Taste of Haliburton
by Jenn Watt
Published March 28, 2017
Haliburton Highlands is in its infancy as a culinary tourism destination. We have great places to eat and some unique products to offer, but compared to agricultural powerhouses in southern Ontario, wine country and the like, this region is still a seedling.
Last Wednesday, visitors from Prince Edward County involved in a culinary community exchange with the Highlands presented to councillors and stakeholders about their findings gathered while visiting our area in October.
The timing, everyone agreed, was bad. October is not a time to find fresh produce or generous restaurant hours – particularly in the middle of the week, when some of the visitors arrived.
However, keeping that in mind, there were still very good points brought up by Ann Munroe and Peta Shelton, whose presentation offered a balance of constructive criticism and opportunities to build upon.
Many of their ideas could also be applied more broadly to any local businesses seeking further success in the tourism industry. Because while food is what seems to be motivating much of the tourism traffic right now, the Highlands is never going to be producing food at the rate of some sunnier climes. What we can do, Munroe pointed out, is find the products that are unique to this area and put our weight behind them.
Haliburton really is the first Canadian Shield stop for many GTA travellers headed north, she said, why not capitalize on forest products? Make cedar jelly or white pine tea. Give visitors something to take home that they couldn’t find on the vineyards of Niagara or the orchards of Caledon.
While I don’t know how much I’d want to butter my toast with cedar juice, it’s a good point. People want to have “authentic” experiences – a term that is getting a bit worn out, but means that when they visit a place, they want to know what makes it special. They want to meet the people and do things they couldn’t do anywhere else.
Which leads to the next point the PEC group brought up on Wednesday: we need to make clear the culinary experiences we have available. One visitor pointed to the Get On Gelert map, which shows tourists where to go to find cool businesses along the Gelert Road. Why not do this for all of our backroads? Why not literally draw a map for people to find those special experiences that make a place unique?
At the end of the presentation, Warden Brent Devolin thanked the women for being blunt and offering such tangible feedback. This region can easily put many of their suggestions into practice, he said.
And he’s right. The suggestions that came forward didn’t involve huge investment or changing course.
The PEC delegation was advising we take the forests and lakes and the things that grow here naturally and use them to attract new visitors. Make products with the food that easily grows here, give visitors a chance to interact with the people who run the businesses, and show them how to get here.