Government of Canada investments in Digital Main Street support businesses and students to weather the impacts of COVID-19 and prepare for future growth

News release

November 9, 2020 – Guelph, Ontario

Helping businesses in the wake of COVID-19

All businesses have felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, retail-oriented main street businesses have suffered, with stores closed and in-person commerce halted. With support from the Government of Canada through the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF), many main street businesses are pivoting their operations to the digital marketplace, allowing them to keep going, even during lockdowns, and get through the crisis. Moreover, through these meaningful and targeted investments, businesses that adapted their operations will be better positioned to contribute to economy when it comes back stronger than before.  

Targeted Support for Main Street businesses and SMEs

On June 11, 2020, the Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages, announced a $42.5 million FedDev Ontario investment to expand the Digital Main Street (DMS) platform. Building on Toronto’s foundational investments in Digital Main Street and ShopHERE, this Government of Canada investment extended the support to businesses across the province to go digital while creating jobs for post-secondary youth and graduate students.

In less than five months since the funding was announced, over 6,900 businesses have received free digital training, consultations and hands-on support to enhance their online presence and seize e-commerce opportunities. This support is helping businesses regain lost revenue and become more resilient and competitive as the economy recovers. As part of this program, more than 1,000 students are gaining valuable work experience creating online storefronts and offering tailored advice to small businesses across the region.

Today, Minister Joly, Parliamentary Secretary Kate Young and Member of Parliament Lloyd Longfield, hosted a roundtable discussion with Digital Main Street program partners, recipients and students in the Guelph region to hear about their experiences with the program. 

In March, Sidonio’s/Art of Denim boutique clothing store in downtown Guelph had to pivot their operations quickly to increase online sales and keep their business afloat. With the help of a Digital Transformation Grant, owners Paul and Marc Brombal were able to enhance their online presence and move their product offering online.

"The Digital Transformation Grant helped up pivot our business at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This program changed the way we think about and approach digital solutions to many of the challenges our retail business faces today. This program has helped level the playing field in a competitive e-commerce market that is constantly changing.” – Marc and Paul Brombal, owners Sidonio's/Art of Denim

Supporting businesses to go digital

The Digital Main Street platform is comprised of three key streams offering tailored support to entrepreneurs based on their business needs: Digital Transformation Grants, Future Proof and ShopHERE.

To date, 635 small businesses in 75 municipalities across southern Ontario have received Digital Transformation Grants of up to $2,500. Funding also supported the creation of community-based Digital Service Squads, employing youth to provide tailored advice to SMEs on digital adoption. This support is helping businesses like Bitte Schon Brauhaus, a brewery in New Hamburg which received a Digital Transformation Grant to grow its online presence to reach a wider audience, create brand awareness and enhance its social media presence.

As part of the Future Proof program, delivery partners equipped 87 Transformation Teams of students and recent graduates specializing in web design, copywriting, digital markets, and graphic design to provide in-depth support and advice to businesses. During the pandemic, Etobicoke’s Golden Joy Hakka Restaurant needed help to build a strong digital presence to maintain revenue through takeout and delivery. With the help of Future Proof Transformation Teams, the restaurant developed a new website built on integrating food delivery apps.

The ShopHERE program has supported nearly 4,000 main street businesses across Ontario in developing customized online storefronts with support from students employed by the program.  Little Chief Co., a St. Catharines boutique dog store offering organic, high-quality pet food and supplies, received tailored advice and support from students with the ShopHERE program and a grant to transition to e-commerce quickly and at no cost. This has positioned the company to expand to new markets in the future. 


“As local economies continue to deal with the impacts of the pandemic, our government is focused on ensuring that our main streets don’t just survive, but thrive. These businesses are the backbone of our economy, a source of local jobs – and local pride. With Government of Canada support, thousands of entrepreneurs across Ontario have adopted and expanded their digital presence. We believe it is important for the government to make sure that businesses have the tools to not only get through the pandemic, but also be are able to bounce back once our economy fully re-opens. Additionally, we are proud that more than 1,000 students have been provided jobs in the past five months through the Digital Main Street program.”
The Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages and Minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario

“The pandemic has impacted every community across the county – both big and small. Through investments in Digital Main Street, the Government of Canada is helping Ontario businesses to pivot their operations, expand to wider markets and position themselves not only to weather the COVID-19 storm, but succeed in a growing digital economy.”
- Kate Young, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages (FedDev Ontario)

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had significant impacts for all Canadians, including small businesses that are a critical part of local economies. Through this project, bringing together the Ontario Business Improvement Association, the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas, Communitech and Invest Ottawa, we have been able to continue the expansion of the highly successful Digital Main Street program, providing the knowledge transfer, resources, and critical support for small businesses to implement digital tools and services they need to respond to the evolving challenges currently being faced.”
- Digital Main Street Platform Partners

Quick facts

  • The expansion of the Digital Main Street program, through the Government of Canada’s investment of $42.5 million, will support nearly 22,000 businesses and create more than 1,400 student jobs. The Government of Ontario is also contributing an additional $7.65 million to support this project.

  • With FedDev support, since June, DMS has supported more than 140 businesses in Guelph.

  • The Digital Main Street partners include: Ontario Business Improvement Area Association, Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas, Communitech and Invest Ottawa. These partners have a broad reach to tens of thousands of the region’s businesses and offer a wealth of expertise ranging from business improvement, technology, innovation, marketing and economic development.

  • The national $1.5 billion Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF), delivered through Canada’s regional development agencies, provides liquidity support to businesses and not-for-profit organizations affected by the economic impacts of COVID-19, that are unable to access other federal relief measures, or require additional support. In southern Ontario, FedDev Ontario is delivering $436.4 million to provide financial relief and help businesses recover.

  • To date, FedDev Ontario has invested over $1.8 million in 9 Guelph RRRF projects, which are expected to maintain more than 100 jobs.

Associated links


Catherine Mounier-Desrochers
Press Secretary, Office of the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages

Media Relations
FedDev Ontario
Toll Free: 1-866-593-5505

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