By Chad Ingram
A first impression review of Minden garnered largely positive results through what is known as the First Impressions Community Exchange or FICE a program offered through the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs.
The program operates on a “secret shopper” model where representatives from a municipality visit another municipality quietly evaluating what the community has to offer and compiling those findings in a report. The program is free for municipalities to partake in. In the case of Minden Hills it was visited by representatives from Sundridge Ont some time last fall likely the last weekend of September or first weekend of October Minden Hills economic development destination and marketing officer Emily Stonehouse told councillors during a March 12 committee-of-the-whole meeting.
According to the report from the Sundridge reps a sense of pride of ownership and a friendly welcoming community demeanour were among the most positive features of Minden Hills. Many aspects of the downtown – including its flowers clean and clear sidewalks way-finding signage murals and the easy-to-locate cultural centre – were given a positive review from the visitors.
Because of the nature of program Stonehouse wasn’t sure how many people had been part of the Sundridge delegation but told councillors she thought it was about eight including members of the municipality’s economic development staff and members of its council.
The Riverwalk boardwalk farmers’ market and multi-use trails were major highlights.
“One thing that they noted was the connectivity between active living and the arts culture and history” Stonehouse said. “So the walking trails that connect to the cultural centre where you learn about the history along the Minden heritage tour the trail brings people right into the heart of the downtown experience. So that connectivity that kind of brings everything we have to offer together was something that was noted in terms of economic development.”
Among the challenges noted were the obvious seasonal economy vacant lots and buildings overgrowth around some entry signage and lack of discernible branding.
“It was difficult to recall the brand of the community after leaving” Stonehouse said. “So that’s something we’re working on creating that identity for what Minden Hills really is so it doesn’t blend in with a lot of other rural communities.”
The visitors also noted an inconsistency between the “In Season Every Season” slogan which they said was generic and the Minden Village on the Gull River signage which they preferred. “They actually preferred ‘on the Gull River’ because it’s less generic and actually makes us stand out” Stonehouse said.
Councillors seemed pleased with the assessment.
Mayor Brent Devolin gesturing to the vacant former Beaver Theatre visible from his seat in council chambers said that some of the village’s more negative features can leave locals blind to the positive ones. “They tend to obstruct our perspective sometimes of the wins we already have” Devolin said.
“What’s really important here is it shows how important some of these things we’ve done really are” said Councillor Bob Carter. “It just shows how important it is that the whole community has to work together.”
By Chad Ingram