There are signs of a resurgence of interest in Maple Creek as a tourism destination.
Spurred on by the scaling back of COVID-19 restrictions, thousands of travellers have been stopping off at the Trans-Canada Highway Visitor Reception Centre this summer.
Many have come from Alberta and British Columbia. Many have also been directed to Maple Creek’s historic downtown core by five community ambassadors at the VRC: Travis Illerbrun, Leila Noval, Teanna Oulette, Emma Walkow, and Brianna MacPherson.
“We are getting very good numbers – 150 people are coming here a day,” said Travis on Monday.
“Yes, it’s been really busy,” Teanna agreed.
It was a wet, cold start for the VRC when it reopened on May 21 after being shut in 2020 because of COVID. Snowfall turned spring briefly into winter, proving a deterrent to visitors.
Figures released by Savannah Mass, the Town’s communications & tourism manager, show there were 206 visitors between the long weekend and May 31.
June saw a big improvement, with more than 1,600 visitors – about half of them coming in the last week after schools closed for the summer.
The pick-up continued in July, usually the busiest month. There were 4,819 people, an average of 1,200 a week. Although about 1,900 below the 6,765 recorded for July, 2019, the number is still encouraging, given international travel restrictions, said Mass.
So far, August is continuing the positive trend.
In the last three years before COVID-19, the Maple Creek Trans-Canada VRC had seen visitor numbers above 20,000 for May-September: 20,274 (2019); 20,876 (2018); and 23,864 (2017), with 8,000 visitors in July.
Sales at the centre this year reflect the seasonal flow in visitor numbers: May, $824.98; June: $5.895.06; and July, $11,978.39; August has so far seen $2,914 sales.
A key feature of the centre are pop-up stores. Six businesses are represented this year, each providing a taste of their products: The Daily Grind, Broken Spoke Fine Art Gallery, Country Lane Kitchens & Décor, Cowtown Kids & Candy, Kelli-Dee Floral, and Grotto Gardens Family Fun Farm.
Of course, there are plenty of other items to catch the eye.
The five Visitor Centre Attendants – who wear T-shirts promoting Maple Creek (Savannah Mass had a big say in the design) – have noticed how visitors are drawn to particular items, such as Cypress Hills honey or brown and black stress cows.
In fact, the stress cows have become a useful way of spreading the word about the charms of Maple Creek far and wide.
Visitors are invited to take stress cow pictures on their travels and email them to email@example.com, or tag them on Instagram: @maplecreeksask. Anyone checking the Istagram address will see how popular the stress cows have become.
“It is a new promotional tool, and has been a big success,” said Mass.
Asked to reflect on VRC visitor numbers to date, she added: “After last year of the pandemic we are making a positive bounce back and greatly helping the economy in our community and bringing people into the southwest corner of Saskatchewan,” said Mass.
The VRC is open seven days a week, 9am to 7pm, until September.