Friday, April 28, 2006
Trout Creek Confidential
So I drove through Trout Creek...
Maybe I should explain. At the Ontario Global Traders Awards luncheon in North Bay on Thursday, I got talking with Victor Fedeli, the mayor of North Bay, and we started talking about “twinning” – the ongoing project to convert Hwy 11 from a two-lane road to four-lane divided highway all the way from Huntsville to North Bay.
They’ve been working on it for years, and there’s only about 25 miles to go. I suggested that it would be nice to see it finished, but the mayor expressed regret about what will happen to some of the communities along the way.
He said Emsdale, Burk’s Falls, Trout Creek and other communities that grew up along Hwy 11 have hit hard times now that the highway bypasses them entirely. And he expressed concern for the future of South River, Sundridge and other towns that the two-lane highway currently drives right through.
I could see his point. On the way north Wednesday night, I stopped at a bank in Sundridge, thinking how convenient it was not to have to go searching for a bank machine once I got to North Bay. That transaction wasn’t worth much (if any) revenue to the town, but I could see how preferable it is for the community to have all that through traffic funnel through downtown rather than take their business to Huntsville or North Bay. In fact, Mayor Fedeli mentioned going off the highway recently to get some gas at Emsdale – where the station owner said he was the only customer of the day. One more local business that won’t last much longer.
Like Mayor Fedeli, I care a lot about small towns. So on the way back home from North Bay, I pulled off the highway at Trout Creek to see what today’s busy motorists are missing.
The sad answer: nothin’. People aren't going to Trout Creek because there is no reason to go to Trout Creek.
A couple of restaurant, a motel, and one of those dingy old two-storey hotels (one of the last old buildings left on the main street) that makes you wonder who would ever stay there. Plus a really ugly lumber yard with piles of greying wood. Nothing distinctive – or even attractive - about the place at all. If Trout Creek is dying, it’s by suicide.
Irma’s Restaurant might be a great place to eat. Maybe they have fresh daily specials, or homemade desserts, or special kids’ menus. Who knows? Irma isn't talking. The sign just says “Irma’s Restaurant,” so you better know Irma going in – or be prepared to be surprised.
Is marketing dead in northern Ontario? A hooked trout would fight harder to survive than Trout Creek seems to be doing. (Maybe they should change their name to Minnow Creek?)
Why not put signs along the highway giving people a reason to pull into town? “Visit historic Trout Creek.” Put up a plaque talking about the difficulties faced by early settlers. The old railway hotel could be restored and turned into a working tourist attraction – see where people stayed in the years before Motel 6. Irma could promote lunch specials or free coffee refills – anything to let people know she’s in business to serve and eager to help. Maybe the village council could put up some new playground equipment and invite tourists with kids to stop in for a break.
Today’s tourists want experiences, folks. Families with kids want quick, safe breaks. Know your market.
Like Mayor Fedeli, I wish all small towns could flourish. But you have to put up a fight. Give people a reason to visit – or suffer the fate you deserve.
Notes: (According to this site, the taxpayers of Ontario paid $46 million to bypass Trout Creek! If we had known the village would roll over and die, we could probably have steam-rollered it and saved a bundle by not building 5 km of new highway.)
Thanks to this site for the old postcard of Trout Creek (which has a lot fewer buildings today than in the old photo). It also features a short history of the village, which makes me think today’s residents are letting their forebears down badly.