Eastern Ontario is home to some of the most scenic parks, picturesque waterfronts, historic towns and cities and overall attractions. All are beacons to tourists. Not only does the tourism industry — made up of more than 7,000 companies — help to show off to visitors all that Eastern Ontario has to offer, it also provides thousands of jobs each year, contributes to the economic growth of each area and the province and has become the livelihood of many entrepreneurs and business owners. Some of its towns depend on tourism to grow and prosper.
owner of Wilderness Tours
Joe Kowalski loves working seven days a week during the rafting season and believes Wilderness Tours helps drive the tourism industry in the Ottawa Valley. The whitewater rafting and kayaking resort also facilitates the practical side of the Outdoor Adventure program at Algonquin College.
The reason high adventure sports have grown so popular, Kowalski says, is that “life is not as dangerous as it used to be, so people still have that genetic code for adventure and innate desire to test themselves.”
Kowalski is excited to pass the paddle on to his two children when it comes time to retire. The Ottawa River, he says, is Canada’s “claim to fame” and he has been driven to protect as much of it as possible from development. He’s continued to purchase waterfront over the past five decades, saving 5,000 acres of wilderness while providing more space for guests to explore.
executive director of Tourism Kingston
Tourism Kingston has evolved under Megan Knott’s leadership after she took on the role of executive director in 2019. Three years ago, Tourism Kingston expanded the range of services it covered by adding the film industry as a major component, in addition to traditional tourism draws such as restaurants, hotels, parks and attractions.
“Tourism communities were once built on iconic pieces, but there’s been a shift in the way people consume travel,” Knott says. “It’s now about the vibe and localized experience — to live as locals do.”
Tourism Kingston wants to create content and experiences that give people that type of contact.
Knott and her team are working closely with community partners on expanding and revamping the waterfront to encourage more people to use it, and on product development related to infrastructure improvements.
“We are curators of content more than anything,” Knott says. “We tell the story of locals so people get a unique idea of why to come to Kingston.”
owner of Bonnechere Caves
After working at the Bonnehere Caves from the age of 12 until he was 22, Chris Hinsperger left his hometown of Eganville to pursue other goals. But he returned to the small Ottawa Valley town in his 30s for an opportunity to work at the Bonnechere Caves again. He is now co-owner of the 15-acre property after purchasing it with his wife, Valerie, in 1996.
“People enjoy connecting with nature,” Hinsperger says. “It’s a nice reminder that we are part of a big picture. We connect our business with the community around us.” He enjoys uniting with the athletic and sports community as well as musicians, poets and writers. “Even though we are a geological area, every time you have a beautiful space, it’s easy to connect to the arts community.”
The Bonnechere Caves have become a host for underground dining events and concert series. Hinsperger is a huge supporter of tourism in the area and has been involved with the Ontario Highlands Travel Trade Initiative. He’s also a member of the Ottawa Valley Tourist Association. As owners of the caves, Hinsperger and his wife sponsor the Tour de Bonnechere bike event, Paddle and Fiddle Bonnechere and others.
general manager, Shorelines Casino Thousand Islands
Dale Deane, general manager of Shorelines Casino Thousand Islands in Gananoque, has been working in the gaming industry since 1994. Originally from Windsor, Deane settled in his role at Shorelines in 2018 after spending years working with casinos across Eastern Canada.
Not only does Shorelines Casino help with tourism in the region, working with businesses and providing job opportunities to boost the local economy, it also gives back through the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation’s PROUD initiatives. “My team donates thousands of hours of community service and dollars to helping local charities each year,” Deane says.
Throughout Deane’s gaming career, he has been part of the leadership team in the opening of seven properties — from Ontario to Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. “I’ve had the pleasure of bringing casino gaming to several communities, helping to create jobs and bring dollars directly and indirectly to those communities.”
senior director of marketing and communications at Calypso Waterpark
Each summer, Calypso Waterpark, located between Cornwall and Ottawa, hires more than 500 people, most of them students, to take on the many aquatic, lifeguard and other employment opportunities. It’s a big part of summer jobs for the area, says Sandra Nadeau, the park’s senior director for marketing and communications. “They come back year after year and friendships and fun are part of the experience.”
Nadeau says Calypso has contributed greatly to economic development over the past decade.
“Ten years ago it was a quiet region and now we have the park that helps other businesses around the area make more money and to be able to survive in this region.”
Building relationships with key partners in the region is important to Eastern Ontario tourism. After the pandemic took all of the park’s revenue for several months, it was “important to come back to a new normal and think about development and to offer new and different activities while remaining always in the area to make [Eastern Ontario] a destination,” Nadeau says.
general manager and CEO of the St. Lawrence Parks Commission
As the general manager and chief executive officer of the St. Lawrence Parks Commission (SLPC) since 2018, Hollee Kew leads a team that acts as an important economic driver of Eastern Ontario. Established in 1951 as a federal-provincial agreement to safeguard the historical importance and scenic beauty of the area, the SLPC has grown to include leisure and historical attractions, and it acts as operating partner for tours of the Kingston Penitentiary. Today, SLPC covers more than 200 kilometres along the St. Lawrence River and provides 600 jobs to those who serve its 600,000 annual visitors.
“We have a driven focus to advocate for the revitalization of our park’s infrastructure,” Kew says. “We are also taking steps to make sure that we are connecting with various communities in the region in an inclusive and collaborative way.”
These connections include delivering cultural sensitivity training on, for example, the Muslim community, and partnering with Indigenous communities to integrate their histories into SLPC experiences.
executive director of the Aquatarium
Thomas Harder has been working in the animal care industry for nearly 30 years and has been helping to grow the Aquatarium, a non-profit charity located in Brockville, for the past nine years. The Aquatarium is an interactive museum with live tanks that house many water creatures, including river otters. “Where I sit now was just recently a polluted piece of waterfront property. Now it is a hub of activity,” says Harder, who is originally from Virginia, but is happy to be a Canadian citizen and call Brockville home.
“I am happy to say that I was in some way instrumental in much of what you see in this facility. I have worked with the animals, run the operations, and now lead this facility,” he says. Harder attributes the Aquatarium and Tourism Brockville’s success of volunteers. The Aquatarium is currently working on a capital campaign that will bring new exhibits to the museum.