A holiday isn’t just a great opportunity to decompress.
Sometimes it’s a great opportunity to see where you live from a different perspective.
Or so was the case for me during our recent family vacation to Vancouver Island — a getaway that offered me some interesting perspectives on the perception of Saskatchewan, how that perception may be changing and maybe even the tourism opportunities that exist for a province like ours.
Of course, it’s really hard and perhaps a little unfair to compare the amenities of a place with beaches, oceans and mountains like Vancouver Island with most Saskatchewan communities.
Island communities flourish in summer from a tourism trade that not only comes from the mainland and neighbouring Alberta but also draws a surprising number of tourism from around the country and the world and especially from the United States.
That said, a closer examination of communities offered some surprising similarities with rural Saskatchewan communities.
For starters, much of the Island is made of small-town communities still reliant on commodity-based industries like agriculture and fishing ... albeit, they tend to be highly subsidized with the tourism industry that also benefits from better weather extending the visitation season to far longer than we enjoy here in Saskatchewan.
In fact, it’s that weather that attracted so many ex-Saskatchewan patriots to the Island ... or so we quickly found out.
At the Parksville condo where we stayed, no less than three of five adjacent residents were occupied by one-time Saskatchewan folk who once called places like Moosomin, Pense and Rose Valley home. All seemed very anxious to get news from home — whether it be the recent good fortune of the ‘Riders, the number of moose making their homes in the flatlands or the upturn in the economy.
Actually, curiosity about the success of Saskatchewan was a common theme of many islanders I encountered — whether they were originally from Saskatchewan or not. In fact, compared with our previous visits 15 and five years, there seemed to be a growing interest in our province and a changed perception.
Some with no previous connection to this province even suggested that Saskatchewan might be a place they would like to visit one day. (One guy with a Corner Gas hat suggested he’d really like to see the community where the TV show was shot. I dared now tell what has happened to the set at Rouleau or the province’s film and television industry.)
This takes us to the topic of what Saskatchewan communities — especially smaller rural communities — can do to capitalize on tourism opportunities in the future.
As previously stated, we aren’t exactly blessed with quite the same amenities as Vancouver Island, but one wonder if opportunities for tourism are being missed. Place like Eastend’s T-Rex Discovery Centre and the Cypress Hills, the Big Muddy, the forest fringe lakes providing camping and hunting opportunities or the chance to experience farm and ranch life, small community atmosphere or First Nations history may be greater than we realize.
Of course, it would take massive co-ordination and maybe a little vision from the government and Tourism Saskatchewan. But in a province noted for its creativity, might there be possibilities?
One thing we certainly have going for us is previous decades of exporting people, as demonstrated by my Parksville visit.
Might it be possible that retiring baby-boomers and up in B.C., Alberta and elsewhere might want a summer week hometown visit or tour? Supposed the package included tickets to ‘Rider games? Or how about a house “exchange” program between current Saskatchewan residents and retirees elsewhere?
Are there creative opportunities we’re missing?
Sure, some places are blessed with more obvious tourism amenities. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make a few of our own.
Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 22 years.