In the summer of 2013, with the support of 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 (representing support from Grenville CDFC, Frontenac and 1000 Islands CDC), the Rideau Heritage Route Tourism Association, Lanark County, Town of Smiths Falls, and the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport for the Province of Ontario 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 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 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 Historic Fortifications of Quebec City, Grosse Ile National Historic Site, Gros Morne National Park and the Terra Novas, in Newfoundland and the Four Windows on the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick. In Fundy, this stakeholder engagement process has received a tourism award.
The Rideau Canal 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 and backgrounds from specific 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 world class site, vibrant and animated.
Throughout the VEOC sessions, a number of inter-linked challenges were addressed, such as:
- Responding to the values and interests of guests and residents with relevant and responsive programs and services;
- 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 the reputation of it as sustainable heritage corridor;
- Increasing and diversifying the number of visitors who can benefit from the experience opportunities offered throughout the corridor;
- 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
- Achieving the above in accordance with Canada’s Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Sustainable Tourism.
There have been a wide range of ideas and initiatives generated. Some actions will be implementable immediately, some actionable in the next few years, and some, when 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 Rideau Corridor.
Currently, a survey created by the partner committee, accessible at www.surveymonkey.com/s/RideauExperiences
is on-line for those who have not been part of the small group discussions to submit innovative ideas on how to enhance the economic viability of the Rideau Corridor. The information gathered in this format will stand with the final VEOC Report for consideration. At the end of November, representatives from the Rideau Corridor municipalities were updated on the VEOC process; focusing on how the process has evolved, and how their communities might support some of the ideas moving forward.
In January 2014, a final report on what has been learned in the VEOC sessions will be released to the public for review. The next steps will be for all interested parties to evaluate these ideas, identify some items for commitment and to start making things happen.
The VEOC or Visitor Experience Opportunity “Concept” is intended to be a living document which may be used to set the foundation for work that will hopefully guide the direction 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.