The climate is better than average for about 4 months of the year, tolerable for another 4 months, and really quite extreme the other 4 months. It is quite an empty country, lots of wilderness and wildlife, lots of lakes, and it appeals to outdoorsmen. Many or most middle-class households sport a boat or an RV or both. Fishing is popular, and generally very good. There are no mountains, but nevertheless there is lots of interesting topography. Tourism is an important part of the economy, but forestry is also, much of the countryside is forested, and there is farming in some areas.
This might sound like northwestern Ontario, but it is not, and here are some differences. Firstly, the snakes are poisonous, and there are lots of them. There are really sharp, aggressive thorns in any rough or natural growth, bad enough they could need surgery to remove them. These two along with the alligators seriously limit any getting close to nature. The water is generally sulphurous, the only pure northern spring water comes in a plastic bottle, and in fact the smell of sulphur is often in the air everywhere. There are seriously poisonous insects, like scorpions, and destructive insects, like termites. The roaches are as big as hummingbirds, and there are little lizzardy critters everywhere. Worse, the area is subject to very intense storms, the kind that destroy property and kill people. Not Northwestern Ontario.
Before air conditioning, the first priority for vacations for city folk, especially in the big cities of the American east was to go to somewhere cool to escape the oppressive summer. Middle class people would go to the Catskill Mountains or even Maine. As for winter, well, you can dress for the snow and ice, but you can only take off so much in the heat, so the cool summer priority is easily justified. The very rich could of course afford such a summer vacation or vacation home, and also a second vacation to escape the snow and ice of winter, and they started the tourist business in Florida, which the well-travelled reader might have recognized as the place described above. To the loss of the north, air conditioning reversed the priority, and vacations to escape the heat definitely lost fashion, witness the decline of places like Minaki. Meanwhile, air conditioning enhanced the appeal of places like Florida by extending the comfortable season, and an air conditioned Florida flourishes, even though still only an attractive climate for perhaps 6 months of the year – you can’t air condition away the tropical storm season.
And not only Florida, many sunny places have a flourishing tourist industry. In the US and on Caribbean islands and further south in Mexico and Central America. Where the desirable climate season is less, perhaps 3 months per year, the rest being too hot; where the poisonous snakes are bigger and badder, where the political and economic climate is much less secure.
So we see elaborate, multi-million dollar resorts springing up like mushrooms, to be used at prime season rates for at most 3 months, and at reduced rates for perhaps a few more. Resorts where the prime-time sun and beach experience are unquestionably very desirable, but which as an investment have to be questioned – are they really going to get their money back? Is the profit potential worth the risk of unstable government taking the whole investment? Perhaps, but perhaps not
History tourism and eco-tourism are new growth industries in such places as Alaska, Russia, and the Amazon River. We have to ask ourselves, why are we not seeing world-class, multi-million dollar resorts being built in northwestern Ontario, where we have such eco and historical opportunities as say cruises up the Albany and down the Berens, or following the route of the Voyageurs from old Fort William to the Red River? Where we have miles and miles of unspoiled wilderness. Where we have spectacular scenic lakes, with amazing fishing, hunting, and wildlife encounter opportunities; beautiful clearwater lakes surrounded by white sand beaches, too clear for fish but perfect for water sports. Where land prices are ridiculously cheap compared with the US. Where modern clothing makes snowmobiling and northern lights experiences marketable, so the resort would be in prime time for 8 or 10 months, not the 3 or 4 of Mexico. Where stable currency, government, banking and investing regimes protect the business investment. Why indeed?
Perhaps it has to do the provincial bureaucracy’s (and city folks’) apparent attitude that people being here in the north is a problem; this is ‘the environment’, and we best make it all into an uninhabited wilderness. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the Toronto-based Canadian investment community does not even know these opportunities exist, they think it all ends at Algonquin Park.
Perhaps it has to do with the negative and anti-entrepreneurial culture too often seen in our own northern people. Perhaps it has to do with the complacency of our present, fishing and hunting based tourist industry. Perhaps it has to do with the cozy relationship between the province and our big forest products companies, which would rather nobody else operates in our area.
Perhaps it has to do with the Colonial System – if we are going to have any world-class destination resorts, they simply must be within a hundred miles of Toronto, and if proposed for northwestern Ontario, they simply must be in Thunder Bay, and if proposed for Kenora/Rainy River, it simply must be built at Kenora. Perhaps it has to do with the regulations and costs around snowmobiling, which might make sense within 100 miles of Toronto, but are insane in a northern context.
Perhaps it has to do with all these. One thing is for sure, we are missing the tourism development boat, big time, and it does not have anything to do with our natural attributes, it has to do with people, business, and government.
Many would say that is fine, we do not need any growth; there is already too much competition for my fishing spot. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way, you cannot stand still, either you grow or you shrink and disappear, especially true here on the edge of the wilderness. So if you really want your kids to have an opportunity for a life here at home, and if you really want some security that your community will thrive and your house retain its value, you need to get interested in questions like this. Just another Contrarian opinion.