For Smoky River Express
It hasn’t exactly been forgotten or wiped from the map, but a former northern Alberta resident is trying to promote the Northern Woods and Water Route as Western Canada’s Holiday Highway.
Dale Harrison, a former economic development officer with the M.D. of Big Lakes [now Big Lakes County], is driving the route in his RV for the third time, stopping at towns and villages along the route. He has published a magazine highlighting all the amenities along the route.
“No one has been marketing it for over 20 years,” says Harrison.
“I wonder if there is still interest in marketing this highway.”
So far, considering Harrison’s travels this year, there appears to be.
The Northern Woods and Water Route is a 2,400-km highway from Winnipeg to Dawson Creek. The Northern Woods and Water Route Association was established in 1974, and encouraged promotion of the route with the promise of an increase in tourist travel. Long-time promoter George Stephenson of McLennan organized many cavalcades along the highway each summer. The route was designated in 1974 and is well-signed throughout the connector highways.
The last number of years, the association was largely ignored and eventually folded. Harrison incorporated the association again in 2015 to market the highway.
Harrison has also “added” a loop west, then south of Dawson Creek to Vancouver and back, recognizing that tourists travel in loops.
The battle now, however, is getting more and more people to recognize it exists. When more people travel the route, it is only good news for all businesses along the highway.
“I understand the economics of being on the route,” says Harrison. “If one RV stops and spends $100 it doesn’t seem like much. But multiply that by 50 or 100 and the numbers grow. It might be the difference between a business staying open and closing.”
Harrison’s magazine highlights the amenities along the route like fishing, camping, museums and more. It also makes tourists and/or RV drivers aware that services are available along the entire route.
“There is a way to get from Point A to Point B. We show the services that are available.”
The trick is to get Eastern Canadian and American tourists to travel the Northern route instead of the Trans-Canada Highway. Even if tourists are going to the Yukon and take the Trans-Canada first, says Harrison, they may take a different highway when returning.
If they know it exists, and can get the services they need.
And if more people travel the highway, it is only good news for businesses.