The federal government is investing almost $900,000 in Niagara-on-the-Lake’s tourism industry, supporting the Shaw Festival and about 50 small and medium-sized local businesses suffering during COVID.
The festival is receiving a grant of $400,000 to stage outdoor theatre performances, and an investment of $500,000 will allow for grants of up to $20,000 for businesses. The grants will be administered through a committee of two town councillors, Eduardo Lafforgue, president of the NOTL Chamber of Commerce, and a representative from the wine industry, said Lord Mayor Betty Disero.
The announcement was made during a virtual meeting Tuesday afternoon by Melanie Joly, the minister of economic development, official languages and responsible for FedDev Ontario.
“It won’t be onerous, it will be a fairly simple process to apply for it,” said Disero. Because not all businesses will apply for $20,000, which is to offset the costs of reopening and adapting to the pandemic, Disero said. “I see this expanded beyond $20,000, within the realm of that $500,000.”
The project is expected to maintain about 100 jobs.
“Our tourism industry and the 1.8 million Canadians it employs have been hit hard by COVID-19, and we’re here for them,” said Joly. “This funding from FedDev Ontario will help Niagara-on-the-Lake and the Shaw Festival continue welcoming visitors, adapt to the new reality and keep supporting the region’s visitor economy. Our message to the Niagara’s tourism sector and those whose livelihoods depend on it is clear: we’ve been here for you with immediate measures, we’re here for you now as our economy reopens, and we’ll get through this, together. We’re working with you to support good, local jobs and help Niagara tourism come back strong.”
Joly said with borders closed to tourists, people are being enticed to visit locally, and to do things differently. Tourism businesses in NOTL have been “hard hit,” she said, and “we wanted to make sure businesses and their employees knew we were there for them.”
Disero said the funding will help to reduce the impacts of COVID-19, “and in some cases, serve as a life preserver for many local businesses, especially heading into the shoulder season. Thanks to this opportunity, and continued support from the Province, working together, we are confident that Niagara-on-the-Lake will recover stronger than ever.”
Thanking the minister for the funding, Disero said she is looking forward to being able to see an outdoor Shaw performance with Joly, and sitting down with her afterward at one of the town’s patios.
“I’m looking forward to that, too,” Joly said.
Tim Jennings, executive director of the Shaw Festival, was also delighted with the announcement of funding.
“On behalf of the Shaw Festival, our artists, craftspeople, technicians, volunteers, board and admin workers, we are thrilled to be able to partner
with FedDev Ontario to be able to support the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, the Region of Niagara and Tourism NOTL in encouraging a resurgence of safe, outdoor gatherings through a series of musical performance opportunities and a few other surprises. The Shaw will use these funds to provide free and low-cost outdoor performance activities, and purchase equipment to ensure the safest possible experience for everyone.”
Before COVID hit, local businesses “were aligned for a record year,” said NOTL Chamber of Commerce president Eduardo Lafforgue. Once the crisis hit, “we were hoping for a quick return to the pre- season frenzy, but a few weeks later the picture changed drastically. The collective challenges COVID-19 has presented Niagara-on-the-Lake, are enormous and complex.”
Tourism is a crucial part of our local economy, he said, and by “being inclusive and working together, we can reimagine a brighter future under the new normalcy.” As the town welcomes back visitors to our community there is something added to their luggage: trust. “We are all tourists once in a while, and we have always taken for granted that we will arrive back home in the same condition as we left. The last month I proudly witnessed all the hours of preparations and changes our tourism industry invested to ensure visitors feel welcomed and safe in this new tourism environment.” Local businesses “are genuinely committed to providing the warmest and most positive experience possible,” Lafforgue said. “Visitors and residents will see smiling faces behind the ubiquitous masks, and feel the eagerness to serve with joy and resolve. Great hoteliers, restaurateurs, retailers, musicians and actors, women and men who possess the intrinsic quality to put their guests first, run our tourism industry making their experiences a priority.”
Lafforgue told The Local he is delighted to see grants for NOTL businesses, and the support for the Shaw Festival is key to bringing visitors back to NOTL. “It’s really really fantastic news. We are thrilled with this.”