Prince Edward County’s Newspaper of Record
April 24, 2024
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Connect the Dots

The past couple of weeks have seen a conjunction of events one step away from connecting. It’s as though the planets are aligning. 

The past couple of weeks have seen a conjunction of events one step away from connecting. It’s as though the planets are aligning. 

On Thursday last week, Visit the County was at Committee of the Whole, detailing what it did with the funds it got last year. There were a lot of funds. The Destination Marketing and Management Organization’s annual municipal handout is over $500k. And there are carry forward amounts. VTC’s total budget in 2023 was $814,000. 

The County is on the receiving end of similar amounts; it keeps half the $1.2 million or so that it collects in Municipal Accommodation Tax every year. 

So far, all that money has been spent on roads. I’m not complaining — some of our roads are looking really good. 

But that decision might, in some quarters, suggest a lack of imagination. At least, that’s what Andrew Siegwart,  President of the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario, suggested in a deputation to the same COTW last week. He said the decision to invest in roadway infrastructure might indicate Council was at a pretty early stage in an evolution toward more sophisticated thinking about what to do with what will add up to millions in MAT funds over the years. 

It’s true that there are other things this windfall could be spent on. A rotating list of priorities could be established. 

Earlier last week, for example, Council heard a report from Roth IAMS, the engineering firm hired to assess an inventory of 49 heritage buildings. The goal is an asset management plan. Roth has listed the top ten most critical buildings. It includes Shire Hall ($2.6 million), the little red brick building next to Shire Hall ($220K), the Wellington Heritage Museum ($304k) and the complex of buildings at Crystal Palace (about $1 million, minus work accomplished this year).

Another, the Wellington Town Hall, right on the village green, is in critical condition and needs attention now. About $700,000 in attention. As a result, it is close to being put up for sale. Council has voted to form a working group to seek Expressions of Interest. What it would fetch in its condition is worth thinking about. 

At the same time as Council considered these reports, Peter Lockyer sent an Op-Ed to this paper, and a long letter to the other, about the aging infrastructure of the County. If history lives here, and it does, all over the place, it is limping along like that town hall, requiring vast expenditures. Mr. Lockyer should know. He spent 8 years raising funds for and rehabilitating the Glenwood Chapel and Cemetery. And 20 years developing his company, History Lives Here, the goal of which is to showcase the County by making local heritage a key part of the tourist economy. 

Mr. Lockyer’s favourite example of a heritage economy is that of Gettysburg, a small town in Pennsylvania at the center of American history with tourist revenues of $700 million a year. There are many others, places, like the County, both historical and beautiful. Nantucket, for example, the starting point in Melville’s Moby Dick. It has a terrific museum dedicated to the whaling industry that made the island rich and prosperous in the nineteenth century. It is full of colonial frame houses and cobbled streets, all still there, two hours by ferry out into the Atlantic. Nantucket is a stunning and unique place, but no more so than PEC.  

Our tourist economy is already generating the funds we need, first, to invest in heritage, and next, create a real heritage economy.

I like the idea of re-enactments as well as museums. As an inhabitant of Cressy, I’ve often tried to imagine the Loyalist bateaux, long, shallow, wooden, they had to be rowed all along the St. Lawrence, or pushed with poles. What must it have been like, the day in 1784 when the Loyalists pulled ashore from the Adolphus Reach. What did they say? Were there Indigenous people there to meet them? The land belonged to the Huron-Wendat, Anishinaabe, and Haudenosunee Peoples. What were they like? What was everyone wearing? What did the kids do? Fully a third of the 4000 Loyalists who settled Eastern Ontario were children. Given the new and important prominence of the Indigenous history of North America, this encounter deserves reimagining.

As I was pondering possible connections between MAT funds, the marketing force of Visit the County, the Wellington Town Hall, the Mohawks of Tyendinaga, and History Lives Here, who should call but Base31. 

It is top secret, they say, but we have a major announcement. 

You will have heard by now. The National Air Force Museum of Canada sent the retired Royal Canadian Air Force Lancaster KB 882 to the Base this week. The disassembled plane, shipped on five flatbed trucks, will be restored and showcased in Hangar 1. As if this were not enough, the Lancaster KB 882 will form the first installation in a new museum, to open at the Base in 2025. Dedicated to its heritage as an air force training school, the museum will document the role of Camp Picton in the community, the nation, and the theatres of WWII. 

History indeed lives here. Base31’s collaborative initiative might be only the beginning of a major renaissance, transforming this tiny island into a destination in world history. PEC’s latest chapter, as a haven for chefs and artists and organic farmers, suggests that alongside the grand gestures, like the Arrow Trail, a small-scale history of the extraordinary in the everyday might fit this place, and its pace, perfectly. There are thousands of years still to explore, to bring to life, and to keep alive. Let’s start to connect the dots. 

The planets are aligning.

This text is from the Volume 194 No. 12 edition of The Picton Gazette
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