August 17, 2011

Elora has succeeded at marketing its attractions

As published in The Erin Advocate

In a recent visit to Elora, I was impressed not only with the many attractions in the village, but with the success they have had in creating a positive brand name that draws people to the area.

The Elora Farmers' Market was established in 2005 and has become a hub of community activity, with more than 20 vendors every Saturday at Bissell Park from May to October, and a winter market indoors at the Elora Raceway. It takes a bit of nerve to call yourself the World’s Prettiest Farmers’ Market, but it certainly doesn't do any harm.

Bissell Park is a large public green space right in the village – a brilliant concept. It has a nice wide boardwalk along the north bank of the Grand River, a feature that many Erin residents would like to see on our stretch of the West Credit River.

The Grand flows from Belwood Lake through Fergus towards Elora, past the quarry that supplied stone for the village's beautiful public buildings and heritage homes. It is now the 79-acre Elora Quarry Conservation Area, opened in 1976, including a two-acre swimming hole with 40-foot sheer limestone cliffs.

The river tumbles over a waterfall near the downtown core. It is joined by Irvine Creek and flows through an impressive gorge with 70-foot cliffs. For $150 (including training) you can take a zip-line ride out over the gorge, then rappel down into it.

The Elora Gorge Conservation Area has camping and riverside trails with safety barriers, and while there is no swimming or rock climbing allowed, you can try whitewater canoeing, kayaking or tubing. It was the first conservation area on the Grand, opening in 1954 after more than 20 years of promotion by local newspapers, and with strong support from the business sector.

The village is known for its active arts community, especially the Elora Festival and Singers. The summer festival has run since 1979, attracting international patrons and performers, featuring large-scale classical works for choir and orchestra and intimate concerts of jazz and popular music. The Festival Singers is a renowned chamber choir, nominated for Grammy and Juno Awards, with 12 releases on the Naxos label.

Sensational Elora is an 11-day festival, starting September 30, that combines dance, film, art, music and feasting on locally-grown food.

The old Elora Public School has been nicely maintained as home to the Elora Centre for the Arts, which hosts various exhibitions. There is a permanent gallery of works on sale from the 39 artists of the Harris Collective. The building also has the offices of the Elora Environment Centre, a non-profit group with several staff members, specializing in home energy evaluations and advocacy of sustainable lifestyles.

The village is only a couple of minutes away from the Wellington County Museum and Archives. Built in 1877 as a House of Industry and Refuge for the poor, aged and homeless, it is a National Historic Site. A trail on the grounds links two branches of the Elora-Cataract Trailway, and a renovated trestle bridge offers a stunning view of the river gorge.

Elora has 5,500 residents, about as many as Erin village is projected to have by 2031. It is part of Centre Wellington Township, including Fergus and surrounding area, which has a total population of 27,500, compared to 12,000 for the Town of Erin. Centre Wellington has a Manager of Economic Development and a strategic plan to stimulate and guide economic growth. They also have their own tourism organization for local stakeholders.

The Grand River Raceway at Elora, owned and operated by the Grand River Agricultural Society, offers dining, seasonal live harness racing, wagering on year-round simulcast racing, and 240 slot machines.

I dropped in to the OLG Slots there on a weeknight, and almost every machine was in use. I knew my limit and played within it, making it last a while with single plays on a five-cent machine. Then I hit the Maximum Bet button by mistake, and my ten bucks was pretty well gone.

In that process, I chipped 50 cents into the coffers of Centre Wellington Township. Ontario Lottery and Gaming pays five per cent of gross revenues from slot machines to the municipality. That now amounts to more than $500,000 every three months, with no strings attached.