Southwest Sask. authorities receive award for regional cooperation

By Matthew Liebenberg —

The partnership between the Town of Eastend and the Rural Municipality of White Valley to promote the area as a must-see tourism destination has received a provincial award.

The two local authorities won the regional cooperation award in the 12th annual Saskatchewan Municipal Awards program for submissions made in 2018.

This award was given to the Town of Eastend and the RM of White Valley for their tourism and rebranding campaign that developed a new community brand to attract visitors and generate revenue streams to support local businesses.

“It's a great thing to be recognized for the relationship that we have with the RM,” Eastend Mayor Jesse Gordon said. “We're just happy that we have such a great RM to work with and that we can receive an award with them for our cooperation that benefits us every day.”

The Town of Eastend received the award on Feb. 5 during the 114th annual Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA) conference in Saskatoon. 

The award presentation to the RM of White Valley already took place at the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) midterm convention in November 2018.

Reeve James Leroy said the RM of White Valley appreciates the provincial recognition for their efforts to help the community to survive. 

The goal of the tourism and rebranding campaign is to draw more visitors to the community.

“It helps keep our restaurants going, it helps keep our stores going, our gas station, all of the little businesses that are there that we as the municipality use and depend on,” he mentioned. “It helps them survive by finding them some extra business as well.”

RM residents benefit when these businesses are able to thrive and the revenue created through tourism contributes to a stable community.

“It allows them to stand as a small town more steady on their feet and it keeps the town stronger,” he said. “We all enjoy the facilities that are in town. So it helps them survive and it then helps us so that our children also have a skating rink to go to.”

Gordon noted that tourism is important to the town, because it is a way to diversify the economy and to develop additional business opportunities.

“We're primarily a resource based economy with agriculture and oil and gas, and neither one of those are doing very well the last while,” he said. “So it's very important to us to try and develop other industries in the area and try to increase the amount of business being done in the area.”

The basic message of the new campaign is still similar to the previous one, namely that people should visit Eastend to discover its hidden secrets, but the presentation has changed.

“It's just the way in which we're giving it out that's different and we seem to have a lot more success,” Gordon said.

The new tourism campaign focuses on the five senses (see, hear, smell, touch, taste) and people are invited to visit Eastend to discover how each of their senses can be awakened. 

It uses expressive language to create an interest in the reader to explore the area and it is combined with stunning images to highlight the beauty of the area and to create a sense of tranquility.

“It works very well,” Leroy said. “It's aimed at a more diverse group and we did see that it definitely has helped on the tourism numbers.”

Gordon referred to the increase in visitors to the T.rex Discovery Centre as an example of the impact of the new campaign on tourism to the area.

“They had their highest visitorship ever this past summer, over 10,000 visitors,” he said. “So we're definitely seeing an increase in tourism traffic.”

This partnership between the Town of Eastend and the RM of White Valley on the tourism and rebranding campaign is part of a broader approach of cooperation between the two local authorities.

“To my knowledge there's always been a decent relationship between the Town and the RM,” Gordon said. “I think we've just got a lot better at communicating and working together on projects as opposed to trying to do them on our own, separate from each other. I don't think that the relationship was ever bad, but communication is a big thing and we seem to really communicate well and be able to put our forces together to work towards a common goal.”

The volunteer firefighter department is a joint effort between the Town of Eastend, the RM of White Valley as well as the RM of Arlington. The RM of White Valley helped to raise money for the new splash park in town and assisted with the project to upgrade the water treatment facility.

Leroy noted that cooperation is made easier through the sharing of the administration office and office staff between the Town and RM.

“We've been part of the swimming pool, the fire hall, and we do some grants towards the Town over the course of the year to help with recreational facilities as well,” he said. “So we work fairly close together on a lot of things in our small community. We share all of our office staff and we have one particular office staff member that works on our tourism and our promotions toward the town and the RM helps to pay her wages to do that.”

Both municipal leaders have a similar message to other local authorities when it comes to cooperation. Leroy felt it is necessary to work together to survive and to keep the whole area strong. Gordon said local authorities should not allow personal differences or anything else to get in the way, but they should rather focus on the advantages and opportunities of cooperation.

The regional cooperation award to the Town of Eastend and the RM of White Valley was one of four winning projects selected for the 2018 Saskatchewan Municipal Awards. These winning entries were selected by an independent six-member committee that reviewed 18 nominations submitted on behalf of 35 municipalities.

The Saskatchewan Municipal Awards program was established in 2006 to recognize and celebrate the excellence and innovation of municipal governments in the province. The program is a joint partnership between New North, SARM, SUMA, the Rural Municipal Administrators’ Association of Saskatchewan (RMAA), the Urban Municipal Administrator Association of Saskatchewan (UMAAS), and the Saskatchewan Ministry of Government Relations.

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