By Nancy Osborne
The pandemic has affected everyone differently. For me, I have lost two friends and colleagues and watched two others face the virus and a seemingly never-ending struggle with recovery. But in looking at my own semi-retired day-to-day life in rural Muskoka, the impact has still been relatively minimal.
The struggle is different for everyone and the current environment presents unique challenges for small business owners. Perhaps even more so right now for those who own small winter-based businesses. In Muskoka we tend to think of seasonal as summer-focused and often forget those few businesses that count on our tough winter weather to survive.
One such business in Huntsville is North Ridge Ranch dog sledding. A business where cutting back or even closing down are not options. There are mouths to feed, vet bills to pay, repairs and maintenance to do… And when you love your “business partners” the way Brad and Leah love their 60-plus dogs, there is no room for less; no less when it comes to nutrition, no less when it comes to care, no less when it comes to exercise or even attention. Their dogs love the attention they get from the people who visit; the pats, the scratches, the belly rubs and even the selfies. It is so much more than a business; it is a way of life. The expenses are fixed year-round but the income generating portion is far from year-round. In a good year, with an early snow base, it might start around the holidays and last for plus or minus three months. And even that time is filled with weather days when it is not fit for dogs or humans on the trails. Sadly, for this year, that short season is coinciding with lockdown, and a stay-at-home state of emergency. Almost the entire year’s income could disappear in the next couple of months. But the more than full-time/year-round work will not, leaving no opportunity to supplement a nearly non-existent season.
Strangely enough, dogsledding along with things like snowmobiling are exemptions for exercising even under the stay-at-home order. When I read this and that snowmobiling trails in Muskoka were open, I assumed dogsledding businesses were open too. But no, they fall under the hard restriction for all ‘tour and guide’ services. They can exercise their dogs on their trails but they cannot open for business.
So, along with thinking about shopping local and helping the small businesses that we pass on a regular basis, let’s make a point to think about the others too, the hidden treasures of our wonderful community that cannot operate but still need to pay the bills. It is the incredibly unique nature of these businesses that makes them special but unfortunately that uniqueness also means they are apt to fall through the cracks when it comes to government decisions and programs.
How can we help? Well, a simple email to the businesses or a social media post letting them know they are important members of our community will go a long way and be much appreciated. And for North Ridge Ranch, if you are able to, buy a gift certificate that can be used later this year (maybe?) or next year or the year after or the year after that… Maybe this is on your bucket list. If so, buy it for yourself. Or save it for someone else you would like to see enjoy an exciting adventure. It does not expire and is transferable, so it does not matter whose name you put on it now. You can buy a half-day or an hour tour online or you can call or email to buy a gift certificate in any amount to be put towards a tour: northridgeranch.ca. You can support the business and have an amazing adventure later, and you will also be helping to support these beautiful, energetic, and gentle, loving dogs right now.
Maybe you know another unique business that is not foremost in our minds and risks slipping through the cracks. Post about it, write about it; maybe others could help but just have not thought about it or simply do not know about it. Or buy gift certificates; what a wonderful way to invest in the future of our community. Let’s help in any way that we can. These are our neighbours, our friends, our local businesses. It is going to take a strong community to get us through this, but I can think of no community that is better up to the task than ours.
In 1975 at the age of 17, Nancy Osborne joined the Canadian Forces as a Private and was among the first few women in a previously male-only branch. Thus began 40 plus years of being the first – and often – the only woman in some of the biggest boys’ clubs around the world. After 20 years of breaking through the cement ceiling in the military, she retired as a Major. She was then recruited by the United Nations to be one of the first women providing risk analysis and access negotiations for humanitarian operations in some of the most dangerous and culturally misogynistic places. She has worked in over 40 countries including Sudan, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and East Timor but has considered Huntsville her home for more than 25 years. Twice retired, she is still active as a professional speaker, facilitating leadership training as a consultant for Mohawk College Enterprises and providing training tailored specifically for women under her I Got This company umbrella. Nancy does not have a bucket list but is certain that there is always another great adventure right around the next corner.
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