Floating the idea of unique heritage tours
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Aug 21, 2013  |  Vote 0    0

Floating the idea of unique heritage tours

St. Marys Journal Argus

After a brief look around, they realized they could see their accommodations from where they stood, outside the train station. So, luggage in hand and strapped to their backs, they decided to walk. En route, they glanced alternatively down over the river and up towards the historic elements of architecture marking the skyline.

A visit to St. Marys? No. Instead, it was a recent visit by a family from St. Marys to the big city of Chicago.

It was, in a way, a very St. Marys-style visit. Highlights, after all, included an always compelling, 90-minute exploration of the city’s architecture delivered by a retirement-age volunteer who could seamlessly join the keen history experts who help keep the St. Marys Museum so vibrant, as well as a Cubs/Dodgers game at the charmingly intimate Wrigley Field — a venue which inspires a love of baseball (even among non-baseball fans) in a way the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum strives to emulate.

Take away the hyper-consumerism of the more-than-a-mile-long Magnificent Mile (along with the three-or-so police officers standing idly at each of its intersections); and take away the elevated rail transit system rattling above the streets; and take away a reputation for skyrocketing murder rates in its lower-income neighbourhoods, and some of the key attractions which make Chicago such a compelling place to visit can offer insight, on a much smaller scale, to people considering the tourism benefits of our own little town.

The opportunity to arrive by train — with the voyage’s wonderful vista for those coming from the north; and the charming, centrally-located train station — should be maintained. Although it has been supportive, the Town of St. Marys has been decidedly low-key in its support of the very vocal Save the Trains initiative. The volume of its support should definitely increase.

The intimate venue for baseball is already a reality. The Hall of Fame’s premier diamond is a gem (pardon the pun) for both players and spectators. The existence of this facility needs to be made known to more and more people.

We’ve built it. Now it’s time for them to come.

As for the highlight-reel architectural tour, it took place — as any past visitor to the Windy City probably predicted — aboard a passenger boat on the Chicago River and Canal. I was amazed at the knowledge our tour guide possessed, and the enthusiasm with which she passed on this knowledge. But I also couldn’t escape the feeling there are various heritage junkies in St. Marys who would love to be in her position — in a boat, describing the architecture lining the riverbanks.

An Eastern Ontario retail consultant, visiting St. Marys earlier this year, told a gathering of downtown business owners and Town staff — among a long list of other suggestions — that a canoe/kayak rental business at Milt Dunnell Field would be an ideal attraction. At a meeting last week at Town Hall, Councillor Tony Winter revealed one citizen had actually approached him with exactly that idea.

If it does happen, maybe they could sweeten the pot by adding guided kayak tours, highlighting everything from churches to bridges to former industries-turned-into-homes, stores and restaurants.

The Little Falls, of course, might present a challenge. But maybe some tourists would enjoy the challenge of a portage. And hey, if Chicago can do it, why can’t St. Marys?

All we need now is a hockey team good enough to bring us the Stanley Cup.

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