For two people who recently invested in a ranch west of Prince George with guest accommodations, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent travel restrictions threatened to end their dreams of living a back-to-the-land lifestyle.
Kevin and Maureen Woodhouse purchased Woodhouse Cottages and Ranch in the autumn of 2018 and immediately began settling into the rhythms of their new home, balancing the needs of their land while providing warm hospitality to guests from around the globe who were attracted to the serene setting. The global pandemic upset the flow of country life and disrupted the business’s cash flow.
“Through COVID-19, we had lost all of our international guests, weddings and events,” explained Maureen Woodhouse. “It was important to find an opportunity to reach potential guests within the parameters of COVID regulations. The NDIT grant helped us to connect with locals and, as COVID-related restrictions eased, our guest demographic expanded. The grant allowed us to move forward with the most important things for a tourism business – reaching our clientele. As locals needed a diversion from the isolation, they found us, in part due to the results of the marketing campaign.”
The grant Woodhouse refers to is a $14,025 Small Business Recovery (SBR) Consulting Rebate that Northern Development offered to businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The grant provided financial support for recipients to contract professionals to help navigate the pandemic and its unpredictable impacts. For Woodhouse Cottages and Ranch, a Prince George-based communications company created a comprehensive marketing plan which included videos, photographs and marketing connections for media releases and contacts. This allowed the Woodhouses, true farmers at heart, to focus on their strengths while learning from other professionals to strengthen their operations.
“Once the marketing began in earnest, it was then a cumulative effect,” said Woodhouse. “As guests found us, they then told friends and family and as restrictions eased, more guests found us from further away. In part, NDIT has been helping us expand and continue to build our business, with the groundwork in place for marketing and social media. Two years have passed and each year since receiving the NDIT grant, we have grown our business by over 30 per cent each year! A phenomenal number for a couple of farmers!”
Since 2016, Northern Development has supported the Robson Valley Music Society with $17,500 through five Fabulous Festivals and Events grants to bolster the annual Robson Valley Music Festival (RVMF) in Dunster.
“The rural and isolated communities benefit hugely from this culturally rich event,” said Shara Gustafson, artistic director/executive producer, Robson Valley Music Society. “This family oriented event strengthens social and cultural development by bringing all ages and walks of life together for the opportunity to celebrate music, art and community. The festival itself presents high-calibre artists from around the world mixed in with our local and regional artists, exposing them to a wider audience and the opportunity to connect and network with other artists. Local artisans get a chance to exhibit and sell their wares by exposure to attendees from all over B.C. and beyond.”
Festival organizers cap attendance at 1,000 people, creating a community experience with rich culture over the three days. With the festival grounds sprawling over 2.5 kilometres of Fraser River frontage in the Rocky and Cariboo Mountains, there are five stages, interactive workshops, children’s area, vendor alley, food trucks, camping areas and two communal fire pits.
“It was amazing!” said Lisa Darrah about her experience attending RVMF in 2022. “Loved the food, the music and all the activities for my five-year-old. The vibe was humble, well-organized, relaxed and super exciting!”
According to event organizers, the festival weekend is the busiest and most profitable weekend of the year for many local hotels, gas stations, B&Bs, pet hostels, grocery, liquor and hardware stores around the Robson Valley.
Beyond the economic benefits for businesses rooted in the area, the festival grows and strengthens connections between attendees, performers and vendors. Spending three days in a serene setting surrounded by nature and art promotes a strong connection to place and others, rejuvenating spirits and leaving a lasting positive impression of the experience.
“I want to thank you for providing a place to commune with friends who feel like family,” wrote Doug D. in a letter to RVMF organizers after the 2022 festival. “It felt like I had come home to a love that had never noticed I was gone. I want to thank you for a home I never knew I could come home to. There aren’t words to thank you for what there aren’t words to describe. There were tears, and they were tears of joy. This festival meant so much to me.”
The 2023 RVMF will be held August 11-13 in Dunster.
A timber amphitheatre in Kitimat’s Heritage Park has quickly become an essential facility for hosting events at the park. Located near the entrance to Kitimat and on the same property as the Kitimat Visitor Centre and Chamber of Commerce, the addition of an attractive structure has provided space for additional events and travelers to spend time in the community.
“Kitimat was in need of an outdoor covered space for summer music events, theatre performances, visual arts and so much more,” said Laurel D’Andrea, executive director, Kitmat Chamber of Commerce, upon the project’s completion. “The possibilities that will happen because of this beautiful structure will be endless. Anytime you can create a space for people to enjoy both the outdoors and art it’s a win-win situation.”
Building the amphitheatre is one of the tactics the Kitimat Chamber of Commerce is using to increase visitation to their community. The Chamber projects that events hosted at the amphitheatre will attract visitors from other northern communities and provide additional reasons for tourists to extend their stay in Kitimat. The $64,640 project is expected to generate extra income and tax dollars to the local economy while also supporting economic diversification in the area.
The Kitimat Chamber of Commerce hopes to activate the new facility in a variety of ways, including hosting theatre, music and art in the park. These events will support local artists by providing a venue to reach a broader audience and to sell their products. Simultaneously, these events will also increase the livability of Kitimat as a community.
In March 2019, Northern Development committed $30,000 to the Kitimat Chamber of Commerce for this construction project through the former Community Halls and Recreation Facilities funding program. In September 2020 this program was retired. Today, projects such as the Heritage Park Amphitheatre Construction would be eligible for up to $30,000 through the Community Places funding program.
Northern Development’s 2022 Annual Report features an updated design and is brimming with information about the work being done throughout central and northern B.C. Complemented with an array of professional photos, scenic imagery and in-progress photos of projects, the 49-page report demonstrates how Northern Development is acting as a catalyst for transformative rural development.
Take time to read the report and discover the innovative work that is being done, from research on natural clay deposits in Fort Nelson to a new home for the Bralorne Pioneer Museum in the Bridge River Valley and much more in-between.
The report also shares information about the Trust’s growing suite of partner programs. Northern Development administers three funding programs for the Province of BC and two for BC Hydro. These are in addition to the 16 core programs that Northern Development offers.
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