A Commentary on a Recent Decision by Chelsea to sever its ties with the steam train - Low Down to Hull and Back News, 14/01/15

A missed opportunity

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by ADMIN on JANUARY 14, 2015

By Kensel Tracy

As recently reported in the Low Down, Chelsea Council has severed its ties with the steam train. This provides the final nail in the coffin for any future involvement in our area with the train – and it’s too bad.

I came to Ottawa from Toronto in 1984 for a job with the former Ottawa Carleton Regional government as tourism promotions manager. I attended a meeting in Wakefield, where John Trent brought together a group of people to discuss the steam train concept. I was amazed that such a diverse group with varied interests could discuss something like this and have all of them agree that the steam train made good economic sense and provided a much needed boost for tourism in the region.

Years later, I experienced the steam train in action. We purchased a house on the river, and the train was an amazing sight. It was the scene of many family celebrations, including a marriage proposal: a nephew from Toronto asked his girl friend to marry him on the train. How could she refuse?!

Later on, my marketing company was hired to help the original owners market the steam train locally. Research revealed that many people, local and from abroad alike, came to the region just to ride the steam train. This diverse audience experienced local history and culture in the village of Wakefield and the natural habitat along the Gatineau River. Passengers learned about how the area grew up along the train line. What a beautiful way to educate and inform visitors.

So where are we now? The MRC of Chelsea has put out a request for proposal, and is looking for expertise to help develop a tourism strategy for the region.

The steam train represents a fantastic opportunity and would be seen as a ‘tourism cornerstone’. People aren’t drawn to a region just to stay in hotels and eat in restaurants. Tourism is about participating in unique experiences. The steam train was one of those ‘once in a life time’ attractions that was unique to our region.

If Chelsea council gets its way and turns the track into a recreational trail, we’ll be just like every other municipality in Canada. Marketing the village of Chelsea will promote a few nice restaurants, a couple of retailers, spas, the Gatineau Park, and an organic farm. Many other places in Canada boast the same features; not many can say they have a steam train.

Chelsea council missed the opportunity to build its own tourism infrastructure around the train. With a recreational trail, you will get cyclists, cross country skiers, hikers, snowmobiles, dog poop, and garbage. You will never have an international tourist attraction like the steam train and the economic benefits that go with it.

Kensel Tracy is a resident of Burnett in Chelsea.

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