Darn those missing puzzle pieces - Denny Scott editorial
Despite being the eldest child in my family, my daughter Mary Jane is not the eldest of her cousins. As a matter of fact, she’s not even the second-oldest. That means we get a number of hand-me-downs from my sister and her daughter, and we’re always happy to have them. A little while back, we got a whole bunch of puzzles that were well-loved by my niece and my daughter was quick to tear into them.
She was having a ball even though, as happens with some second-hand puzzles, a piece or two were missing. I’m not complaining here, just saying that it happens sometimes. The end result, of course, is you don’t have all the pieces when you start, which can make proceeding all the more difficult.
Recently I felt that North Huron Township Council dealt with a similar situation when members decided it was their way or the highway for the Wingham Ironmen, who needed to extend the lifespan of the ice at the North Huron Wescast Complex to accommodate the team’s postseason.
Presented with some of the facts, council decided to “bridge the gap”, as Deputy-Reeve Trevor Seip called it, offering to keep the ice if the Ironmen found some way to nearly quadruple their typical ice use. If the team couldn’t do that, it would need to move its postseason games somewhere else.
Council had the request from the Ironmen, the cost of keeping the ice surface open and how much paid ice time was needed to make it feasible, according to Director of Recreation and Community Vicky Luttenberger. What council didn’t have, however, was the community impact. While Councillor Chris Palmer touched on the issue of how council should support the team, as well as its fans and its local sponsors, he missed out on the biggest loss the municipality would face if the Ironmen had to move: the economic spinoff.
As long-time readers of my column may remember, taking in a hockey game just doesn’t feel right to me without a hot chocolate. It goes back to when my dad coached the Goderich Pirates and I would go with him to watch the games. I would find a quiet spot, maybe with a friend, and enjoy the game over arena hot chocolate. It may not taste the best, but arena hot chocolate has something magical in it that made me ignore the cold, especially in an old barn like the former Clinton arena.
The North Huron Wescast Complex doesn’t have a concession booth, so a lot of people turn to nearby businesses to get
their caffeine or cocoa fix before they even enter the arena, which I’m sure is a boon to the nearby Tim Horton’s and McDonald’s. Beyond that, I’m sure those restaurants see a lot more traffic, just from people looking for a meal before and/or after the game.
I’m not just blowing smoke here. My wife may not want anyone to know this, but she is a McFlurry fiend. She loves them and any time I’m near a McDonald’s I try to get her one, including when I’m in Wingham covering events. There are plenty of people out there who, because they’re close to a restaurant they don’t have in their own community, may pick something up on the way home. It’s not just the fast food, either. I can remember, back when my daughter was a toddler, picking up supplies in Wingham or Brussels because I was there covering a hockey game and figuring I’d save time.
I’d bet that hockey, alongside other arena sports, are the biggest economic drivers in small towns during the winter and shoulder seasons, and there is research out there to back me up: Scotiabank, back in 2015, presented a study on the economic impacts of hockey of all levels, showing that billions of dollars were generated in economic spinoff. Villages and small towns, you know, like the ones most of our readers live in or near, showed a disproportionate amount of spinoff for their populations. While only 31 per cent of Canada’s population lived in those kinds of communities, they experienced 77 per cent of the tourism dollars associated with hockey across the country.
“Hockey-related tourism in small towns acts as a key driver of direct impact,” the report stated. “Of the $2.6 billion in direct hockey-related impact, more than $1 billion flows into communities of less than 100,000 people.”
In hindsight, it occurs to me this kind of research is exactly why North Huron could use an economic development official, which council just barely passed approval for earlier this year.
So while I’m not saying that North Huron Council necessarily made the wrong decision in regards to the Ironmen, I am saying that, since there was no mention of the economic impact of hockey in council’s discussion (or in the letter from the Ironmen), council was definitely missing a puzzle piece and not seeing the whole picture.