indian Grocery and Convenience to discuss the possibility of creating an experience at the store or have people, who are taking part in an online experience, come into the store and pick up a Rangoli kit or cooking ingredients.
Darshak Patel, co-owner of North Grocers, said it's a good opportunity for the store and a chance to make people more aware of Indian culture.
The 101 Experiences project provides online training to community and organization leaders. The first round of training was held in November with the second one set to take place in February.
Trainers will then be responsible for finding participants to offer unique tourism experiences and activities. Potential participants go through a process to determine if they have time, passion and entrepreneurial spirit to build a micro-enterprise.
Christina Geddes, a partner in JustNatural Holistic Spa, is one of the 20 people who have already completed the training. She is currently recruiting and having conversations with potential participants who could offer experiences around health and wellness.
Geddes’ experience is going to be around self-development during a moon cycle. Other possible wellness experiences could include doing yoga at a waterfront or connecting with nature out in the bush.
In addition to micro-entrepreneurs reinvigorating their business, these experiences will attract visitors to Northeastern Ontario while allowing local people to explore their home communities, according to Geddes.
“If we can make it more exciting to be in these smaller towns, people will then realize there’s a lot more to do than just a mine tour and go camping,” she said.
Samantha Losier is another trainer. She works with international students at Université de Hearst encouraging them not only how to build cooking and makeup experiences but also to how participate in experiences as well.
What she likes about the project is that everyone can make a contribution and people can learn from each other.
“And I love that experience itself is like a pretext for what is really happening behind the scenes which is creating those connections with people,” she said. “We could go snowshoeing or bake together but, ultimately, that’s not the biggest takeaway.”
Project organizers are also working with Marnie Lapierre, the events and special projects co-ordinator at Tourism Timmins. Lapierre’s job is to network and bring community organizations together.
In January, she will organize information sessions for community organizations across four sectors – Indigenous, francophone, multicultural and anglophone - to help them understand what experiences are and how they could be used to promote their members or product.
Before joining the project, Timmins has already been proactive in offering cultural experiences, Lapierre noted. Businesses and places like Ramada Inn, Rebel Soul Tribe and the Timmins Museum: National Exhibition Centre have been offering a variety of cultural, traditional and wellness experiences, she said.
“It’s exciting that we’ve done this on a local level and we haven’t really tooted our horns very much and now we’re bringing it out even more,” she said.
The 101 Experiences helps support tourism industry which was hit hard by the pandemic and promotes hyper-local businesses and events, Lapierre said.
“We want to show off what we have in Timmins and there’s a lot to show off.”
Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com