Local organizers of the Homes for the Holidays House and Heritage Tour were amazed to see that 50 per cent of the people who took part in the tour this past weekend were from outside the Triple S region.
Of the 650 people with tickets to the event, half were tourists who travelled through St. Andrews, St. Clements and Selkirk in the first snow fall of the season and came from Morris, Morden, Landmark, St. Pierre, Headingley, Fisher Branch, Gimli and Winnipeg to name a few, said tour Co-Chair Shirley Muir.
“We were thrilled that so many others could see the value in some of the great assets we have in this area and want to spend time and money enjoying our community,” Muir said.
Visitor Wendy Stephenson from Winnipeg, who has travelled to Ontario for the Niagara-on-the-Lake Christmas house tours for five years, said the Red River North tours were far better.
“You could tell that the homeowners really were passionate and proud to show their properties and had spent a lot of time getting them ready. It was really amazing how beautiful and how unique each place was,” said Stephenson, manager of strategic initiatives for the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.
Special touches like free cookies at every stop provided by Benjamin’s Gourmet Foods and the Harlequin Barber Shop Quartet at Harlequin House and bannock and tea at a 140-year-old stone church, elevated the whole experience, she said.
Along the tour was tourism expert Lilian Tankard, senior manager of partnerships programs for Travel Manitoba.
“I was so impressed with logistics and the little touches; the website, the tour guide, the signage, the cookies in the homes, the bag for the winter boots, the volunteers who were all so pleasant and the addition of Benjamin’s that provided a location for a meal or tea and coffee to end the tour and provide a rest stop to chat about what a wonderful visual experience,” said Tankard.
While Homes for the Holidays Red River North was launched as a tourism initiative, the organizers realized early that the event would make money on several fronts and decided to dedicate some profits to the construction of a new building for the Nova House Women’s Shelter, said Co-Chair Heather Hunter.
“We’re still counting the proceeds and paying a few bills but we expect to announce that Homes for the Holidays volunteers and visitors will contribute several thousand dollars to the build,” said Hunter.
In addition to buying a ticket for the tour ($50 for three-day access or $30 for two-day access) many visitors also bought artisan crafts, antiques, Christmas baking, meals, coffee beans and clothing from businesses involved in the tour. The economic spin off for those entrepreneurs will be felt for a while, said Muir. Those businesses also contributed 20 per cent of their Homes for their Holidays sales to Nova House.
The preparation of getting each building ready for the tour took weeks of work supported by over 70 volunteers, Muir estimates. Their efforts were rewarded by high praise heard during the tour and in some of the exit evaluations.
Comments added to the event’s Facebook page included, “Thanks to all who made this such a success! We certainly had a wonderful day, exploring both sides of the Red River. Beautiful homes! At every venue, we enjoyed charming, gracious welcomes. Love, loved, LOVED it. Thanks again,” from tourist Michelle Issac of Rosenort.
“I really enjoyed the tour. It was real treat to see the heritage homes and buildings. I did, however, eat a few too many cookies (which were wonderful). Great job everyone involved,” said Shauna Zahariuk of Dugald on Homes for the Holiday’s Facebook.
“We saw and experienced every place tonight and loved it all. Lovely tour and helped me get in the Christmas spirit! Thank you to all who opened their homes, and welcomed us in and worked hard at decorating and getting it all ready! Merry Christmas and God bless you all,” said Peggy Zacharais of Winnipeg on Facebook.
People had such a great experience that some have asked to be added to a list for next year’s tickets, Hunter said, adding that Homes for the Holidays is looking for new and different property owners to join the 2016 tour and citizens can call her with ideas at 204.785.8442 or [email protected]
Business and government leaders who stepped up as major sponsors early included Jamie Sasley of RE/MAX Associates, Sunova Credit Union, Investors Group Financial Services, Pineridge Hollow, Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries, Travel Manitoba, Department of Tourism, Culture, Heritage, Sport and Consumer Protection, the Selkirk Record and Selkirk GM.
Another 30 businesses were secondary sponsors and advertisers and over 75 local businesses donated to the silent auction. They are listed on the Homes for the Holidays Red River North Facebook and website pages.
Both Muir and Hunter had properties on the tour; Colcleugh House, built in 1872, and Harlequin House Bed and Breakfast, built in 2011. The other sites included St. Andrews Rectory, 1854, which was lovingly transformed into a period Christmas scene by area volunteers; and Little Britain United Church, 1874, which also hosted a tea and bannock break and a silent auction. Private residences on the tour included a 1999 home on Deer Rapids Drive in St. Andrews owned by the Coughlin family; McLeod House, 1912, in Selkirk owned by the Pringles and the modern Perfect Scents home in St. Clements owned by the Molitowsky family. Two local businesses to open their doors included the Bunn House Bed and Breakfast, 1862, operated by the Stewarts in St. Clements and the Traders’ Bank Building, 1906, in Selkirk, better known today as Benjamin’s Pantry and Cellar.
For more information see www.homesfortheholidaysredrivernorth.ca
Or contact: Shirley Muir, 204.771.7523, [email protected]