Visitor traffic uneven at sites
While special events and students handing out tourist information at the international bridge may have boosted visitor traffic at the Fort Frances Museum and heritage sites this summer, the numbers also may have been hurt by the closure of the Ontario Tourist Information Centre here.
The museum saw 445 visitors in August, 351 in July, 332 in June, and 214 in May.
The Hallett and lookout tower, meanwhile, saw 248 visitors in August, 299 in July, 306 in June, and 93 in May.
Last year, the two heritage sites had 247 visitors in August, 344 in July, 188 in June, and 165 in May.
Museum curator Sherry George noted museum visitor numbers were boosted in August after close to 100 people attended the 100th anniversary of the international bridge and customs.
Another 25 people attended a seminar on Ernest Oberholtzer’s famous canoe trip.
“Those two events drew in a fair amount of people, so if you were to subtract those from the totals, we’re definitely under,” George said.
She also pointed out that advertising, which is not usually done for other museum events, also helped bring in people for these two occasions.
“It’s hard to say whether we were hurt [by the OTIC closure] or not,” George conceded. “If we hadn’t had those two events, would people have come through during the day to see those two things?
“It’s hard to know that.”
George reasoned that if most people have the option of going to an event where they don’t have to pay and can get refreshments, and visiting the museum any other time and having to pay admission, they’ll pick the former.
With the tourist information centre closed, the town directed the Rainy River Future Development Corp. to hire summer students to hand out tourism information at the border and direct tourists to the Sorting Gap Marina.
This appears to have helped boost visitor numbers to the heritage sites, particularly in June (306 visitors this year versus 188 last year).
George said that overall, the summer numbers are pretty close to last year. But she added that in the early part of the year (January-April), visitor numbers at the museum were up considerably.
She added these numbers could have been bolstered by the fact that, for the first time, town council agreed to waive admission fees in the off-season (last year’s Thanksgiving to the Victoria Day weekend this year).
But this year, the museum also has had more local input into its exhibits, with “The Ukrainian Connection” and “Our Founding Families” proving especially popular.
“Maybe [it] helps to bring people in,” said George.
“I know when we were setting up for [“The Ukrainian Connection”], just setting up for it, we had so many people in and out of here, it was just unbelievable.
“I think just involving the community in some way is important, whether it’s a reception or getting them to help put an exhibit up,” she reasoned.
“I think that’s what you have to do—somehow twig their interest and people will come.”
In related news, the Hallett and lookout tower will close for the season after this Saturday (Oct. 6) while the museum will switch to its off-season hours.
George said she will be locking up the two sites at the end of the day Saturday, and they’ll remain closed until Victoria Day weekend.
Museum hours will change to 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday.
Admission fees again will be waived during the off-season but donations are appreciated.