Providence Bay – A quiet town with a beautiful beach where report lists opportunities

by Stacey Lavallie

PROVIDENCE BAY—A report emerging from a January Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threat (SWOT) analysis shows that residents, business owners and friends of Providence Bay regard the community’s unique beach as its primary asset, but also feel that the beach alone will not attract tourists and new businesses to the community.

The report, available for download on the Central Manitoulin website at www.centralmanitoulin.ca, summarizes the findings of roughly 50 people who participated in the January 18 SWOT exercise, a discussion the night before and a survey following the workshop.

Almost uniformly, the four groups identified the beach as one of the key defining elements of Providence Bay.

The weaknesses group highlighted a lack of complementary businesses and opportunities to monopolize on the attraction of the large sand beach. It also cited invasive species such as zebra and quagga mussels and certain types of beach grasses.

The report noted there are no facilities for mountain biking or hiking, no cellular service or Wi-Fi access, poor signage on local roads and highways and many closed businesses that affect the town’s ability to draw and hold tourists, based on the initial draw of the beach.

Further, the report noted businesses close early in the season, and that early ending of Providence Bay’s tourist season often leaves August tourists with little or nothing to occupy and hold them in the community.

The Opportunities group, however, independently addressed some of these issues and recommended new, larger signage that pointed to attractions and businesses. It further went on to recommend improved infrastructure to support smart phones, cell phones and Wi-Fi.

Participants also felt the town of Central Manitoulin could look into investing in seasonal beautification of Providence Bay, as well as a river restoration that would include trails for hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter.

Business could also boom, if there were entrepreneurs to monopolize on the tourist season by providing recreational rentals, such as kayaks, canoes and skiis, farm tours and small cafes and retail stores.

The biggest strength of the town is the quality of life, the report notes.

It says that because of the town’s beautiful beach, the access to nature, low crime rate, dark night sky and rich history, the town is the perfect place in which to raise a family.

The town has a strong volunteer base and is made up of skilled and educated people of various ethnic backgrounds.

With its infrastructure—the arena, marina, curling club, interpretive centre, boardwalk and fairgrounds—the town is in the perfect position to capitalize on sporting events, festivals and fairs.

Greg Niven, the owner of The School House restaurant in Providence Bay, moved to the town roughly 15 years ago from Toronto with his family.

“We just picked a place to start,” he said, noting he had visited the place while vacationing on Manitoulin. “We found the sort of historic building we wanted there.”

He later opened the Lake Huron Fish and Chip stand, which was later sold to a local family and “remains profitable.”

Mr. Niven took part in the January workshop and said he’s pleased with the report.

“I think it just brings to awareness everything we have in Providence Bay,” he said of the report. However, he noted that unless people act on the report’s findings, nothing will change.

“We need entrepreneurs to come up with ideas and then carry them out,” he said. “The town can hem and haw as much as it wants, but unless there’s someone doing something, nothing will happen.”

He said one of the bigger issues with Providence Bay is its lack of a gas station.

“We’re underutilized,” he noted. “We could really use gas here, at the docks or just in town.”

He agreed with the report’s suggestion that there could be more water-based opportunities for the town, such as fishing-based tourism. There were many good ideas, he said.

“The workshop was good,” he said. “(There were) lots of good ideas and very little negative input. It was very positive, but people need to implement these ideas.”

He cited Little Current’s new waterfront ‘linear park’ as an example of a good idea being implemented.

Darren Dewar arrived late to the workshop due to a work scheduling conflict, but he said what he saw was inspiring.

The 39-year-old lives on the south side of Providence Bay with his family, which includes three children between the ages of seven and 13.

“It’s a great place to raise kids,” he said. “People want to live here because there’s no big business, no crime.”

He recently had a chance to witness a presentation by a group of individuals from Wasaga Beach.

“Their beaches are very similar to our own,” Mr. Dewar noted. “The only thing different was they had a bit more of this invasive grass than we do.”

He agreed with much of the report’s findings, noting that there could be more businesses in Providence Bay to attract and help tourists.

“I sometimes see people arrive in August and everything has shut down for the year,” he admitted. “Things need to stay open longer.”

However, Mr. Dewar said he believed the town was a great place to live and with Mindemoya nearby for all the needs of the family, it was enough for him.

“It’s just a great place to live,” he reiterated.

If there was one thing Mr. Deward said he’d like to see, it was more frequent beach cleanings.

“I think it’s done once a year,” he said. “It needs to happen more.”