Canadians love their lake country as much as New Yorkers do. Could we convince more of them to spend their weekends here?
We could become the ‘Muskoka’ of New York
Anyone who knows me knows that I have an unusual international perspective on Livingston County.
My wife grew up in Mississauga, Ontario and she still has a large extended family there. We visit often, and I consider suburban Toronto to be a second home. I’m as comfortable driving in rush hour traffic on the Queen Elizabeth Way as I am in the back roads of Ossian.
One of my favorite things to do is host visitors from Canada whose eyes grow wide at the cultural and natural opportunities we enjoy here here.
I’m afraid the visits haven’t been as frequent as you might expect. “Why do you live down there in New York?” we are sometimes asked. You have to remember that many in Toronto know little more about Upstate New York than they see in police and fire reports on Buffalo TV. They have no idea that, once you get beyond the urban blight along Lake Erie, you arrive in some of the most beautiful countryside in America.
It’s not as if New York has done a great job selling itself. A few years ago, as you drove into downtown Toronto past the high rise condominiums, there was a giant billboard that read “Visit Pennsylvania!”
Canadians love road trips, and one of their favorite weekend jaunts is the three hour drive north to the Muskoka Lakes region. A six lane highway gets packed with bumper-to-bumper traffic as city dwellers make their way up to their million dollar cottages and wilderness resorts.
Meanwhile, the same distance away, the western Finger Lakes region remains relatively serene, yet undiscovered by the residents of North America’s fifth largest city.
Last weekend, we hosted five aviation buffs who came down for the Geneseo Air Show. Their visit was brief, but they came away with the sense that our community events are well-attended and on par with anything they might find back home. We told them about Letchworth, about wine country, and about the safe, fulfilling, inexpensive lifestyle that we lead here. They can’t wait to come back.
Other visitors have asked us in hushed tones how much property here costs, especially cottages on the lake which they are clearly comparing to land in the Muskoka region. We compete very favorably — less than half the price of comparable homes up north.
We tell people that we have a hard time deciding where to go for summer vacation because, when everything we enjoy doing is within an hour’s drive, why not stay home?
I know that the Livingston County Tourism Office and its counterparts throughout the Finger Lakes region make regular trips to Toronto to tell the story of what we have to offer. I’m sure, in time, someone will erect a giant billboard along the Gardiner Expressway proclaiming the bountiful attractions of our area.
Likewise, our tourism businesses — bed and breakfasts, restaurants, resorts, campgrounds, tour operators, parks, and special events — shouldn’t be shy about marketing themselves in Toronto. We make a great Canadian weekend destination.
We should be prepared for the day when we are finally “discovered” by the millions of prosperous Canadians would otherwise be spending their weekends in places like Muskoka, Prince Edward County or the Kawartha Lakes region.