Picture this: You are a business owner hit with the effects of a global pandemic which is unprecedented in modern times. Amidst the worry of economic uncertainty (not to mention personal upheaval), you resolve to adapt to the impact, you come together with fellow business owners to innovate and collaborate, you lean into your community for support, and in the end you make it through stronger and better than ever… only to be hit by a tornado just when you think the worst is behind you.
It seems like the stuff of Hollywood cinema, doesn’t it? But this is exactly what happened to businesses in Uxbridge, when in May of 2022 an EF2 tornado touched down, ripping roof trusses, flattening buildings, upending lives and livelihoods, and devastating the natural landscape. But don’t worry, we’re not here to sadden you with a story of defeat. That’s not who we are here at Central Counties and, more importantly, that’s not who our businesses are. Instead, we’re taking this opportunity to shine a spotlight on one of our Uxbridge-based businesses, The Second Wedge Brewing Company. With the help of their community, their fellow businesses, Central Counties Tourism, and through no small amount of grit and guts, they have weathered the storm—literally—and have emerged triumphant. Here is how they did it.
How the tornado impacted The Second Wedge
If you are familiar with Uxbridge, then you will surely recognize The Second Wedge Brewing Company as a landmark rooted prominently in the Trail Capital of Canada. Set in a modern, bright and welcoming facility, and with an outdoor beer garden that draws multiple thousands of cyclists, hikers and thirsty patrons each year, The Second Wedge is known for innovative flavours, friendly staff and community engagement. But when the tornado hit last May, they like many businesses in the area sustained significant damage to their property. “The entire roof was pulled off save for a little bit of one side,” recalls co-owner Joanne Richter. “Everything inside was water damaged, so it all had to be ripped out and all of our tanks moved out. The only thing we were able to keep on site was our brewhouse.”
One year on, and The Second Wedge was able to open their outdoor beer garden on the anniversary of the tornado. “We called it our tornado-versary,” Joanne jests. “That happened on the May 19th weekend of this year, and we opened and resumed the same outdoor service every weekend till our indoor space was ready.” In June, The Second Wedge was granted partial occupancy of their building as a result of the repairs they’ve been able to make so far, and on Friday, June 23rd they commenced with their next phase of reopening. Joanne explains, “We still had work to be done on the second level, so we couldn’t completely open yet. But we were now able to serve from our indoor bar, and have our indoor washrooms open to customers. None of that was possible before. And because our indoor glass washer was now operating, we were able to serve in real glasses. It made the experience much more enjoyable for customers, to be able to drink out of real glasses instead of recyclable ones, and to not have to use port-o-potties!” As their rebuilt furniture arrived, they were able to seat customers indoors and open 7 days a week. The Second Wedge will be holding their Grand Reopening on July 14 to 16, and plans to have lots of fun activities going on to celebrate the occasion.
Collaboration in action
Of course, any business owner with drive and passion who has experienced such a devastating blow to their livelihood immediately starts thinking about how to regroup. That is not unique to Central Counties. What is unique (in our humble opinion) is the collaborative spirit with which our businesses have come to each other’s aid. For one, while The Second Wedge’s building was being repaired, another brewery—technically a competitor—offered to have The Second Wedge use unoccupied portions of their production facility so that The Second Wedge brewing team could continue to brew and package beer. One who does not know the heart and warmth of our businesses here in York, Durham and Headwaters may be surprised by this, but we’re not. That’s who we are.
“Our staff went and worked at Market Brewing Company and kept up our production through the whole year by brewing it off site, there,” Joanne recalls. “It was an incredible stroke of luck that they had the space and the capacity. With their brewing team and ours, we worked beautifully together and actually made collab beers together. It was an incredible arrangement, and we’re so fortunate that they were willing to have us as roommates.”
Additionally, for the opening of the beer garden on The Second Wedge’s “tornado-versary,” the folks at Sawdust City Brewing Company, in Gravenhurst, generously lent their tap trailer for nothing more than a donation to their favourite charity. “They drove it down for us and we were able to use it through the month,” Joanne says. “Not just for the anniversary weekend, but right up until our brewery was approved for partial reopening.”
For the final phase of re-opening—that is when repairs to the building have been completed and the space can be fully open again—The Second Wedge will be working with local artists to display their tornado-themed work. “Lynne McIlvride is an amazing artist,” Joanne explains. “She already has tornado-themed art in her collection from years back, and we’re familiar with her because she’s shown in our space before.” This work will be showcased on the walls of the renovated building alongside the work of Tracy Walker, an Uxbridge artist whose work can be found on The Second Wedge’s labels. Joanne says, “Tracy is an incredible photographer. In the days following the tornado, she documented all the damage at our brewery and around town. So, she’s going to have her photos up as part of the exhibit as well.”
The Second Wedge and CCT in partnership
We would of course be remiss if we didn’t mention our small contribution to the story. The Second Wedge Brewing Company has actually been a consistent partner with Central Counties for many years now. This is because they have been actively engaged in accessing our various opportunities—most notably our Partnership Program. This year, they have been awarded Partnership funding to help them install new, larger signage and outfit their new second-level customer seating area. Last fiscal, they were also successful recipients of the Government of Canada’s Tourism Relief Fund program administered through Central Counties Tourism, which provided support to improve their outdoor space.
“It’s such an amazing resource that we’ve always looked to take advantage of,” Joanne says. “To grow our tourism operation and create new experiences—because we’re producers of beer, but we’re also a community hub. From the beginning, that was always our focus: to draw tourism into downtown Uxbridge. With the building rebuild, we’ve had the opportunity to literally raise the roof by adding a third level. This has allowed us to move our office space to the new third floor and open up our second floor to customers. That was a really big investment for us. Adding new signs to our building is another big investment that will enhance our visibility to tourists. So for both of these things, we looked to CCT to partner with us. It’s allowed us to go for the best possible signs and do a really nice job upstairs on what we’re calling our ‘Loft.’”
She adds, “We’re so grateful to have received partnership funds for these projects because it’s going to make a huge difference to the welcome we can offer tourists.”
As much as we’d love to stick a feather in our cap for such wonderful accolades, the gratitude really goes both ways, and the applause belongs entirely to The Second Wedge. They were the ones who looked for the opportunities, who reached out to us, who developed their project plans and who went after their goals with single-minded determination. As a result, the tourism landscape in Uxbridge—and indeed in Ontario, for Uxbridge is a popular tourism destination within and beyond the province—is better for it. We hold Joanne Richter and her team at The Second Wedge Brewing Company up as an example for all of our stakeholders in York, Durham and Headwaters regions to follow in how to benefit from the many opportunities we at Central Counties offer—whether it’s our Partnership Program, our media opportunities, our Learning Lab, our Community Tourism Plan program, our Events Calendar… the list goes on.
Partner with us
If you’re interested in working with CCT on your next project that would be a tourism driver for your region, the first thing to do is to check out our website and sign up as a member organization: www.centralcounties.ca. Once you have identified the opportunity or program that you feel your business or organization can benefit from, reach out to your regional Industry Relations Manager to initiate a conversation. We’re ready to be a part of your success story whenever you are!
CCT’s Industry Relations Managers:
In York Region: Sara Sterling
905.940.9999 x 7
In Durham Region: Lisa John-Mackenzie
905.940.9999 x 8
In Headwaters Region: Sarah Gratta
905.940.9999 x 6
Story by Katherine Ryalen