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Selling the County

Steve Campbell

Steve Campbell

This is a difficult subject for me to address, as I have been involved in the marketing of The County since 1976 … quite a different time than the County of today.
Each year in January, our County Magazine Team gathers to discuss possible new directions and additions for our Breakaway Magazine visitor’s guide. This year, designer Jan Davies, ad rep Valery Philip and I had a free-for-all session, in which everyone’s thoughts can hit the table and be given careful consideration. Large corporations can’t do this, but we survive because we’re faster on our feet, can implement new ideas immediately, and don’t have any shareholders or fund suppliers to please.
Being in the business, it’s awkward for me to take a picture of the Marketing of the County, without offending other groups who are also attempting to draw that ever-valuable tourist market, and occasionally align to conflict with my own ideas of County promotion.

So let’s start with a little background. Breakaway Magazine, known to many of you, was launched into a separate magazine format in 1986. At the time, there were no other tourist-oriented magazines in the County. I pitched this concept to the County Council of the time, and was turned down flat. I then went to Quinte’s Isle Tourist Association (now PECCTAC), who also turned me down. I knew it was needed, so put my own money where my mouth was, and launched it on my own.
The concept was to 1) Give visitors to the County all the info they need to get around, including free listings of radio stations and cool sites to visit, and free event listings. 2) The ad rates were modest, to allow Mom and Pop Businesses to join in and get people travelling around to small shops and one-artist studios.

Now I’ll jump ahead, because the marketing approach has skewed considerably since those days. My first run of Breakaway was 1,000 … now it’s 45,000. And the handful of businesses has grown exponentially.
Here are some of the points that came up in our discussion: “Everyone who markets the County wants us to appear glossy and hip and chic and trendy … like we’re Food and Drink magazine.”
“Sure, our shops and boutiques and upscale restaurants and wineries have really drawn a lot of people here, and they are a vital part of our tourist economy. But what makes the County special is the people and the attitude and atmosphere that you can only experience here.”
“City people don’t come here just because we’re chic and upscale … They can get that anywhere in the city, just by picking up the phone. They come here because of what else we are.”

That being said, defining what we are is not that difficult. We are a community, and we’re happy here. As always, connecting with the people around us is probably our greatest gift, and could be the ‘marketing approach’ that is almost invisible to us.
What draws people here is not that we are as Cool and Fashionable as Toronto, Ottawa or Montreal. What draws people here is that we are Different. And we certainly are. I have said, “I love Toronto, but I could never live there.” There are lots of people who love the County, and come back time and again, but they don’t want to live here. I get that.

Here’s an anecdote I never tire of telling: A Bloomfield friend visited here from Minnesota, and said: “Everyone is happy here … this is where I would like to live.” He stood on the sidewalk and watched the interaction of the people at the Post Office, and the bank, people standing in the parking lot for a 20-minute conversation with a friend before they headed on their way.
This is what we are, and this – the people, the atmosphere, the attitude, the community – defines us more than anything else we have.
As you know, I think the wineries are a great addition to the County, and the neat restaurants too. These are special, personal ‘finds’ and great experiences for visitors. (Frankly, I was shocked to see a bottle of non-County wine at a house party: “What? Now France is getting into the act?!”)

Other good reasons to Be County? Enthusiastic artists in every medium, musicians, crafters … people gathering together to enjoy what they do. Together, we create a Gumbo of reasons to visit here, and perhaps live here.
Some people are sold on glossy and glitzy but, really, how many people have been inspired to act on any advertisement in Food and Drink? The mag looks good, smells good, thick and rich paper stock, looks great on the coffee table and, above all else, free! But they’re actually selling booze in a bottle, no matter how many enticing semi-naked models they can pack into an ad.
In some ways, I long for the old days when, if you said the word ‘tourist’, you would need to turn around twice and spit on the ground. But mostly I see the many values of tourism – not just in dollars, but in the many stories and discoveries everyone has to share about this paradise we call home, and the many laughs that come along with it.

