Destination Uxbridge Uxbridge tourism: the raw materials

In case you missed the memo, Uxbridge is officially the Trail Capital of Canada. It says so on all the signs coming into the township. Some local businesses, such as a dentist and pharmacist, have even incorporated the designation into their names.

Did we just arbitrarily declare ourselves the Trail Capital, in order to attract hikers and skiers and cyclists into our southern woods? No, in fact we had to apply for the honour, which we were granted by the federal government in 2008, and there were other competitors for the title. So bravo for those who took the initiative, it’s definitely a feather in our collective cap. But does the title imply that the township is a one-hit wonder, that the trails, even in all their beauty and diversity, are all that we have to offer the visitor, or even that they’re the main thing?

To find out, we’re going to take a thorough look at Uxbridge tourism over the next few weeks, particularly at how we market ourselves to bring in the visitor. This week, we begin by looking at our tourism resources, the various elements we have within our borders to draw visitors from beyond. To help us, we surveyed 50 ordinary Uxbridgians last week. We asked three questions:

1. What are the township’s top three tourist attractions?

2. What are the township’s top three undiscovered gems?

3. What are three factors limiting Uxbridge’s tourism development?

To begin, it might be useful to discuss what we mean by tourism. What exactly is a ‘tourist’? One dictionary definition says a tourist is ‘someone who tours,’ and further defines a tour as a ‘lengthy jaunt or excursion.’ In our case, someone who resides beyond our borders, and decides to include Uxbridge in their jaunt (or maybe even choose it as the primary reason for the jaunt!).

Now let’s picture your Aunt Susie from Saskatoon. She decides one fine spring day that it’s time for a jaunt. She could go somewhere warmer, with a beach perhaps. She could choose a spot with more scenic splendour, like the Rockies. If she’s into shooting rapids or screaming on roller coasters, Uxbridge might not be her first choice for a jaunt. Tourism is a highly competitive industry, and every locality has a different list of attractions to offer. So why would Aunt Susie choose Uxbridge?

To begin with, take a look in the mirror. You yourself are a tourist attraction! You are Susie’s favourite nephew/niece, and she hasn’t spent any quality time with you in years. So she comes to visit for a week, bunking in your spare room (since Uxbridge doesn’t have a hotel). And of course, while she’s here, you proudly show her around your home township. You take her to your favourite restaurants, maybe a tasting at a local cidery. If she’s a golfer, you do 18 holes at one of the many golf courses around (check to see if you need to be a member, first). If she’s a big reader, you pop into Blue Heron, and take her for a tour at the Lucy Maud Montgomery historic site in Leaskdale. And yes, even if she’s not a fanatic hiker, you still take her for a stroll on the Countryside Preserve. Because she’ll inevitably ask about the Trail Capital thing.

Depending on when Aunt Susie visits, there are actually a multitude of options. If she comes for Christmas, she’ll want to see the Fantasy of Lights in Elgin Park, or The Nutcracker at the Music Hall, or take a Santa Train with the York Durham Heritage Railway. And the next day, either go downhill skiing at Dagmar, or cross country in the Durham Forest.

If she’s a big car buff, you might want to insist that she come for the Demo Derby at the Fall Fair (also the only time she could go on a roller coaster, though not a really steep one). While she’s here, you could take her up to walk the corn maze at the Cooper Farm on Ashworth Road. If she’s into music and/or architecture, she shouldn’t miss a Friday night concert amid the amazing acoustics and mosaics at the Foster Memorial. And because you’re her favourite nephew/niece, you can probably persuade her to stay until the Uxbridge Studio Tour, a chance to demonstrate that we have visual artists to match the best Saskatoon has to offer.

Whenever she visits, Aunt Susie becomes a significant contributor to Uxbridge’s economy, a classic tourist (even if you treat her to everything, the money still counts). Her jaunt helps local businesses, and chances are if she comes at Christmas, she’ll see what a lovely town her nephew/ lives in, and come back for your 40th birthday next summer. Surveys show that if a tourist has a great experience, she’ll return.

And speaking of surveys, now that you have an idea of the nice range of options Uxbridge has to offer, how would you answer the first question above? Which attractions bring in the most visitors from beyond our township borders (and we would count people from Stouffville or Port Perry as tourists, since they’re spending money away from the locality in which they pay taxes)?

Our survey respondents included just about everything in their top three, including events or businesses we haven’t mentioned so far, like the Roxy Theatre, The Second Wedge Brewing Co., the Farmers’ Market or the Springtide Music Festival. One respondent suggested that our reputation as a ‘friendly village’ plays a large role in attracting visitors. One hopes that is true.

In upcoming articles, we’ll see what the numbers say. We’ll look at how the township government has significantly increased its role over the last few years in promoting our attractions, and what its plan is for addressing some of the impediments to making tourism an even more important part of the local economy.

Conrad Boyce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Uxbridge Cosmos