September 6, 2016 - It has been a common complaint from Timmins residents in past years that the city does not offer the same amount or quality of events that other northern centres do. But recently, these critiques have been answered. Local businesses and members of the community have started stepping up to offer a range of events in town that will appeal not only the community but hopefully tourists visiting the area. There is support from the province to encourage tourism in northern communities because of the benefit and growth that events generate. The rise in the number of festivals and events in Timmins is certainly something worth celebrating.
Festivals and events are an important part of tourism in the north, some that the provincial government has recognized in its Growth Plan for Northern Ontario. The tourism sector is an important economic priority for the region and hosting localized events is part of that. With the Growth Plan focused on enhancing the visitor experience, encouraging regional co-operation, and promoting the uniqueness of Northern Ontario, groups and places looking to achieve these goals are in a good position to receive public and provincial support.
Events in Northern Ontario can generate economic growth and stimulate life in a community. While events may not be the main draw to a community, they bring energy and vitality to a visit and make it more memorable. In 2012, 6.2 million tourists in Ontario went to a festival while vacationing in the province. Of this, more than 90% of economic benefits generated by event and festivals stayed in the area. In 2012, this activity accounted for $55.2 million in direct economic activity and an additional $29.6 million in indirect and induced GDP for Northern Ontario’s economy. These numbers show the positive returns if the event and festival has a strong participation rate.
While it is important to cater to tourists, it is also important to keep in mind that local support is also needed for these events to be successful. Most tourism is domestic, accounting for 9 out of 10 visitors. In the North, tourists typically attend events with friends and family with whom they are visiting. As a result, appealing to the community is critical for maximizing turn out. Moreover, regularly held festivals and events may instill pride in the community. This in turn may lead to the proliferation of events and better attendance.
To encourage public support, local businesses and groups need to take the initiative to facilitate events. This is precisely what has been happening in Timmins over the past year, with a number of new events being planned and hosted.
With small towns nearby like Kirkland Lake bringing in big name acts – that have included: Hedley, Alan Doyle, and the Arkells, residents have wondered why Timmins was unable to do the same. Thanks to some local businesses and motivated individuals, however, the city has started to see this change. This was the motivation for the creation of the Timmins Festival and Events committee. This group has been working diligently over the past year to bring new events to the city like Battle of the Bands and Rock on the River.
The committee recently received boost from Celebrate Ontario, a grant available through the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Sport, which will help it continue its important work. It is a project-based programming and market based fund to enhance new or existing events with goals like attracting overnight tourists, increasing tourism visitation, and strengthening Ontario’s tourism brand.
Another example of active community members looking to bring events and talent to Timmins can be found in the Working Class, a local bar. They have been working to reinvigorate the local music scene since they opened a year ago. They created Heart of Gold Fest, a three day music festival hosted by themselves and the Victory Tavern. The event was sponsored by Radical Gardens: a local eatery, organic farm, and online farmers market. Radical Gardens and the Working Class have also teamed up to bring BaconFest, a new festival with art, food, craft beer, and live music. While funding can be difficult for smaller businesses to receive, The Working Class expressed that sometimes it is necessary to take the risk. Hopefully these groups will continue their actions to bring growth to the city and inspire other businesses to do the same.[i]
With longstanding, popular events like Kayak festival still on the books, and new festivals like Rock on the River, Timmins is in a good position to continue to grow as a community in terms of local events. What’s happening here is a good reminder of how, with strong local support, hosting events can strengthen culture and open up new economic possibilities in the north. By looking at what other local groups are pursuing, Northern communities can learn from and support each other to ensure success. So whether it is bacon, ribs, or kayaks, Timmins’ festival scene is on an upward trajectory and Northern Ontario as a whole would do well to consider the value in continuing to the grow the festival and event scene in the north.
Leah Cartan is a former Policy Intern at Northern Policy Institute.
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[i] Interview with Krys Saudino The Working Class June 21st