McNaughton store may get new life as tourist information centre

October 23, 2023, 8:11 am
Ryan Kiedrowski - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Casey McCormac, Moosomin’s Economic Development Officer, (left) and Carol Fawcett are part of a group interested in establishing a tourist information centre along Highway 1, speaking at the Moosomin Chamber of Commerce meeting last week

It’s something communities all over the country are asking: how do we get more people to visit us? How do we entice travellers to pull off that highway and spend some time—and ultimately money—in our town?

An exciting idea to answer those questions in Moosomin is in the nucleus stage of development, thanks to a spark of imagination from this past summer’s Communities in Bloom judges.

“The one thing that the judges said is ‘you’ve got a beautiful town, you’re not presenting it’,” said Carol Fawcett, who was involved with the Communities in Bloom committee.

This inspired the thought of a tourist information centre, strategically placed along Highway 1 across from the Red Barn restaurant.

A rather simple plan, building the tourist information centre would not only provide an interesting place for travellers to take a break and have access to literature about the area, but also entice them to explore Moosomin—bringing some tourist dollars to town.

A small group to explore the idea was formed after the Communities in Bloom visit over the summer, including Fawcett, EDO Casey McCormac and Rec Director Mike Schwean, and Fawcett spoke at last week’s Moosomin Chamber of Commerce meeting about their initial brainstorming sessions.

“We’ve had a few meetings already, and we’ve come up with some great ideas,” she said.

Initially, the group thought about the Spring Creek School as a possible building to serve as the tourist information centre, but questions arose if the structure could survive a physical move.

Fawcett then noted the idea of a double or triple-sized garage package constructed on the proposed property, making it look like the original wooden McNaughton Store.

Expanding on that theme, a hitching post, stagecoach and a life-sized replica horse were suggested to catch the eye. Such construction would surely draw the attention of travellers interested in a quick stop for a social-media selfie, further promoting the town as a unique stop, she suggested.

The group also thought washrooms, ample parking, picnic tables and a dog run area would also be draws for travellers. Having such amenities available would only lengthen the amount of time spent at the tourist information centre, they feel.
“None of us have a vested interest in this, other than we want to see our town grow,” Fawcett said of the planning group.
Naturally, once travellers stop at the proposed centre and learn about what Moosomin has to offer, those vehicles will point their wheels toward the downtown core.

The numbers have it

Moosomin’s Economic Development Officer Casey McCormac provided some interesting statistics about tourist habits in the area.

“The daily average of people driving past Moosomin is 5,060,” she told those gathered at the Oct. 17 Chamber meeting. That’s 1,850,000 vehicles a year. “Using signage and the booth, we’re hoping to draw some of those people in.”
At the provincial level, tourism is a booming industry—especially for a centre so strategically placed as Moosomin.

“In 2019, there were 11.5 million total visits to Saskatchewan, which is $2.47 billion in total visitor spending,” McCormac said, adding that on average those travellers are staying 2.7 nights.

Taking a closer focus at the Southeast region, a total of 1.1 million visitors were observed; spending $128 million with an average stay of 2.5 nights.

“Overnight visitors tend to spend about $161 per visit each and same-day visitors is about $96 each per visit,” McCormac explained. “We think that this is something that can bring more money into our community.”
With Moosomin being the first major centre along the TransCanada after crossing the Manitoba border and being pretty much in the middle between Winnipeg and Regina, the potential exists for the tourist information centre to be a very busy place.

“I know that the tourist booth that was on the border used to get 30,000 people per year stopping there, and because we are the first town coming into Saskatchewan, we have a lot of people stop at the town office,” McCormac said.

The provincial tourism sector has generally noted a strong and extended recovery after the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to information from Tourism Saskatchewan, employment in the tourism industry has returned to pre-pandemic levels at the end of 2022.

International travel is also predicted to increase, as the Conference Board of Canada envisions visitation from outside the country to normalize by 2024. The outlook for the next five years is positive growth at “slightly higher rates than domestic activity.”

An enticing proposal

A pivotal moment during the Chamber meeting came when Neil Russell, chair of the McNaughton building committee rose, stating “I have a proposition for you.”

The store dates back to 1882 and is the oldest commercial building in the province.

The five members of the committee have been working to restore the historical building since 2015, and preserving such an important piece of Canadian history has been a passion project for Russell and crew.

“We’ve done a pile of work to the old building. I think myself that if you want to start up something that has a hitching post and everything else, that’s the store,” Russell said, offering the possibility of the original McNaughton Store as the future home of the tourist information centre. “That there store started the Chamber of Commerce.”

Russell noted he would need to take the idea back to his committee for further discussion, plus the logistics of moving the building would need to be worked out, but the idea of the original store was on the table. He also mentioned the offer of a $12,000 gift to the project.

“That sounds wonderful,” was Fawcett’s astonished response.

Russell explained how the dream has always been to restore the building - which predates not only Saskatchewan, but Moosomin as well.

“Our big goal in life was to get it fixed up like an old general store,” he said. “We were going to put a wooden walkway out front and a hitching post and everything else.”

Russell was also confident the McNaughton Store could sustain a future move, noting an excellent experience when Kola Building Movers took on the task back in 2016 when the structure was moved slightly to the south and placed on its new foundation.

Next steps

The actual development of a tourist information centre is still in the planning stage at this point. After the Chamber meeting, those involved will be going back to their various boards and committees, armed with an exciting dream.

The property in question does belong to the Department of Highways, but Moosomin mayor Larry Tomlinson noted they are receptive to the idea.
“I’ve talked to the Department of Highways, all they told me at this point is that they would work with us,” he said, adding that they would need a detailed plan before deciding whether or not to officially allow the land to be used.

Fawcett also stated the project currently does not have an official budget, rather canvassing local businesses for sweat equity in return for a tax credit. A donor wall is also a possibility, allowing people interested in supporting the project to add their name to the legacy. Advertising space at the tourist information centre could also be established as a revenue source.