Prince Edward County’s Newspaper of Record
July 23, 2024
27° Partly Cloudy
February 15, 2024
Volume 194 No. 7


The Internet. It’s everywhere and nowhere.

In some ways it is not quite  here: broadband coverage is still on its way to parts of the County. 

But, to speak literally, rather than metaphorically: here, in  these landscapes, shorelines, farms, and beaches, as well as the social structures and institutions that have shaped this place for hundreds of years, is not “the cloud.” The County is here, not “there.” 

I put it to a local bookseller recently that a community is only as strong as its bookstores. This was a set-up, because what I really wanted to note was that Picton, back when it was called Hallowell, had a bookstore. It was run by the local printer, Joseph Wilson, who also published the Hallowell Free Press, forerunner of the Picton Gazette, which you can still hold in your hands as you read.

What did Joseph Wilson’s bookstore have to offer? Books, yes, but also almanacs, school texts, notebooks, ledgers, ink, writing implements. But it also offered a sense of connection: what was called the “Hallowell Lyceum” met in Joseph Wilson’s reading room to debate various topics of the day. A forerunner of the County’s 30+ book clubs. Some things never go out of style.

Community depends on presence. In a shared space. All rhetoric about “placemaking” is ancillary to this basic fact. You have to be there. I mean here.

Pretty much all the goods and services on offer in the County can be acquired online, if not somewhere else. Why drive all the way to Prince Edward County for a meal or a glass? Because you want them here. The idea that this is a special place, full of unique things, is all we have to offer to those who visit.

But a community is only as strong as its local networks, its friendships and partnerships and collaborations and conversations. Council. Rotary. Boards. Chamber. Committee and community meetings. Radio. Newspapers and magazines and gathering places: libraries, lounges, cafes, hotels, pubs, parks, movie theatres. They compose shared terrain, common ground. 

So imagine my dismay when I attended Visit the County’s presentation to Council’s Committee of the Whole to hear the Chair of its Board, Rebecca Mackenzie, state that this organization, which receives nearly half a million dollars every year to advance the claims of the County, is spending almost all of its advertising budget on Instagram and Facebook.

Let us be clear. Every single one of the 422,000 dollars handed to this tourism organization last year was earned through the hard work of the people who live here — the accommodators, cleaners, vintners and distillers, bookkeepers, chefs, farmers, labourers, bakers, and servers. 

Never mind the wineries, restaurants, farms, bed and breakfasts, and hotels where they work. The businesses that draw the tourists who come here, because of their efforts, over and over again. 

In response to Councillor Braney, who pointed out that the Chamber of Commerce, with its shopfront on Picton Main Street, is, like all of these other hosts, doing a great deal of the heavy lifting around actually meeting and greeting, if not wining and dining, tourists — printing maps and brochures, and directing them toward all the local offerings — Ms. Mackenzie denied any sense of allegiance, or shared enterprise, never mind of obligation incurred from the vast, unearned coffers at VTC’s disposal. 

“That’s their choice,” she said, in the tone of those who dismiss the unemployed. “They choose to do that work.”

In response to the Councillor’s suggestion that Visit the County might consider taking on this work itself, perhaps with its own Main Street storefront and an open front door, Ms. Mackenzie said these things were unnecessary to the actual hosting of tourists.

“This day and age a lot of visitors use digital assets to help them get around; a visitor center really becomes just a washroom stop,” she said, suggesting, unfortunately, that that is all the Chamber is. 

Ms. Mackenzie chose not to attend this meeting in person, unlike the staff and councillors gathered around the horseshoe, face-to-face. She gave her deputation over the internet. Perhaps that is why she failed so utterly to read the room. The disconnect was most pronounced during the Q and A.

Kindly Councillor Roy Pennell asked if perhaps a printed brochure could be made available. Somehow, this innocent question sparked a tirade on the value of print culture. 

“All of the data and trends in tourism marketing drive to digital,” insisted Ms. Mackenzie, citing “return on investment” and “consumer preferences.”

“Print materials are antiquated.”

“We can show through our digital marketing efforts how we are driving visitors to the municipality.” 

Forget the trails. VTC is about the drive. Data, trends, tourists: they drive and are driven, here, there, and everywhere, by Instagram. Just not to washrooms. 

To be sure, VTC’s social media posts are awash with followers, shares, and link clicks — from the one slender demographic it targets, 30-something women who live nearby. But tangible evidence of how all that scrolling converts to actual drives by actual people into the actual County is thin on the ground. There were no data informing this presentation. 

But perhaps actual numbers are not required: for VTC, there is just one marketing platform, and everyone is supposed to be using it all the time for everything.  

We know the value of the internet. The Gazette is very happy to have just launched a fast and functional website. We know that reaching readers, not to mention visitors, outside the County as well as within it, is going to be important to our being able to stay in business. 

But we would be working at cross purposes if in doing so we overlooked investing in what is here. Print culture is a deep part of the texture of this community. If print is antiquated, well, so is this place. Growing grapes, making wine, eating farm-to-table, never mind hosting people at inns, joining a club, listening to the radio. These things are all antiquated. Meaning small scale. Intimate. Warm. That’s the charm. As any vintner or chef will tell you, creating these precious things has very little to do with calculating ROI. To be done well, they must be done for their own sake. Hopefully then the returns will follow. 

Such economies, of the small scale, if you will, are both increasingly rare and increasingly recognized as the only truly sustainable ones, in terms of climate, respect for the environment, and fully human ways of living, making, and interacting. Face-to-face. Integrated. Connected.

Ms. Mackenzie chose to disregard the real meaning of the questions put to her by Councillors Pennell and Braney: their desire to see Visit the County at work, here, fulfilling a key pillar of their mandate: supporting the local culture while they show it off. All the rhetoric around “sustainable tourism” is precisely about this, about supporting the place and the people that attract all these visitors. 

Where is that investment on the part of VTC? What forms will it take? What partnerships will it enable? We look forward to learning the details. 

This text is from the Volume 194 No. 7 edition of The Picton Gazette
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