I think that we can all agree that Sault Ste Marie is an amazing place to live and a great place to visit. That said, I’d really like to see us further expand winter tourism, like many cities have already done.
We have a well-known winter carnival, Bon Soo, but I know we can do more. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel; we can look at what other cities do and then put our own twist on ideas and make the Sault a winter mecca.
To start though, I want to congratulate all those involved in getting the 14-foot wide downtown skating trail operating a year ahead of schedule. The trail at Clergue Park and John Roswell Park is truly great. Right on the waterfront, it provides residents and visitors alike a wonderful winter experience. Here is an idea that was so good that it was even implemented before council approved the final funds for it. (This last part seemed a bit strange to me, but I’m going to let it slide/skate because I enjoy the path so much.).
For future years, because we always have the ability to improve on what we do, here are some ideas. Commenters online (yes – I broke my cardinal rule and read the comments) have suggested that an even longer path be implemented at Bellevue Park, perhaps flanked with LED solar lights to make it a winter wonderland. In Brantford, Ont., they turn their Harmony Square splash pad into a rink and skating path. Perhaps we could look into the possibility of our splash pad also doing double duty in the winter? Regardless, for any trail to be a tourist attraction (and accessible to all residents), skate rental is needed and food/hot beverage would improve the experience. Perhaps my hometown of Ottawa needs to send up a Beavertail franchise?
Hiawatha has also embraced winter with its annual SnowFest, which sadly was cancelled this year due to polar vortex cold. Perhaps we could even create an extreme single-track ice path that people could skate from the top, down, and be transported back up again?
Even if Hiawatha events and activities stay the same, we still need to offer bus transportation up to Hiawatha to allow students, residents, and tourists the ability to access SnowFest, and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and fat bike opportunities (like Searchmont has). We have to stop thinking that everyone has their own transportation, especially in a city with a University and a College, limited taxis, and no Uber. (And, of course, we also need this for fall foliage viewing, and hiking and mountain biking opportunities.)
As a city we can also sponsor and/or run races/loppets to showcase our amazing trails. We have truly world-class trails that deserve attention.
Really though, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. How about an ice hotel or ice maze that is here all winter? Yes, it takes an investment, but other cities are doing this profitably, perhaps it is a “if you build it, they will come” scenario.
On a smaller scale, how about toboggan runs or winter permanent bum slides? Finn Hill would be a natural location. Or at least have toboggan rentals and hot chocolate available there.
If we do want to get more inventive, maybe we can offer an ice bar (and not deal with overnight guests) where you can get a Gretzky Canadian Cream Whisky in an ice shot glass for a truly Canadian experience. Or maybe an on ice Hearst-made Loon vodka? Maybe Wayne or the Rheault’s would even sponsor a branded bar?
Or how about a new winter event such as a snowman building/carving/dressing contest? I can hear the Frozen song lyrics in my head already: “Do you want to build a snowman?” This snowman garden could even be a way to raise funds for a charity as people “buy” a snowperson to carve or adorn.
Don’t get me wrong, I am amazed at how much we have to offer in the winter, from the Snowcross Championships (which were amazing) to Bon Soo bum slides and snow canoeing (which should be available winter long for tourists as well), but let’s take this up a notch and brand ourselves as the world’s warmest-hearted winter destination.