Prince Edward County’s Newspaper of Record
June 20, 2024
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A Heritage Economy

“What if heritage came first?” asks Peter Lockyer. “Not as an afterthought, not after the roads. But if it was the first thing we did, because it's the most important thing we have.”
<p>Loyalist Re-enactment at Ameliasburgh Heritage Village (Photo: Sandra Foreman Photography)</p>
Loyalist Re-enactment at Ameliasburgh Heritage Village (Photo: Sandra Foreman Photography)

He’s been proselytizing for decades. Through his company, History Lives Here, Mr. Lockyer has long advocated for a “heritage economy,” showcasing Prince Edward County as “a timepiece of rural Ontario” —and turning it into a self-sustaining tourist hub at the same time.

By that he means not just money, although Mr. Lockyer is frank about that as he is about everything else. Funding is crucial to the enterprise, which demands making and spending money.

But he also means making things: products, experiences.

“History is inert, it’s hidden until something is made of it,” he says.

He should know. His successful Gallows and Graveyards walking tours are an ongoing example. A series of excellent film shorts, documentaries about local history, used to screen before the main event at the Regent. Most recently, he has made a series of recorded walking tours of Base31.

His pitch? He spelled it out, aptly enough, in the newly restored Pilot’s Lounge at Base31 earlier this year, to a full house of County actors — the Mayor, the CAO, various councillors, Lynn Pickering of CountyFM, the CEO of Base31.

“History is endless, and it’s everywhere.
But it’s not enough to just tell the stories,
we have to make something of them.”

Peter Lockyer

The idea is a Heritage Working Group, one that involves every sector of the community: Shire Hall, business, non-profit organizations, the media, and the schools. Key stakeholders would include the County Foundation, which manages the Built Heritage Fund, and Visit the County.

“We need to transform our history into a social enterprise, a business that contributes to and builds our tourist economy, and contributes new revenues.”

He points to local projects that are already working. The Historic House tour sold 400 tickets this past December, raising $12,000 for the Built Heritage Fund.

Base31’s partners are leveraging County history into tourism and development on a grand scale at the former Camp Picton.

They have obtained funding to create a museum showcasing the history of the No. 31 Bombing and Gunnery School in a vast airplane hangar at the former airport. 

The Base also models the powers of collaboration: the museum’s star exhibit is on loan from the RCAF museum in Trenton, and it will become a key destination on the new Avro Arrow Trail.

Lockyer envisages a heritage economy that involves the whole County.

Possible partners are already here: heritage and conservation groups, the County museums and churches and libraries, community theatre and all the other arts enterprises, tour companies, as well as restaurants, wineries, accommodators, and other businesses that already produce items and offer experiences that could be branded as local heritage products.

These include handmade wine, beer, cider, and spirits. Accommodations in restored farmhouses, deconsecrated churches, and historic hotels.

“County heritage needs to become a County business.” It’s been Mr. Lockyer’s mantra for 25 years.

“A central agency, like History Lives Here, will assist in marketing to sell all heritage products online and year-round — an issue most small businesses face is they may not have the resources, time or skill sets.”

Profits raised by a working group would be donated to the Built Heritage Fund (or other municipal granting programs) to support heritage tourism initiatives.  

Likewise, selling some of the County’s surplus of heritage buildings, he suggests, could create a fund to help maintain the rest.

Mr. Lockyer ruffled a few feathers recently when he said that the Wellington Town Hall was not a battle worth fighting.

He acknowledges he’s given up on trying to hang on to every beautiful old building. “The Wellington Town Hall has two major investors interested in purchasing it,” he notes. “I’m happy to see that and buildings like it sold to private owners who are, likewise, dedicated to preservation.”

“They have the resources to give them new life—as homes, restaurants, or offices.”

Lockyer himself spearheaded the restoration of the Glenwood Chapel at the Cemetery, helping to save it from demolition. A volunteer board of directors faced overwhelming maintenance expenses of $300,000. Lockyer helped drum up public support, and find major donors. The Parrotts of Belleville gave $75,000 and Boyd Sweet another $44,000 for a Victorian-style iron fence.

But it was a huge, 8-year project. And over the same span of time, other, equally precious buildings were lost.

A central working group could combat the disarray that plagues the County, which is rife with competing initiatives. There are 7, and soon to be 8 museums, over 100 cemeteries, countless churches — ten in Picton, another 4 in Wellington — at least 50 landmark buildings, a pioneer village, myriad historical sites and vivid historical occasions.  A central working group could manage the traffic.

“It’s proven very difficult — everyone moves in a dozen different directions, it is impossible to coordinate.”

“We would be harnessing the collective capacities of the community for a sort of sum-of-our-parts ‘United Way’ of fundraising for heritage.”

It’s been a long crusade. A County native, Lockyer moved away to become a household name as a journalist for the CBC. That reputation both helps and hinders.

“The keepers of historical treasures are not easily persuaded to relinquish control,” he notes.

“When we work together, we are awesome. Instead, our efforts are fragmented, disjointed, and separate. We practice chaos theory, competing for venues, dates, and sponsorship dollars.”

“We need to transform our history into a social enterprise, a business that contributes to and builds our tourist economy, and contributes new revenues.”

Peter Lockyer

Another problem on the horizon is the disappearance of a culture of voluntarism — the volunteers, at museums, churches, the Regent, the libraries, the art galleries, and all of PEC’s many fundraising events, are the people who make things run.

Mr. Lockyer cites a Queen’s University study that found 7 per cent of volunteers do 71 percent of the work.

“We are watching the collapse of a highly vulnerable sector,” he warns. “What are we going to do when it all runs out? We have a fleet of rapidly aging volunteers, and nothing to replace them.”

While his passion is for the past, he is looking toward the future, a trait passed down from his long County ancestry. Growing up he watched his father, a town Councillor, work with others to preserve Picton’s Crystal Palace, a globally-coveted architectural model we now take for granted.

“The real target audience should be visitors. We are missing out on an opportunity to develop a new community business that makes money from, and for, history.”

He takes his inspiration from places he has visited — like Gettysburg. A key battlefield of the American Civil War, it has succeeded in turning a brief historic event into a major tourist economy.  Mr. Lockyer believes in earnest that the County has ample significant events and entertaining stories to draw paying customers. “We could become Gettysburg North.” 

“I like to give credit to others who have been part of my journey in participating in restoring heritage properties and developing locally-made products, services and experiences.” 

 “I’m just the guy who won’t shut up about this crazy idea.”  

This text is from the Volume 194 No. 22 edition of The Picton Gazette
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