For over a decade, Central Counties Tourism has had the pleasure of watching our municipalities, destination management organizations, attractions and businesses grow in tourism. We’ve been there to witness as you’ve expanded your ambitions, created memorable experiences, and pushed the boundaries on your offerings. As a result, the regions of York, Durham and Headwaters have seen significant growth in their tourism economies, with an ever-increasing bank of measurable statistics, data and good-news stories to prove it. We at CCT are thrilled to have been there with you, growing alongside you as we reach for that common goal of creating a destination that draws genuine interest and eager visitation.
Our Partnership Funding Program is one such way that we’ve achieved this. It is a highly popular program which aims to assist eligible tourism projects by match-funding a portion of the projected costs. It is not a grant, but rather a support of our partners’ investments into their own communities and businesses with a focus on growing the local tourism landscape. We’ve had many successful partners in the nearly ten years that this program has been in operation—a large number of them with annually recurring and multiple projects. One such partner is the Township of Uxbridge in Durham Region. Known as the Trail Capital of Canada, Uxbridge has expanded its tourism offerings through strategic development initiatives. If you want to know what a successful community in partnership looks like, look no further than Uxbridge.
How Uxbridge has evolved as a tourism destination
Let us take you back ten years ago, to a time when Uxbridge was not yet the rural tourism powerhouse it is today. Lisa John-Mackenzie, Tourism Development Coordinator for the Township of Uxbridge, recalls, “We were in our infancy of developing the area as the Trail Capital of Canada then. At that time, it was probably more the residents who were exploring the trails than visitors.” Uxbridge had only just hired a dedicated tourism professional to fulfill the needs of this fledgling local industry, and a general enthusiasm for tourism and its benefits was only beginning to be embraced by councillors, business owners and residents.
Since that time, however, Uxbridge has done a tremendous amount of work to improve the community’s tourism readiness. It is an ongoing initiative which has resulted in a better understanding by all involved of the economic importance of bringing visitors into the community, not just businesses who benefit directly from the increased visitation. “There’s a trickle effect to how attractive the community becomes,” Lisa points out. “Word gets out for real estate agents and home buyers, which improves the desirability of the area as a place to live.”
The tourism readiness initiatives that Uxbridge has spearheaded focus heavily on basic infrastructure pieces that make it possible to receive visitor—pieces like ensuring there is designated parking and an availability of public washrooms. Wayfinding signage and a website were developed to direct visitors to attractions and let them know what events are going on. Members of the community have been brought up to speed on how to receive visitors and create a welcoming atmosphere for them.
Programming has also been developed to encourage visitation and increase length of stay. “Certainly, the businesses are first and foremost in that,” Lisa explains. “They’re the ones driving the different programming. The municipality will then support those products with marketing and programming assets which help bring the businesses together to build out the area as a destination.”
We at Central Counties Tourism have been proud to partner with Uxbridge on several of these successful infrastructure, programming and marketing initiatives over the last number of years. For example, we facilitated the implementation of Uxbridge’s Community Tourism Plan which is now used as a benchmark to guide development as a tourism destination. We were in partnership with Uxbridge when they developed their local wayfinding signage. And amongst some of the wonderful trails and tourism products that we were pleased to support are the Schitt’s Creek driving tour for fans of the beloved television comedy series staring Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, and the Lucy Maud Montgomery Trail for fans of the internationally treasured Canadian author.
Partnership challenges during COVID-19
It is no secret that the pandemic has created many challenges for our partners whose projects were planned over the last few years. Initially, many of them assumed that because their project couldn’t go ahead in the form for which they’d applied, they would have to abandon their plans altogether and reapply in better years. Happily, as we navigated this unprecedented time in modern history together, we discovered that many partners were able to shift the focus on their projects to continue to support the overarching goal. Our mandate at CCT, after all, is to promote tourism—however that is required despite the changing tourism climate. Here, too, Uxbridge provides a prime example of what this shift in focus has looked like in action.
“Two of the key products that we promote is local food and the holiday season,” Lisa says. “The first is to support our local food and beverage businesses, and the second is to support our events and businesses around the holiday’s shopping season.” For its local food endeavours in previous years, Uxbridge had facilitated programming which encouraged partnerships between the restaurants and local farms in an effort to showcase local food. When COVID-19 hit however, no one was sure how the local food scene would be impacted, or whether or not the restaurants would even be able to open.
“One thing that was consistent through this time was the curbside pickup, and people doing takeout,” Lisa states. “Instead of giving up on our partnership with CCT and our project as a whole, our plan shifted from physically driving visitors into locations to helping the local businesses survive by assisting them in generating as much business as they could, in whatever way was possible.” In that first year of the pandemic, Uxbridge developed videos to promote self-guided driving tours and feature the restaurants en route. Tours like the beer and cider trail, the local farm trail and the culinary trail were received with enthusiasm by a population desperate for wholesome and safe entertainment and activity. And, as the pandemic progressed, it turned out that many businesses were able to open existing patios and even build new ones. This allowed driving tours to include outdoor stops at restaurants, breweries, eateries and markets. It wasn’t what was originally planned, but it was a successful reimagining of a worthy project, with similar goals and outcomes for the tourism economy.
Uxbridge’s holiday trail presents a similar scenario of reimagining. In the past, the township developed a popular Santa passport which aimed to invite visitors of the York-Durham Heritage Railway’s Santa Train event into the downtown area to explore, eat and shop. “We endeavoured to cross promote our downtown area, and to extend the length of time visitors were staying in the community,” Lisa recalls. “Knowing that we weren’t going to be able to do the same type of program in pandemic times, we looked at pivoting to something we could do safely that was going to be able to happen no matter what.”
Thus, the holiday trail was born. Lisa and her team created a theme around window shopping, in which businesses were invited to decorate their windows to be featured in Uxbridge Tourism’s marketed walking trails, with a goal of encouraging call-ahead pickup and online ordering for the holiday season.
A positive impact for the community of Uxbridge
This is precisely the energy and ingenuity we love to see from our stakeholders who apply to Central Counties for Partnership funds. These aren’t our initiatives—they’re yours! It’s your brilliance and your knowledge of where you live, work and play that makes them successful. Uxbridge has thrived as a result of its collective ingenuity, creativity, drive and passion. We’re happy to have been a small part of that through our Partnership Funding program.
Looking back, it is encouraging to see how far Uxbridge has come. “From when I first stepped through the doors into this position, the journey has been about finding our way as a community,” Lisa says. “There’s an appetite now for all of the businesses in the community to collaborate and become a tourism destination together. We’ve seen a huge growth in the number of businesses, and I’ve gotten to know so many amazing entrepreneurs.”
Several of these entrepreneurs, as it turns out, have applied for their own funding through CCT’s Partnership program—stakeholder- and business-driven projects like the Leaskdale Loop and the joint Uxbridge-Pickering Anne and Maud experience. We’d like to give a huge shout-out to the Township of Uxbridge for their dedication and hard work. The results speak for themselves.
Do you have a project for which you want to inquire about Partnership funding? Start your journey by visiting our information page here:
Story by Katherine Ryalen