August 12, 2015

Signage strategies needed for both County and Town

As published in The Erin Advocate

The road signs that tell motorists where they are (and where they could go) do much more than provide information. They help create an image for a community, and can provide an identity boost that builds pride among residents and economic activity for local businesses.

It’s good to see that Wellington County is working on a signage strategy to promote its “brand” – something that other counties such as Huron and Perth seem to have done quite well. It’s harder for a large geographical area to define its unique character (compared to the attractions of a small town), but the tools are simple.

A colourful sign with a consistent, well-designed look should welcome drivers at every entry point to the county. The Town of Erin welcome signs on major roads are excellent. The County signs could be designed to go on the same posts, to make it clear that Erin is part of Wellington, or they could be separate.

Throughout the county, there should also be many more way-finding signs, again with a recognizable design instead of just a place name and an arrow on a blue background. Some of these could be promotional, directing visitors to natural attractions like the Elora Gorge or to commercial hubs like the shopping area of downtown Erin village.

If the County is ready to spend money on signs, Erin councillors and business operators need to speak up about what exactly they’d like to see on those signs. A Focus Group meeting at Centre 2000 on August 5 provided a good opportunity for that. A mid-summer survey had also solicited public opinions on signage, but unfortunately was no longer open when I went to the website after the meeting.

For more information on the Wellington Signage Plan, call the Economic Development Office at 519-831-2600 x 2611.

Good signs are expensive, but they can also produce a revenue stream – as the provincial government has utilized on the 400 series highways. The County also plans to have signs on which businesses can buy advertising space for their nearby establishments, whether they be restaurants, bed & breakfast homes or zip-line adventures. Conservation authorities could advertise recreation areas and the Towns could advertise its parks and trails networks, or even its industrial zones.

I would much rather see well-controlled advertising on public signs than purely commercial signs on public property (or right next to it).

The Town of Erin, as part of its new Economic Development effort, could have its own sign strategy – not to duplicate the County effort, but to give priority to local attractions, both commercial and non-profit. These would be functional, but also send a more subtle message – letting visitors know that we are confident and organized in promoting ourselves. Here are just a few sign ideas:

• Ban all private signs from the public lands surrounding selected major intersections. Reducing the clutter will give a much better impression to visitors.

• Formally request that the Ministry of Transportation have more directional signs naming Erin on area highways. For example, drivers on Highway 10 in Caledon could see a sign indicating that Erin is to the west, and not just Guelph.

• Have more signs directing drivers to the various hamlets within the Town of Erin – this would be educational even for existing residents.

• Have signs indicating the river or creek that is being crossed. This is an excellent orientation tool, which the province used to use on its highways. Maybe we could leverage some funding from Credit Valley Conservation for such a project.

• Let’s let everyone know that Erin village, Hillsburgh and Orton are stops on the Trans Canada Trail, an important route for hiking, cycling and snowmobiling. It should be a big deal.