Historian Peter Lockyer, in a brilliant presentation at the Regent, has expressed the same vision I have tried to explore in this column: Look at the history. Look at what we are. Look at what we were, and then look again at what we are. We’re having fun with that … C’mon in and take a better look.
From The Picton Gazette, Lockyer said: “If history made money as it does in other places of the world, we would not consider our archives, libraries, museums and cemeteries as municipal loss leaders and heritage beggars …”
There are lots and lots of us who agree. In our pursuit of Hot New Markets, we should take a look over our shoulder to admire the days past.

Time to start rethinking the Selling of the County. Let’s look at what we are, and be proud of that. Not a day goes by that I don’t say: “Ya gotta love The County,” for one reason or another.
This is our Soul. You can find the same thing in a pile of Ontario small towns, but no one soul is exactly the same.
We can gloss up, and spritz up, and sell the County like it’s Niagara, or France, or even the Newfoundland government-funded campaign which shows clothes on a clothesline (how quaint is that?) along with the tagline: “10 feet of snow, high winds, no hydro, friendly people, and maybe some fish, if the rules allow.”

My point is: You can take any girl off the street, run her through a series of professional cosmeticians, hairdressers and clothiers, and add in someone who can teach her to walk upright without stumbling. In the end, what is she? Herself, or the Perfect Creation of what other people would like to see? And did she lose something along the way?
Sometimes it’s better to say: “Hey! I am what I am. If you like that, welcome. If not, nice to see you.” Clearly, lots of visitors get that.

Filed Under: News from Everywhere ElseSteve Campbell

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  1. Paul says:

    I agree with you Marnie when we were Ontario’s best kept secret we had tourist not so many that driving down main street took 25 minutes. This was a destination for middle class families who couldn’t afford Puerto Rico or France, or wanted a place that was laid back, slow and Friendly. Now I avoid Main St in Picton at all costs in the summer..

  2. Marnie says:

    It is foolish to believe that the county can or should remain in a time warp but it is also unrealistic to regard all of the recent changes as a desirable and natural progression of events. The county has become a playground for wealthy newcomers who have dotted its shores with McMansions that to some extent rob it of its original character. Prince Edward County once famous for its natural beauty and simple way of life has become too slick and sophisticated for its own good.Hanging onto history is becoming more and more difficult. Change is one thing but the alteration of the county’s entire character is another. History may be valiantly trying to live here but it is no easy task given the county’s new look. We were better off as Ontario’s best kept secret.

  3. No, the County isn’t like it was in the ’50’s. And the 50’s weren’t like it was in the 20’s and the 20’s weren’t like it was in the 1890’s. We don’t live in a museum. The County has survived through many evolutions and this is just another one. The thing we (both old and new County folks)should be striving for is to retain those things about the County that are worth hanging onto. It doesn’t matter how we market the place – marketing is all about getting people to come here and leave money. Our sense of community is the most important asset for those who live here and given the remarks about “our” hospital that have (for some reason) been left on these posts, many of the comments made by those who came here via the circuitous route, I’d say the sense of community is alive and well. I can’t think of a single era in our history when everybody agreed with everybody else about everything. We don’t have to. We just have to recognize that the County is a great place to live and do our best to make sure that it stays a great place to live – and that may mean that we stubbornly hang on to some things, but it also means that we occasionally entertain a new idea or two.

  4. Olmanonthemtn says:

    Good words Wolf! I grew up here and left to further my education and find employment. When I visited I saw changes in the County some bad but in my opinion mostly good with some things that have not changed both good and bad. I remember in the County both open minded sages and close minded chauvinists, in fact my own family had some of both! Our family on both sides were turn of the century immigrants who were accepted such that they could integrate and establish farms and businesses but also had on occasion experienced bigoted hazing. In my past here there were community team players and self-seekers. Yes we have seen newcomers come in and take the risk to establish new tax contributing, local employing businesses and agricultural enterprises. They didn’t edge old business out, they were closing when I was a teenager e.g.. Teds, Frasers, Hicks and Masons to name a few. Why did they leave? Perhaps they did not have the range of stock or their costs were high and our business went elsewhere or there was no one to takeover. Lets us not forget the number of main street fires that gutted businesses which never returned. Thank God for the professionals (e.g.. doctors, dentists, lawyers, educators and accountants) who filled the gaps left when there weren’t the locals to fill these positions, their contributions can not be understated. I see my former classmates in a variety of professional, technical, service and business enterprises which in this integrated County has allowed them to form alliances with those from away with different perspectives allowing them to use and expand their talents. Newcomers have saved some important local landmarks and agricultural lands which could not or would not have been saved locally. I am impressed by the range of experienced, talented yet modest newcomers who are willing to help fight our good fights against those outside agencies who are trying to re-engineer our lives. Having moved from one of those southwestern Ontario cities I would comment that the grass is not greener, the pace there was frenetic, there was traffic gridlock and overdevelopment destroying greenbelts and farms fueled by special interests on city council. We also saw individual hospitals with unique qualities restructured. I certainly met overbearing conceited individual in that city who didn’t tolerate other points of view. When we entertain visitors from away they without exception remark on the County’s beauty and uniqueness. They comment that its has both rural charm and sophistication with an impressive tenacity to preserve what’s best without limiting its future potential.

