June 11, 2004

A new tourism initiative encourages visitors to discover the Ottawa Valley, by digging into the region’s rural roots and playing in its heritage rivers.
In 2002, the Cultural Heritage Tourism Corridor Project (CHTCP) was launched to celebrate the Ottawa Valley’s rich history.  Marie White, Special Projects Coordinator, Ottawa Valley Tourist Association (OVTA), is leading the tourism initiative that has given rise to a new cultural heritage network among the project partners, which include more than 40 local cultural institutions, heritage sites, small businesses, and tourism organizations.  The CHTCP is a rural success story that has founded “Roots and Rivers” -- a series of cultural heritage tours that allow visitors to take the road less traveled, and explore Ottawa Valley treasures and waterways.
“There is a natural link between tourism and culture,” says White.  “And the community has really embraced and encouraged this project.”
Stretching from Ottawa, Canada’s Capital Region, to the northern tip of Algonquin Park, the Ottawa Valley is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise.  More than half of the region is untouched wilderness, majestic waterways, and rolling landscapes.  Throughout the Ottawa Valley, small villages lie along the shores of the region’s heritage rivers -- the Ottawa, Madawaska, and Bonnechere rivers.  The quiet communities are teeming with history and invite you to step into the rural past.  The Ottawa Valley is naturally beautiful and is home to underground caves, Canada’s first Polish settlement, historic museums, nationally renowned murals, raging rapids, Ontario’s highest vertical ski hill, leprechauns, and heritage farms.  The objective behind the CHTCP was to develop a cultural heritage product that showcased the Ottawa Valley’s beauty and history.
Early in the project, it was recognized that individually, partner organizations lacked the resources necessary for developing, marketing, and launching a cultural heritage product.  The partners contributed five working days to participate in three educational workshops on market readiness, packaging, and media relations.  Diane McKinnon, Renfrew County Community Futures Development Corporation, says the skill development gained during these workshops was key to the “Roots and Rivers” success, as they provided the partners with an understanding about the process involved in creating a cultural heritage product.
Throughout the project, the partners have been committed to the “Roots and Rivers” initiative, and have enthusiastically developed and promoted four cultural heritage tours.  These driving tours provide visitors with the whole “Valley” experience, as they are able to appreciate the region’s natural beauty, wildlife, woodlands, and waterways, says White.  The tours follow the Ottawa Valley’s heritage rivers, and along the routes lay quiet river communities, heritage sites, and tourist attractions.  During each tour, visitors can stop and explore museums, art galleries, historic trails, parks, underground adventures, and scenic lookouts.
An attractive, colour brochure has been produced to market the cultural heritage tours; 47,000 copies will be distributed.  Thanks to a partnership with the OVTA, the “Roots and Rivers” brochure is available at tourist information sites throughout Ontario.  It is also accessible on the OVTA website.
The response to the “Roots and Rivers” project has been overwhelming and all of the project partners were very excited about the final product, says White.  The partners have reported increased visitation, as the cultural heritage tours have attracted at least 2,472 tourists to the Ottawa Valley.  Provincial and federal organizations have taken note of “Roots and Rivers”, and are actively spreading the word about the CHTCP.  The tourism initiative has already garnered both national and international recognition.  The website has received inquires for further information about “Roots and Rivers” from Alberta, Scotland, Iran and Egypt.
“The success of this project is amazing,” says White.  “The 'Roots and Rivers' initiative is now being considered as a model for a federal project.”
The Ottawa Valley spans Renfrew County -- the largest county in Ontario -- so it’s been a challenge to bring together individuals of similar interests.  Prior to the CHTCP, there was little communication and collaboration among the Ottawa Valley’s cultural institutions, heritage sites, and tourism operations.  The project’s cultural heritage network provides partner organizations with the opportunity for information exchange and to establish strategic alliances.  The CHTCP has resulted in 27 working partnerships among project partners.
“The momentum has not stopped,” says White.  “The cultural heritage network is still active and more businesses want to join.”
On December 4, 2003, a conference for the cultural heritage network was organized to discuss new opportunities for cultural and heritage tourism in the Ottawa Valley.  The gathering attracted many new faces, including the Canadian Tourism Commission.  White says that phase two for the “Roots and Rivers” project is currently being discussed.
The project coordinators would like to acknowledge the generous support received from the Ontario Ministry of Culture, Renfrew County Community Futures Development Corporation, Ontario’s Living Legacy, Ottawa Valley Tourists Association, and project partners.