From the archives, 3 years ago.
When I started my economic development work in Prince Edward County 9 years ago, my first major initiative was to work with the local maple syrup producers and broader community to launch a maple syrup festival – Maple in the County. This was seen as both blasphemous and frivolous by several councillors, who I reported to at the time.
I am a big believer in working with your inherent assets and strengths and where possible leveraging one’s unique attributes tied to those assets. I observed that there were a few disparate maple activities occurring in the community, but nothing big and nothing tied together. I approached Ron Hubbs the lead maple person and asked him if he would be interested in putting a maple celebration together, he agreed and his wife Janice eventually named the festival. I approached Janet Kellough, a local story teller and performer if she had anything up her sleeve that would fit with maple and she ended putting on a Shantyman’s Concert. I worked with Honey King a local event dynamo who helped me recruit maple syrup producers, restaurants, art galleries and the like.
We met as a group, we met a lot to figure out what this thing should be. We decided it should promote maple syrup yes, but it should provide a unique Prince Edward County Experience, with our art and culture, food, outdoors, nature and above all the good spirits of the people.
Did I mention that even Janet Kellough thought I we nuts – “who would come to such a thing” – she kindly kept to her self. Did I mention that people more or less only visited Prince Edward County in the summer and that in March we were shut down and dead quite? “They” asked to broaden the shoulder season, so I was going to help them do just that. I grew up in Quebec where maple syrup runs almost as freely as water, so this was no big deal to me, I understood the power of maple and sugaring off.
With a whopping $2000 we scrabbled together a wonderfully charming event with sleigh rides into the sugar bush, sugar shack and bush tours, antique tractor displays, tasty maple meals, a live concert, warm hospitality of the people and more. We convened the local and regional press a few weeks in advance and we gave them a taste of things to come and they shared our plans with their readers. We got on the radio, we were even on TV and we sweet talked them all.
Then the funniest thing you can ever imagine happened…people came, they came in droves, they came from near and far, they had a great time and they loved our little party yes all 2000 of them! They told their friends, we got better at putting on the event, raising money and getting the word out and the next year was even better.
Even the naysayers got it. Work with what you have, have some fun with it, offer a quality and unique experience and tell people, share your goodness and people will come. The councillors started to get it as well (some of them have forgotten again…such is life) I only found out after the fact how crazy Janet Kellough thought I was, glad she was happy to go along for the ride.
This year is the 9th Annual Maple in the County and over 5000 people are expected to come out. The event is now seen as the kick off to our tourism season which has grown by 400% since the first event! It has helped build our brand and launched us into our next phase of development which is to position and brand Prince Edward County as a Gastronomic Haven, the sweetest part of all we are almost there, thanks to Maple in the County getting things going.
I would love to hear a similar community success or related story. Have you been to Maple in the County or a Sugar bush event? What was your experience?
Brief Background & Bio
As economic development officer, I pioneered the practice of Creative Rural Economy, Economic Development in Prince Edward County, Ontario
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I enjoy sharing my knowledge and expertise to help others on developing Creative Economies – Rural, Small Town & City. To book me for speaking engagements, facilitation, workshops and more click here or email here.