    From my own experience I find I must be aware and limit my own capacity to generalize. Some quotes from well known sages seem appropriate here:

    “All generalizations are false, including this one” Mark Twain

    “A half truth, like half a brick, is always more forcible as an argument than a whole one. It carries better.” Steven Leacock

  5. Wolf Braun says:

    I totally agree with your reply here Steve !

    I grew up in Peterborough and discovered the County in the late ’60s. We bought our first house in Bloomfield in 1972 and moved our family from Toronto. I was in my early 20’s.
    My career moved us back to the city (TO) in 1978. During the time we lived here our children got very involved in the County with all kinds of activities. I became involved with Kinsmen and enjoyed every bit of of it. I’m one of those people who can’t just attend dinner meetings and do nothing. I’m a worker.

    My last career move put us in Montreal. That was 1986. We stayed there until 1995 when we moved back to the Quinte area. I moved back to the County in 2002. I still see our ‘first’ friends and have made lots of new friends – some have Loyalist roots. Others have settled here from all over Canada. I will be leaving the County in a box. 🙂

    I think you can call home almost anywhere as long as you involve yourself in your community. I’ve also been fortunate to travel in the U.S. and most of Europe. There are some great places on this planet but the County is ‘special’. What makes the County special for me is the people. My wife and I try to support our local merchants as best as we can. Neither of us ever want to leave this special place. As we age, we both continue to volunteer for activities that we believe we give something back.

    In all the time I’ve lived in the County I have only ever encountered one person who moved here from Ottawa who in my opinion didn’t quite fit. That’s a pretty good success ratio given the number of people that I’ve met in the County. And yes, transplants to the County do give back to this special community.

  6. Paul says:

    The idea that “If We Build It They Will Come” isn’t working why not cater to the Tax Paying Citizens of The County instead of the tourists…

  7. Jethro says:

    Bike lanes would be good if they used them. Usually they are riding three wide (wich is against the law) and you get the finger if you honk the horn

  8. Doris Lane says:

    Steve I don’t know but I left the County in 1980 and I was fairly active in the community then. I came back in 1998 and I did not know a soul on main Street or anywhere else. I had always heard you can’t go back and how true that is. I have regretted my return but I am too old now to go anywhere else
    As far as I can see the wineries are the only good thing that has happened in the County. So I struggle through each day and make the best of it.

  9. Jan says:

    With many have a hard time paying their enormous fuel bills, hydro bills, tax bills and water bills, I can’t believe anyone would suggest “building bike lanes” as a priority for the County!! What fantasy land are you living in?? Those who are so concerned with “bike lanes”–choose another location in Ontario or wherever to live!!

  10. Marnie says:

    Sorry, Steve, but your rose-coloured glasses are giving you the wrong picture. We certainly have been steamrollered. Where are the old familiar names on the majority of county boards, committees and church groups? The Regent Theatre foundation originally was started by a dedicated group of local people involved with Quinte Summer Music. Name one of them who is still involved with the theatre. Who can afford the ticket prices at the Regent today? The good old county folks who earn minimum wage or the newcomers who have far greater resources? Ditto for a lot of the new eateries. Check out some of those glossy new mags supposedly showcasing county life. Do you see any of your old county classmates in those shots? Where’s the mechanic who works on your car or the check-out girl from the local supermarket? The newcomers have introduced their own culture whether you want to admit it or not and most of us are a poor fit. I agree that among the newbies are some great people who enjoy our county as we do and have no desire to change it by nudging it towards their idea of what it should be. But unfortunately they are in the minority. Change is inevitable but through the decades we have always continued to remain as simply “the county”. One day soon this designation will become “the playground” or “little Toronto”. Is that progress?


