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Spiritwood Embraces Main Street Revitalization

In 2011, the Town of Spiritwood in partnership with the Northern Lights Economic Development Corporation embarked upon a multi-year project of Main Street revitalization.

The community Main Street revitalization began with a visioning process which included participation by a cross-section of community representatives. Facilitated by external consultants, the sessions used local input to determine what business owners, seniors, youth and families valued most about the downtown area and to gather ideas about how to enhance Spirtiwood’s natural brand.

As part of this visioning, a contest was implemented at the two local elementary schools to solicit photos and ideas on the essence of the community which resulted in production of a series of Main Street pole banners. Students identified agriculture, recreation, nature, culture, lakes and heritage as being important characteristics to the community’s identity. Images were designed to illustrate these concepts on banners.

One of the more innovative ideas that came from our local visioning session was the creation of a pocket park on a beautifully grassy – but vacant – property on Main Street. Seed funding from the Main Street Saskatchewan Program was matched by Spiritwood Lions, who were looking for a legacy project to commemorate 100 years of Lions in Canada. With these funds, we were able to convert the grassy lot into a small urban park right on Main Street. The mini park features a patio made of recycled rubber paving tiles, a perennial garden, fruit trees and ornamentals, picnic tables, benches and a white picket fence as a decorative backdrop. Workers and visitors are frequently seen at the tables or benches eating lunch, chatting with friends, or stopping to enjoy a coffee bought from a local vendor. The pocket park has also provided a gathering place for corporate and town-wide events such as fundraising barbecues and celebrations.

In 2017, several local artists wanted to open a museum in town, but with no space and no money to rent or purchase, they proposed using shop windows to display artworks. At first, only three or four artists were given permission to use shop windows. Due to the enthusiastic response of visitors and shoppers, the number of artists interested in the program quickly grew to 12, with almost every business in town hosting a mini-gallery in their windows. The artists put together a walking tour brochure, making it available at the visitors’ centre, and put signs up along the highway. The Window Gallery Walking Tour was so successful that the Northern Lakes Economic Development Corporation(NLEDC) offered its office space, shifting its operations to an underused space in the same building. With support from NLEDC, a local contractor was employed to refresh the donated office space and enhance the lighting to make it suitable for gallery exhibits. The Spiritwood Main Street Art Gallery now has regular, well-attended openings of new exhibits. The art gallery is a source of community pride and an excellent learning resource for students at local schools.

During the early stages of Main Street revitalization, a “Main Street Inventory” booklet was created to preserve a visual documentation of Main Street’s heritage buildings. The booklet, includes heritage and present-day photos of Main Street properties, along with descriptions of the historic and current uses of each building. This will be an invaluable tool in future design and development planning for the downtown core and will be an enormous asset to anyone conducting historical research on Spiritwood.

Spiritwood Farmers Market had always been a well-kept local secret. It was small, with only three tables for vendors, but it operated on a good-sized Main Street lot between the credit union and grocery store. There was plenty of room for additional vendors to use if they brought their own tables, but nobody ever did. When seven new tables were added, new vendors immediately occupied them, increasing the market place by more than 300%. Based on vendors’ reports, new signage (large highway signs, smaller intersection signs and a big marquis sign at the site) has brought in new customers, making business brisk on market days.

Engaging regional residents and visitors via hosting special events has added to the success of Spiritwood’s revitalisation efforts and long term vibrancy of the community.

Spiritwood was once home to the popular Silver Buckle Rodeo, which brought visitors from all over the region and beyond. The rodeo is only a distant memory now, but a local volunteer, looking for ways to raise funds to support the new recreation centre, found a viable alternative in competitive bull riding. Although hosting fees for such an event are usually beyond the capacity of a small town the size of Spiritwood, a partnership with Canadian Bull Riders was struck to enable the town to successfully host a bull riding competition. Support from local non-profits and an army of volunteers made this big-town event happen in small-town Spiritwood. The event was so successful; it’s become an annual fundraiser for the recreation centre.

The “Decorate Your Door” campaign is another special event instituted as a contest for businesses beginning shortly after Remembrance Day and running until Christmas, thus lengthening and sustaining the Christmas shopping period. Whereas the traditional Christmas season for retailers began December 10, with the lighting of holiday street lights, beginning the season earlier with the “Decorate Your Door” kickoff helps keep shoppers in town, as opposed to travelling to the cities for shopping.

Additional holiday events, such as the Bonfire on Main and Santa Day, combined with extended shopping hours, have created an enthusiastic shopping atmosphere which brings both rural residents and visitors to town. A new annual Wolf Country Music Festival will debut in the summer of 2018.

These are only a few examples of local special events implemented in recent years. They demonstrate that visitors believe Spiritwood is worth the drive and residents think it’s a great place for a stay-cation.

Revitalization of Spiritwood’s Main Street business core has had many significant, positive results. Overall, the community has been successful at achieving its initial goals and the project has created momentum for continued economic development in the community.

Key impacts include greater health and vibrancy of existing business base

  • Business façade upgrades and building enhancements have had direct and indirect impacts on the local economy. Upgrading shop fronts has improved the visibility of businesses and made them attractive and inviting to visitors. A total of $71 678 was directly invested in building frontage upgrades on Main Street. A number of expansions of established businesses are underway or are in the planning stages demonstrating that business owners are confident that Spiritwood’s economy is able to deliver satisfying returns on their significant investments.
  • The impact of various project initiatives, such as signage, Farmers Market expansion and upgrade, Spiritwood Main Street Gallery and the walking tour, has had a lasting effect on revenue for market vendors, increased traffic for retail businesses, support and exposure for local artists and employment for local contractors and business professionals.
  • A cleaner and more attractive downtown with extended shopping promotions at Christmas and during the summer tourism season supports the growth of our community’s consumer base and the retention of local businesses.
  • Statistics for the Spiritwood Public Library also reflect increasing confidence in the Main Street business district. For instance, the number of visitors has increased by approximately 35%, and the number of items circulated from 2016 to 2017 increased by 19%, while the Wapiti Regional Library, of which Spiritwood is a member, showed a 4% decrease in circulation.

The Main Street project has been an overwhelming success with a resounding improvement in attitude among business owners, residents and visitors. Involvement in this program has restored confidence in Spritwood’s downtown business district, which has become an attractive and appealing place to shop, invest, live, work and play.