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I was somewhat surprised to discover recently that agriculture in the new City of Ottawa provides more jobs (3,510 in the year 2000) than in the Counties of Lanark, Renfrew, Frontenac, Leeds and Grenville United Counties, Lennox and Addington, Prescott and Russell United Counties and Dundas and Glengarry United Counties. ["Of course, my Mom reminded me, it's the old Carleton County don't you know?"]
The City of Ottawa is now distinct amongst Canadian cities - it has the largest agricultural economy of any major city in Canada. In 1996, Ottawa generated more farm revenue than Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary combined. Altogether, over half of the soil in the new City of Ottawa (52%) is Class 1, 2 or 3 soil categories - those most suitable for agriculture. In 1996, West Carleton had the largest number of farms (400), followed by Osgoode (289). The average farm size is 199 acres, but there is a wide variation with two of Nepean's 70 farms at 2,240 and 2,879 acres.
According to the Regional Official Plan, 90% of Ottawa's land base is rural while 90% of its population lives in the urban centers. Of the 10% roughly 77,000 people residing in the rural area, 32,000 live in the 24 villages; about 7,000 people live in the 29 hamlets; and the remaining 38,400 live on farms or along rural roads. The five largest villages in Ottawa are: Manotick (4,761), Richmond (3,663), Greely (3,246), Osgoode (2,643) and Constance Bay (2,484).
A 2002 Draft Rural Inventory noted that beyond the greenbelt, Ottawa has more than 30 day trip attractions, about 9 museums and archives, over 20, major parks, an historic canal system, 22 golf courses, 18 boat launches, 7 maple syrup operations, 6 farmer or flea markets, 11 nurseries, 2 provincial parks and a lot more!!
And we have some very successful "rural tourism" operations. Saunders Farm. on Bleeks Road, in Munster Hamlet, is a tremendous local success story. This Farm recently won a prestigious award as Farm Marketer of the Year by the North American Farmers' Direct Marketing Association (NAFDMA), an association of over 1000 members from the U.S., Canada, Britain and Australia. Sanders Farm was the first Canadian recipient of the award. This 100 acre family farm has grown strawberries for 27 years, trees for 20 years, pumpkins for 10 years and its farm attendance has grown from several thousand in their 1992 "u-pick" operation to 50,000 ticket buyers over 4 weekends in 2001, to participate in a "haunting" experience. The Haunting Season at Saunders Farm' is the largest Hallowe'en event in Canada!!
Ottawa City Council recently approved an initiative called the "Business Retention and Expansion" program (B.R. & E.). This Pilot Project is currently underway and intended to provide a better understanding of the rural business sector especially rural tourism and niche agriculture.
Extensive interviews are currently being conducted with rural Ottawa business people. The objective is to use this information to develop new opportunities for rural businesses, and promote participation amongst rural residents and businesses to enhance rural features. A summary of the findings is anticipated in April.
At the same time, I have the pleasure and privilege of working on a "Rural Tourism" Study initiated by the Business Development Branch of the City and overseen by a Steering Committee that includes city staff, representatives from the Ottaw Tourism and Convention Authority, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, private entrepreneurs. and the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Recreation. While the B.R. & E. program looks at the "supply" side, we will be assessing the "demand side" of rural tourism - how can we encourage the 90% of the population in the urban Ottawa to explore and enjoy the rural tourism opportunities in their own backyard?
The Study process includes a review of previous reports (some excellent work had been done by some of the previous rural municipalities), conducting a random sample telephone survey of 250 urban Ottawa households, doing a global search for unique ideas and strategies that have worked in other locations and ultimately meeting with rural tourism operators to both share the research findings and explore a practical strategy for the future.
Tourism is an important part of Canada's economy. According to the Canadian Tourism Commission tourism spending in Canada reached $54.1 billion in 2000, an 8% increase compared to 1999 and 2.4% of Canada's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Of this amount Canadians spent 70% or $37.9 billion while foreigners spent $16.2 billion or 30%.
A recent day long Rural Tourism conference attracted more than 150 participants from across the new City and beyond. It was an informative, exciting day with lots of networking sharing of ideas and highlighting of some of our local success stories. For the first time, we now have an opportunity to collectively collaborate and develop a strategy to promote "rural Ottawa".
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