  12. County Steve says:

    I rarely jump back into blogs on my columns, as this is your space to speak.
    Still I can’t accept the idea that County people have been steamrolled by city people. There are countless examples of good people with great talent who now call the County home. I count many of them as friends.
    The so-called ‘rich city people’ are indeed a part of our make-up. And they do bring us prosperity, in many ways. Sorry Marnie, but it’s not ever going to be the 1960s again. Sorry Doris, but the long-time County people still hold a lot of sway here.
    But the profile has indeed changed. There are new ways of doing things, and even the County – left alone for years – can’t stay insulated from the rest of the world. We’re lucky that most newcomers to the County love us for what we are. I can also cite examples of ‘newcomers’ who plant themselves on Boards of every kind, and want to bring ‘culture’ to the natives.
    Some people fit right in, and some people need a little more ‘County’ under their feet, before they start planting themselves into the Director’s seat. The important thing is: There are no strangers here. If you choose to be in the County, then you become a County person. Here we determine a person’s value by their character, not by their wealth, their degrees or their colour or sexual orientation. Good people are good people, no matter where they were born. Find them, and we’ll have an even happier place.

  13. Marnie says:

    I have a friend who was born in the county and moved to western Ontario following her marriage. She has visited here through the years and says she would never come back here to retire now because it is too chi-chi. The hometown that she remembers is long gone. I can’t really argue with her for we have become outsiders in our own county. We are outnumbered, out-classed and out of luck.

  14. Doris Lane says:

    Jethro you are so right. The only way to be somebody in this County is to be born somewhere else

  15. Paul says:

    The County sold out long ago to the idea of becoming a World Class Tourist destination, which has attracted big money to purchase property and hold their breath waiting to reap the rewards,slowly I think we’re seeing the reality.

  16. Jethro says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more Barb. It is sad what is happening in our county. What is really sad is that some of our of the members of our council who were born and brought up here are on the rich city peoples side and the locals who made this county are nobodies

  17. Wolf Braun says:

    I look forward to hearing more from you Mark. 🙂

    As to the hospital it’s a matter of developing a plan that has a chance at success. PEC is not alone, or it doesn’t need to be along, given that there are probably 35 or more small rural hospitals in the same situation as we are in.

    Any plan has to outline a clear easy to articulate process with a goal. The process should identify opportunities that meet the health care needs of the people living in the County as well as visitors. Only by developing a plan and process can we expect to have success.


  19. Marnie says:

    You are to be commended for all that you have done to save our hospital Wolf but like it or not we will never get back the services that we once enjoyed. It’s like trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube. The flaws in the new system grow more apparent every day but no one is listening.

    As for the local economy its problems are historic – part-time miniumum wage jobs and very little industry. We can try commercializing our history to sell the county but that would make it rather like a cheap souvenir stand. If we keep on tweaking the essence of this place one day we will realize, too late, that we have changed its entire character. It will become just another Alexandria Bay.

  20. Mark says:

    I commend your efforts to retain a viable hospital. That must be a tireless effort and frustrated by beauracry. Complicating that as so many other issues is that both the Conservatives and Liberals have contributed to the demise. Folks are quick to forget but it was the Conservatives that imposed imalgamations and deregulation. And here we are.

    As to your latter question, yes I have solutions. I hope to be able to discuss them in length.

  21. Wolf Braun says:

    The operative word in your reply is “shipped”. I understand what you’re trying to say. But, I will always retain a choice. It might require more work on my part but I will control my choices when it come to BGH. I fully understand what’s going on at PECMH. But, I will continue to work towards improving the situation.

    I don’t disagree with your assessment of the state of the economy in The County. Do you have some solutions to improve the situation?

  22. This is why I’ve been telling stories all these years. Like you, Steve, I put my money where my mouth is. But I long for the day when history translates into cash.

