In the summer of 2013, with the support of the Member of Parliament for Leeds-Grenville, Gord Brown, a steering committee was formed by representatives from the Rideau Roundtable, United Counties of Leeds and Grenville, Parks Canada, Valley Heartland Community Futures Development Corporation (CFDC) (representing support from Grenville CFDC, Frontenac CFDC and 1000 Islands CDC), the Rideau Heritage Route Tourism Association, Lanark County, Town of Smiths Falls and the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport to jointly share the management and leadership of an important initiative.
This initiative, originally named the “Living and Visiting the Rideau UNESCO World Heritage Site” project, was conceived to develop an effective and collective strategy for a re-visioning of the Rideau Canal that would ensure it would live up to its potential as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today this project has evolved into the Rideau Canal Visitor Experience Opportunities Concept or the “VEOC” for short.
The VEOC is a process by which stakeholders are encouraged to take an active, coordinated and collaborative role in the visioning of programs, services and activities that would facilitate meaningful experiences and opportunities for guests to the region to connect with the essence of the region’s natural and cultural character, and the heritage of its people. This approach builds upon experience gained in similar successful VEOCs conducted for the Fortifications of Quebec and Grosse Ile national historic sites, Gros Morne and Terra Nova national parks in Newfoundland, and the Four Windows on the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick.
The Rideau Canal Heritage Corridor VEOC process occurred during October and November 2013 with a series of six 2-day facilitated discussions with small stakeholders groups made up of people from a wide array of interests, backgrounds and geographical regions of the Rideau Corridor. These groups were tasked with brainstorming new or enhanced experience concepts that would create a base for collaboration and action aimed at enhancing the financial sustainability of the canal and adjacent communities, and ensuring the canal meets its potential as a vibrant and animated world class site.
Throughout the VEOC sessions, a number of inter-linked challenges were addressed, such as:
1) Responding to the values and interests of guests and residents with relevant and responsive programs and services;
2) Strategically expanding the Rideau Canal’s world heritage site image and profile, through opportunities to connect with the heritage of the Rideau Canal, its related communities and landscapes, and to enhance its reputation as a sustainable heritage corridor;
3) Increasing and diversifying the number of visitors who can benefit from the experience opportunities offered throughout the corridor;
4) Identifying opportunities for collaborative and strategic investment in the growth and evolution of the Rideau Canal as a world heritage destination, thereby benefitting the economic, social and environmental well-being of Rideau Corridor communities; and
5) Achieving the above in accordance with Canada’s Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Sustainable Tourism.
A wide range of ideas and initiatives were generated. Some actions can be implemented immediately, some in the next few years, and some when the opportunity permits. The process, though future-oriented, has proven to be immediately relevant, and has already served to bring different groups together to move ideas forward in collaboration for the betterment of their businesses, their communities and ultimately for the Rideau Corridor.
In November and December 2013, the public was invited to provide its input through an online survey. The results were included at the end of the VEOC final report. In November 2013, representatives from the Rideau Corridor municipalities were updated on the VEOC process; the focus was on the evolution of the process, and how their communities can support some of the ideas moving forward. In December 2013, MP Gord Brown hosted a public meeting for his constituents to share the progress of the VEOC process, and to solicit commentary on how to improve opportunities for economic development and sustainability within the Rideau Corridor.
The next steps will be for all interested parties to evaluate the ideas contained in the report being released today, commit to some items and start making things happen.
The VEOC is intended to be a living document which may be used to set the foundation for work that will hopefully guide the orientation of the Rideau Corridor into the future. This project has something for everyone and has the potential to engage a broader audience in creating a welcoming, more economically viable and sustainable Rideau Canal and Corridor for years to come.
The next public opportunity for interested parties to discuss the VEOC reports concepts and its practical applications will be in Smiths Falls, on Friday February 28 at Beyond the City Lights Rural Tourism Conference, hosted by Valley Heartland Community Futures Development Corporation and the Rideau Heritage Route Tourism Association, where there will be information on tourism industry trends, marketing tips, ideas for collaboration, networking, customer service, and how to tap into available resources.