Muskoka Heritage Place had a banner year in 2017

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It was a great year for Muskoka Heritage Place (MHP).

The Town-owned cultural facility saw its highest attendance since 2004, aided by a 30 per cent increase in visitors to its popular Portage Flyer Christmas event on December 23 which topped 1,000 people for the first time ever. That put total attendance at 14,111 for the year. Other highlights for 2017 included an increase in wedding and rental revenue, increased train ridership, and continued success of the Engineer for a Day program.

MHP manager, Ron Gostlin, credits the cold and wet summer weather and increased use of digital marketing for the overall results. “There is a direct correlation between poor weather and attendance at our attraction,” said Gostlin in a recent media release. “We provide something for people to do which is interesting, family-friendly, and not available anywhere else in Muskoka.”

He noted that the attraction also received “excellent support from our partners in tourism like Explorer’s Edge, Muskoka Tourism and the Chamber of Commerce.”

At a budget presentation to Huntsville’s General Committee in December 2017, a staff report noted that MHP came in more than $58,000 under budget last year (an as-yet unaudited number). That despite a decrease in education programming attendance from schools, which was at a 10-year low. It’s an issue not exclusive to MHP, with other similar sites experiencing declines largely due the rising cost of buses, insurance and health and safety restrictions, Gostlin noted in an October 2017 report.

Last fall, staff were directed to prepare a draft 10-year strategic plan for Muskoka Heritage Place before March 2018 using recommendations from a report prepared by Lord Cultural Resources. The consulting firm had been selected to review MHP operations via an RFP process following the award of a $75,000 Ontario Trillium Foundation grant for that purpose.

(See an earlier story about the consultant’s review here and read Lord’s final report here (PDF).)

Staff preparing the draft strategic plan were directed by Huntsville’s General Committee to consider more than 30 of Lord’s recommendations, and to include the following in the plan:

  1. a working group be formed, including the Trillium Lakeland District School Board, to review educational programming and the expansion of the offering;
  2. a picnic opportunity be created onsite, including opportunities to purchase food and beverage, with the option for guests to picnic at the end of the train along the shores of Fairy Lake;
  3. the village include more activation and hands on experiential learning for visitors including but not limited to a vegetable garden, lessons in the school house, etc.;
  4. the Muskoka Heritage Place Capital Asset Management Plan be reviewed and updated to include the necessary repairs and planning for the various village buildings including Boles Barn;
  5. a complete staffing plan identifying both full time and part time needs in response to the recommendations of Council;
  6. the development of a Muskoka Heritage Place mobile app that will provide information related to the site, the buildings, history, etc.; and
  7. long-term planning for future capital development such as an expanded museum and function space and interpretive boardwalks along Cann Lake.

The recommendations staff will consider are numbered  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 33, 34, 35, 37, 39 in the summary here (PDF).

“We are confident that the strategic plan currently being drafted by staff, based on the Lord consultant’s report, will take the good trajectory we are on and continue to improve both the experience and the sustainability of Muskoka Heritage Place long into the future,” said Gostlin.

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