  23. Mark says:

    Well Wolf for any type of significant health issue you are shipped to BGH now. At Picton there is no surgery, no maternity and the scope procedures are ending very soon. BGH is our main hospital like it or not. And we have many pressing issues here in the County from a non industry based,low tax base. There are not enough users to sustain the cost of water and sewer. Who ever thought the average families water bill would be $1,500 per year. Tourists do not eleviate those costs. Thanks to wind turbines we are faced with energy bills that are hurting people severely. It’s sad when the energy bill trumps food on kids plates. Excuse me but bicycle paths on secondary roads are way down the list for the the hard pressed taxpayer.

  24. Marnie says:

    Good point Mark. We should not be worrying about bicycle paths to provide recreation for the tourists. We cannot even afford to keep all of our roads in good shape.

    The hospital as we knew it is gone and that is not going to change. The county was a great place to live but given the loss of hospital services and our ever-increasing taxes it’s fast losing its appeal. Local people soon will be unable to afford to live here and retirees from the cities will think twice about moving to a community where there is only a band-aid relief station instead of a hospital.

  25. Doris Lane says:

    Notice they have extended the contract of the CAO.
    A new council will not be able to affect any change as he has complete control.
    So we will see rising taxes higher water/sewer bills and instead of the things that are necessary we will be doing all those unnecessary things still
    We are surrounded by Quinte west, Hastings and Lennox who I believe have a lower tax rate than we do and all have their own hospitals.

  26. Wolf Braun says:

    Mark… given that I live in The County ‘my’ hospital is Prince Edward County Memorial ! I dread the day that I have to be shipped to Belleville.

    As to our elected officials and money… don’t get me started. That’s a problem that can be solved. And it doesn’t need to begin with raising taxes.

  27. Mark says:

    Wolf; We all want a viable hospital and it is being stripped to the bone. Your hospital is BGH. As for secondary bicycle paths forget it. We cannot afford to maintain our primary or secondary roads for vehicle use. Bikes are way down on any priority. Nice if you could do it but you have to be realistic. And history is again saved and retained by $$ and I don’t see you putting that solution out there. People want to be able to pay escalating water bills and energy bills before they would entertain bicycle paths for the rich!

  28. Wolf Braun says:

    The number 1 question that all visitors to The County ask is about health care and our hospital. In order to attract not only new residents to The County, as well as tourists, is a viable hospital.

    The second thing that I hear about from visitors is our back roads for biking (as in bicycle). We need to think about building better bike lanes on some of our roads.

    The 3rd thing people love is our history and rural spaces.

    I hear these things in my real estate work as well as doing wine tours for Sandbanks Vacations. In 2013 I did 73 tours. The average number of people on a tour is 8. That’s a lot of input !

  29. Chris Keen says:

    @KJB that is great news. The Ontario government is running an ad during the Olympics promoting tourism in Ontario. There are three, and possibly four, shots of PEC out of roughly ten spots mentioned in the ad. At least one government department “gets” the County.

    It’s a pity this same government has two other departments, and a premier, who wants to paper the County with IWTs from one end to the other thus insuring our descent to the 219th best place to visit!

  30. KJB says:

    Someone just sent me an e-mail regarding the 15 Best Places to visit in the WORLD….Prince Edward County was #10…I think that says it all

  31. Marnie says:

    I don’t think those of us who were born here condemn newconmers for liking the same things that make the county so special to us. What is really of concern is when they try to recreate the very places that they’ve left in our peaceful hometown. Some have an irrestible urge to help us change to what they perceive to be a better way of doing things. Selling the county is one thing. Selling it out is another. Like it or not the face of the county has been irrevocably changed by an influx of newcomers. Real estate prices have risen as a consequence and taxes have shot up for those living in areas near the wineries. It’s not all good news for the locals.

  32. Loretta says:

    You are so right Steve, the best part of the County are the people. I was not born here, but like so many others I choose to live here. I have never understood why someone born here and choosing to stay, could condemn others for choosing the same. I do understand the frustration against those who move here and try to remake this place into the places they left. I have nothing against progress and change, everybody, every place needs to grow and change. Somehow the County seems to making theses changes with out loosing its ‘Soul’. Shortly after I arrived, someone from a long County family line told me I had a ‘County Soul’, without a doubt, that was my best compliment ever!

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