March 14, 2012

Big Shamrock monument could be a lucky charm

As published in The Erin Advocate

Looking through the 2012 Festivals and Events Guide produced by Wellington County, I could not help but wonder what Erin might do to really stand out above the crowd among local tourist destinations.

The County is quite proud of its 2011 tourism promotion, since both the events guide and website won top honours for their categories in the Marketing Canada Awards.

Distribution of this year's printed material was mainly to populations further west, such as Kitchener and London, but for the on-line version, go to www.wellingtonfestivals.ca. Check out the mini-vacations and events there, including video clips, or download a guide – hopefully they'll have the 2012 one posted soon.

The profile of Erin says: "Please come and visit our amazing downtown shopping area, unique local restaurants, play a round of golf, attend our Fall Fair, or enjoy a stroll or ride along our beautiful trails."

Our events include the Upside Down Sale, with a Town Crier hired by the Business Improvement Area (BIA), this Saturday on St. Patrick's Day.

We have the Quilt Festival, Made of Wood Show and Home & Lifestyle Show in April, the Summer Celebration & Sale in May, the Garden Tour in July, the Rhythm & Ribs Fest and Spirit in the Hills Fun Day in August, the Studio Tour and Carrot Fest in September, the Fall Fair in October and the Window Wonderland, Tree Lightings and Santa Claus Parade in November.

These are all good events, but with the exception of the Fall Fair, they do not attract really large numbers of visitors. We could do more, but it would require coordination and funding by the Town or private investors, not relying primarily on organizations such as service clubs or the BIA.

Erin's Marketing Department should focus public attention on our most recognizable asset – the Irish aspect of the town name. Erin, of course, is a form of the Gaelic work √Čire, meaning Ireland. The famous phrase "Erin go Bragh" means Ireland Forever.

Surveyors back about 1820 called it Erin Township, to balance the Townships of Caledon (named after Scotland) and Albion (named after England). No matter that our early settlers were Scottish.

Irish is the 4th largest ethnic background in Canada, numbering over 4 million, so the emotional connection (and tourism hook) could be very strong. In the tradition of St. Patrick's Day celebrations, Irish can be a state of mind available to all.

We already have the Shamrocks hockey team, and a Shamrock Room from which to watch them. We have shamrocks on our town welcome signs and streetlight banners. That's not much, really, in the marketing game. Mayor Lou Maieron has the right idea in proposing a St. Patrick's Day Parade – he's even bought a kelly green suit for the occasion.

How about a Shamrock Festival, with lots of good food, high-quality entertainment and all the Irish-themed events we could come up with?

How about building a Big Shamrock, a huge, green icon of our identity that could be known around the world – in the same way that the Big Nickel has put Sudbury on the map?

That 30-foot replica of a 1951 nickel, which overlooks a mining slag dump, was built in 1964 through the efforts of a community-minded entrepreneur, despite the opposition of Sudbury City Council. It included education facilities about mining and coins, and is now known as Dynamic Earth, operated by Science North.

I checked through the more than 300 monuments erected in Canadian municipalities, catalogued on the website www.bigthings.ca, and it seems no one has yet built a Big Shamrock.

Vegreville in Alberta has a big pysanka (Ukrainian easter egg). Glover's Harbour in Newfoundland has a replica of the world's largest giant squid. Leamington has a huge tomato.

A shamrock is not such a radical idea, since it would have broader appeal. It could be funded by the sale of commemorative medallions. It could become a destination for pilgrims – if we make sure there's plenty of parking.

The marketing pitch could include: "It is said that anyone who has their picture taken with Erin's Big Shamrock will have good luck for the next three days." It's blarney, not rocket science.

Could Erin become known as that town with the nice stores, excellent fall fair, beautiful scenery AND the Big Shamrock? Does anyone have a better idea?