Beausoleil First Nation – Beckwith Island Ecolodge
In May, 2009, Deneen Allen and Mike Robbins were invited by Economic Development Officer Jeff Monague and Chief Rodney Monague for a tour of Hope and Beckwith Islands, 2 of the 3 islands which make up the Beausoleil First Nation lands in Southern Georgian Bay, Ontario. Beckwith Island is a pristine, culturally and ecologically sensitive island of over 800 acres, featuring lovely sandy beaches and dunes, juniper bushes, the rare and protected three-pronged awn grass, forests of oak, maple, birch and conifer trees and no development of any kind except for simple outhouses to serve boaters, campers and picnickers. Beckwith Island meets the location criteria for a Pure North Ecolodge in every way, from the accessible but 'remote' quality of its location, to its untouched beauty in an iconic region of Ontario, to the willingness of the community to explore a highly sustainable and intimate resort imbued with Anishinabe culture.
Over the past 3 years, Pure North has developed a trusted relationship with the Beausoleil First Nation. Under the new Chief and Council in November of 2010, Pure North was chosen by the community to co-develop a high-end ecolodge project comprised of a combination of exquisite tree houses and luxury safari tents, a main lodge with dining and lounge facilities and an arts and cultural centre, host quarters and supporting infrastructure. The project will employ over 40 people during the May to October season and a secondary, winter use for the facility which would support year-round employment is under discussion.
The convenient location of Beckwith Island, just 2 hours from Toronto and a 10 minute ferry ride from Cedar Point, is within 3 hours drive for over 6 million Ontarians, making the planned ecolodge a desirable getaway and corporate retreat destination with the potential to become one of the best small, sustainable resorts in Ontario and the only one offering natural and cultural experiences provided by the host Beausoleil First Nation.
Market and feasibility studies are the next steps in this exciting project and investors are already showing interest in participating in the project.
Arviat Community Ecotourism (ACE) Initiative – Arviat, Nunavut, Canada
By Mike Robbins, Partner, the Tourism Company and Project Manager
for the Arviat Community Ecotourism initiative
Pure North Associate
The Arviat Community Ecotourism (ACE) initiative is a grassroots project involving many individuals and several small businesses in Arviat, Nunavut (Canada's newest territory) with a vision to establish a sustainable community-based tourism enterprise.
Over the past 3 years, under contract with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc, Mike Robbins and the Tourism Company has been managing a team of experts, including Deneen Allen, president of Pure North, Jeffrey Barrett, Bill Rogoza and others to assist with local capacity building, product development and marketing. The ACE development program is being funded over five years with Inuit land claim monies. Arviat is a largely Inuit community situated on the west side of Hudson Bay with a population close to 3,000 (air access only). The community was selected as a beneficiary for the tourism development funds for the following reasons:
- It is one of the more traditional communities in Nunavut;
- Excellent wildlife viewing opportunities;
- Just north of Churchill Manitoba a successful international tourism destination that attracts close to 20,000 visitors every year;
- One of the most southerly communities in Nunavut with good air access;
- Some past experience with tourism and strong interest;
- Entrepreneurial business ethic;
- Need for economic development and opportunities for youth.
The Development Process
Extensive community consultation was an integral part of the development of ACE beginning in 2009. ACE is community-based so it is an open process. The following consultation techniques were used to engage the whole community over the past 3 years:
Relationship building with the local Inuit
- Participating in community events like music festivals and Hamlet Days;
- Open microphone sessions for musicians to help assess the musical talent in the community;
- Hiring or working with local people on weekends to get out on the land.
Planning for tourism
- Radio talk-back shows, a popular means of soliciting ideas and obtaining feedback
- Community meetings, where as many as 25 people would attend
- Individual meetings and drop-in sessions with those taking an interest in tourism
- Community group meetings to ensure all community groups ranging from Hunters & Trappers to elders groups to the Historical Society were supportive and fully apprised of plans and progress.
Infrastructure and hospitality readiness analysis
- Inventory of hamlet infrastructure, including utilities, emergency services, buildings where tourism activities may take place, including existing visitor centre, high school, Arctic college, Elders centre, community centre, hotels and services
- Analysis of requirements and recommendations to support tourism development
ACE Cooking Student
Education and training
- An ACE poster was designed, translated and placed in strategic locations throughout the community
- Ongoing training workshops have been held covering a range of skills from cooking to basic bookkeeping
- Hosting performer auditions for traditional musicians, drum dancers and throat singers.
It was recognized early on that there was strong interest and support for some type of tourism development, particularly if it could be community based, and provide benefits to many community members.
Over the past 2 years The Tourism Company team of experts have been providing training in a wide range of areas including basic hospitality, cooking and caring for visitors, small business start-up and entrepreneurship, historical interpretation (with assistance from parks Canada), cultural performance staging, eco-guiding and outfitting on the land, marine and commercial boating skills, tourism marketing (from internet to travel trade), and receptive tourism operations.
At the heart of Arviat's tourism product is the community's strong cultural heritage. Cultural programs are offered in various combinations to provide anything from a half-day to a three-day program for visitors, including the following activities:
- Visits to a traditional tupiq (skin tent) and/or an iglu
- Dog-sled rides
- Boat excursions to a nearby National Historic Site
- Interpretation of local cultural heritage sites
- Demonstrations of Inuit survival skills
- Visits with artists, elders and story-tellers
- Opportunities to buy local arts and crafts
- Films and lectures on Inuit history
- Throat-singing and drum-dancing
- Participation in high school cultural programs
- Plus dining on local foods including caribou, musk-ox, muktuk (beluga whale) and Arctic char
While Inuit culture is the heart of ACE, the big drawing cards are polar bears and caribou. Arviat is situated on the polar bear migration route, north up the west coast of Hudson Bay as they search for sea ice in October and November. Every spring Arviat experiences a second wildlife spectacle with massive caribou migration which passes by just inland from the community. In the summer months visitors can travel by boat along the coast to view arctic wildlife including polar bears, caribou, fox and beluga whales.
These are world-class wildlife-viewing opportunities in themselves, made that much more attractive by the chance to experience first-hand the strong cultural heritage that remains vibrant in Arviat.
Progress has been substantial. Four new tourism-related businesses are in start-up mode – two outfitters, a cultural program operator and a B&B. A local Tourism Coordinator has been hired by the Hamlet with 3 year pilot funding from the government of Nunavut. The marketing strategy for Arviat, including a strong web presence, has been launched (www.visitarviat.ca). Relationships with Churchill-based tour operators and others internationally have been developed.
The first FAM tour (familiarization tour) for five operator-partners in May 2011 was a tremendous success. Several tour groups from Australia and Japan were hosted in the community and a number of prominent media groups have visited the community to film the ACE program. Within the next year, the flow of tourists to Arviat will begin in earnest. The Tourism Company's role is to continue to facilitate the ACE development through 2013/14.
Packages currently on offer in Arviat include:
- Arctic winter getaways featuring dog sledding and igloo building
- Arctic summer getaways featuring ATV and boat excursions
- Spring caribou migration trips
- Summer multi-activity and wildlife viewing trips
- Cultural day extensions from Churchill
- Fall colours and caribou trips
- October/November polar bear viewing trips
Four tour operators are currently listing Arviat packages in their tariffs and sales brochures for 2012. In February, Arviat, the Gellini Bear Camp and some of the participants in the ACE program were featured on an episode of 'Born to Explore' starring Richard Wiese, on ABC TV.
Sustainable community-based tourism is on its way in Arviat at a scale and scope unprecedented in Nunavut.