Town looking at year-round Visitor Information Centre

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo
Jim Darby, left, the director of recreation and community services with the Town of Hay River, chats with Carol and Don Smiegielski, visitors from Grande Prairie, Alta., when they dropped into the Visitor Information Centre on Aug. 18.

The town has a new vision for the Visitor Information Centre.

“We’re hoping to have this open all year round,” said Jim Darby, the director of recreation and community services with the Town of Hay River, while being interviewed at the Visitor Information Centre, also known as the VIC.

Right now, it’s an idea, which is dependent on getting funding from the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment (ITI) to winterize the building.

Darby said he is looking into what winterizing work needs to be done and preparing a funding proposal for ITI.

“If we get funding approval, we’re looking to fully winterize this facility so it’s open all year,” he said.

Darby noted the winterizing work is not anything major, but involves heating, water and sewer, and putting skirting around the building.

“It’s not a great deal of work,” he said.

If the ITI funding is received, the work could be done in September or October, and the Visitor Information Centre could remain open this coming winter.

Darby pointed to a number of benefits from year-round operation of the Visitor Information Centre.

“One of the big goals is to keep the (tourism) promotion going, as opposed to stopping it,” he said.

Upstairs at the VIC is also being targeted as an office for a new tourism and economic development co-ordinator that the town is in the process of hiring.

“I think it’s a win-win,” said Darby.

The Visitor Information Centre has traditionally opened in late May and closed sometime in September.

While Darby was being interviewed by The Hub, travellers from Grande Prairie, Alta., walked into the Visitor Information Centre.

Dan Smiegielski said he may be interested in visiting Hay River in the wintertime, even though it would be a big highway trip at that time of year.

“To see the aurora, anyway,” Smiegielski said. “It would be closer than going all the way to Yellowknife for us.”

Mayor Brad Mapes supports the idea of a year-round Visitor Information Centre.

“I think it’s something that council had looked at in the past,” he noted. “If we’re going to take and house some people in there over the winter in positions and in other matters, it might make sense to have that building be open longer. We do have a lot of winter tourism people that come in through our town, so I think it’s a worthwhile cause.”

Mapes said he is pretty sure it’s going to happen this winter.

Judy Goucher, the senior administrative officer with the town, said the concept depends on funding.

“So before we make a decision on that, we have to secure funds in order to make the upgrades to the building to allow all-season operation,” she said. “So it’s not there yet.”

Goucher said the town hasn’t yet made any final decision.

The SAO can see benefits to the idea of a year-round Visitor Information Centre, even though there will be fewer visitors in the winter.

“It will be a way to get information to people who might be travelling to town for winter events or visiting in the winter months,” she said.

The Visitor Information Centre was renovated two years ago, and now includes a small boutique in which local artists can sell their work.

This year, 11 artists are taking advantage of the space, compared to several last summer.

The number of visitors this summer has also increased.

In July, 527 people signed the guestbook – 400 from other parts of Canada, 85 from the United States and 42 from other parts of the world.

So far this season, there have been visitors from every province and territory in Canada, except Prince Edward Island.