A River Runs Through It: How Tom Ostapchuk’s Passion Inspired Pan-Regional Collaboration

Any journey starts with just one step, or in this case, one row.  When Tom Ostapchuk decided to reach out to Central Counties Tourism (CCT), he wasn’t quite sure what to expect from his outreach. Having never heard of the organization before embarking on his personal passion project, Tom wasn’t familiar with CCT, but his reaching out was the beginning of a pan-regional partnership that would help bring his dreams to fruition. 

So, what was this dream? Tom had the idea to kayak the 300 km-long Grand River in Southern Ontario and capture the journey in a documentary film. “The Grand” is a 20-minute film that follows Tom’s epic journey. Having grown up paddling the Grand River with his mother, Tom wondered to himself if anyone had ever paddled the entire river and set on a quest to do just that – from the town of Dundalk to Lake Erie. During Tom’s eight-day adventure, he encounters obstacles such as river rapids and extremely long days, but also meets other paddlers who share their stories and experiences with him. The result is a beautiful homage to the river where he spent much of his childhood and a reminder to the audience to enjoy the wonder of their own neighbourhoods.

How did Tom go from idea to implementation? The key was discovering new partnerships. 

Tom had emailed all the RTOs along the river, RTOs 1,3,4 and 6 (CCT). The email that he sent to Central Counties Tourism resulted in a meeting with Sarah Gratta, the Headwaters Industry Relations Manager, and Chuck. He told them that he was working on the film at the time and shared the trailer to gauge interest. “The timing worked out well because the Ontario Ministry of Tourism had made funding available post-Covid to drive tourism”, says Tom. “This was an opportunity to show a tourism attraction in the backyards in all these areas and was outside of their existing marketing strategy.” It was incredibly exciting for Tom because of the funding and for the RTOs, a unique chance for them to showcase their respective areas to a new audience. 

What was key was that nobody was given preference throughout the film and the process and from what Tom knew, so each region got to shine individually as a part of this unique project and were able to support the film in their own ways.

It was Tom’s first foray into working with CCT. They were excited to promote local businesses in a real way in this film and Tom found a balance between telling the story while including recognizable footage of the local businesses.

“They were extremely helpful in connecting me with people that I needed to talk to whether it was about permits, city council, or paving the way for camping in Grand Valley.” Central Counties Tourism was able to make a connection for Tom to get permission to sleep in a campground in Grand Valley that wasn’t open to the public.

Partnership was so critical for the success of the film, and Tom made sure during this project to work with the various tourism businesses and partners to provide as much value as possible whether that was to include them in social media promotions or to mention partners on stage at film screenings. 

When asked what he was surprised by when working with the partners, Tom says “I was surprised by the level of support from the tourism partners, not only support in the form of direct funding but in-kind support and connections made throughout production. An example was connections made with a local RV park and hotels or food being made available for the production crew.”

As for lessons learned, Tom reiterated the importance of seeking out various types of partnerships and not being afraid to ask or reach out. He believes that the forging of strong partnerships lies in the ability to have honest conversations about what each party is looking for. Tom mentions the importance of having a good understanding of the benefit your project would have to the potential partner, so that you can head into conversations prepared. “Coming in with a marketing mindset is important, and making sure that you can show the value you can provide and that their partnership is an investment and not a donation.”

The culmination of his tenacity is that what started as a passion project grew into a film that was accepted into three film festivals, earned eleven media spots including CBC and City News, had four showcase screenings and eleven total screenings, and was shown to over 1500 audience members. 

Tom says, “I was able to reach farther than I thought possible because of the power of partnerships, the impact was huge. This was all possible because it wasn’t just me on my own.”

Check out The Grand – Documentary Short Film here.

FUN FACT: 2024 marks the 30th anniversary of the Grand River’s designation as a Canadian Heritage River. Interested in learning more, read all about the Grand River.

By Jessica Gedge

Learn more about CCT’s Partnership Program


Central Counties is located North of Toronto


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