Of all the public meetings we attend in Hay River, discussions about tourism are among our favourites.

We’re not quite sure why that is, but we believe the opportunity to come up with ideas that could directly benefit the community is exciting and, of course, challenging.

The fact that we never speak at public meetings probably cramps our style a bit, but we’re still interested in hearing what other people say.

So it was with a combination of interest, hope and fascination that we made our way to a Nov. 26 meeting hosted by the Department of Industry, Tourism and Investment to gather public input for its upcoming five-year strategy Tourism 2025.

The meeting did not disappoint. As with other gatherings over the years about tourism in Hay River, many ideas were offered – some interesting, some ambitious and some which will likely never happen.

And as always, there was the belief expressed that Hay River needs a ‘hook’.

A hook would be something big – an overriding feature of Hay River that can be used to attract more tourists, especially year-round visitors.

But is there one big hook for tourism in Hay River?

We can’t say for sure that there isn’t one, or that there never will be one in the future. All we can say is that we’ve never heard it.

Of course, strange things can happen. We’re sure Roswell, New Mexico, never would have believed it would become world famous for a reputed UFO landing in 1947, and now attract tourists interested in aliens and science fiction (or science fact, depending on your viewpoint).

So something may happen in the future that will prompt people from all over the world to flock to Hay River. A UFO landing would be nice, or perhaps a sighting of a Sasquatch.

We actually thought that the Hay River area had hit the tourism jackpot years ago when what is believed to be ‘footprints’ of a large fish from about 360 million years ago –before the dinosaurs – were discovered just above Alexandra Falls. Only one other example of such tracks is known to exist in the world.

But government did nothing, which is still a mystery to us. So even if a great tourism hook emerges, there is no guarantee anyone will bite.

We believe that Hay River has to proceed on the basis that a hook will never materialize.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t advance tourism. To continue the fishing metaphor, perhaps we will have to cast a wide net of multiple attractions, instead of relying on one big hook. The tourism net of Hay River already has many sections – K’amba Carnival, Fisherman’s Wharf, Polar Pond Hockey, Hay Days, Great Slave Lake, wildlife, sports tournaments, fishing and much more.

However, it seems some people still hope for a hook on par to the one in Dawson City, Yukon – its historic connection to the world-famous gold rush. That history has been transformed into a tourism gold rush.

Good for Dawson City, but Hay River – like almost all small towns in Canada – is not so lucky.

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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