Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

Summer is nearly here and the outlook for the local tourism sector is expected to be a hot one thanks to the continued interest of visitors seeking getaways that won’t break the bank.

 

“Our main market is leisure travel from the GTA and given current inflation, people are considering staying a little closer to home, perhaps to save a little money,” says Explore Waterloo Region CEO Michele Saran. “We feel we’re in a good position for those quick little getaways if you can’t afford a full-on trip somewhere overseas.”

 

In fact, while international travel numbers to Canada continue to slowly rebound according to Destination Canada, the domestic market has long since fully recovered following the pandemic.

 

“Research shows Canada is the top international destination for Americans and where they want to go in 2024,” says Michele, adding Waterloo Region is in a much better position than places that rely on international travel. “I’m hearing a lot of positivity from local operators, and everyone seems to be excited about the summer season; the only thing they’re wishing for is good weather.”

 

Tourism in Waterloo Region contributes approximately $557 million annually to the local economy, and it’s a sector that takes in more than just leisure travel.

 

“When we’re talking about tourism it’s not just about leisure visitation. It’s also about business events and conventions, as well as sporting events,” says Michele, pointing to the 2024 Special Olympics Ontario Spring Games (May 23-26) in Waterloo Region as a prime example and the fact more than 700 athletes and their families would be in the area.

 

Economic impact

 

On the business side, she says the region has secured $49.5 million in economic impact last year for business events in the coming years. 

 

“Tourism is big business,” says Michele, adding Explore Waterloo Region continues to build on that by creating attractions which combine urban and rural experiences. “We’re putting all kinds of packages together to give people a reason to want to come here.”

 

This includes providing visitors the chance to ‘walk with an alpaca’ courtesy of a local farm near Bright, or the opportunity to go ‘glamping’ in one of the luxury containers at Bingemans. As well, visitors can also canoe down the Grand River this summer topped off by experiencing an authentic Indigenous meal along the journey.

 

Michele says food remains a popular local attraction, noting the creation of a ‘FarmGate’ app that will guide visitors to local farms so they can learn more about where their food comes from, as well as the Farm To Fork television show, hosted by chef Nick Benninger on Bell Fibe TV-1, to promote local cuisine. 

 

Also, wellness-focused excursions have become a growing trend as more Canadians prioritize ways to rejuvenate their body and mind.

 

“We have some great spas in our area, and they all offer great experiences which can all be part of your wellness getaway,” says Michele, adding Waterloo Region’s hundreds of kilometres of hiking and cycling trails also play a role in that trend.

 

Last year, Explore Waterloo Region partnered with Ontario By Bike to create a cycling app that not only highlights various trails and their difficulty levels, but features ‘bike friendly’ businesses along the way, and businesses wishing to be included can apply for certification. 

 

“It’s all about promoting things that you can’t do in Toronto that captures your imagination,” says Michele, referring to local tourism.

 

 

According to the Destination Canada report, Tourism Outlook: Unlocking Opportunities for the Sector, total tourism revenue was poised to exceed 2019 levels. Key report highlights include:

 

  • Demand for travel is projected to grow by 30% by 2030 and will outpace the capacity to host in peak seasons, limiting Canada’s growth potential.
  • The report identifies a $160 billion revenue potential for the tourism industry by 2030, but only if a transformational path is taken that addresses constraints and shifts demand to change how growth occurs.
  • Destination Canada proposes a transformative path to secure an additional $20 billion in annual revenue by 2030, driving real prosperity for tourism businesses across the country and contributing a 14% increase in GDP generated by tourism, 84,000 more jobs and $5.3 billion more in tax revenue for all levels of Government.
  • Industry transformation will close the $20 billion opportunity gap, but it will require sector-wide collaboration on seven key levers: revenue and yield growth, brand leadership, investment, access, workforce and digital readiness, environmental sustainability, and support from Canadians.
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What began as a sunny spring day 50 years ago would end in a disaster causing millions of dollars in damages in the city’s downtown core, leaving lasting memories etched in the minds of many long-time residents.

 

The Grand River flood on Friday, May 17, 1974, lives on as a pivotal moment in Cambridge’s history because it showed not only the power of community spirit but the resiliency of local business leaders as they rallied back from this major disaster.

 

“Everybody was helping one another, no doubt about that,” says Murray Garlick, retired business leader and former board president of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce. (The organization had been created in 1973 by the merger of the Galt and Preston Chambers of Commerce and the Hespeler Retail Merchants Association).

 

Murray, who owned the former Barton’s Men’s Shop at 51 Main St., recalls returning to work after lunch that day from his new home in Blair when he received an emergency message from the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA). Not only was he Chamber board president at the time, he also was serving as chairman of the Downtown BIA and was that organization’s key contact for the GRCA in case of an emergency. 

 

“I got the call in the early afternoon that we were going to have at least two to three feet of water on lower Main and Water streets,” says Murray. “Driving to the store, water was coming onto Blair Road and by the time I got downtown, the Main Street bridge was shaking because the water was so intense.”

 

The spring melt, plus a 50-mm rainfall across the top of the Grand River watershed had created prime conditions for major flooding.

 

Merchants warned about the flood

 

Springing into action, he began going door-to-door warning the downtown businesses about the looming disaster urging them to start preparing.

 

The Chamber’s general manager, the late Don Faichney, did the same after also learning of the flood around 11 a.m. and asked the Waterloo Regional Police if they had a megaphone to inform residents of the impending disaster. The police did not have one.

 

“I would say half the people I contacted told me I was out of mind,” says Murray, who went back to his store and began moving his stock onto higher racks and to the second level. “By the time I called my wife (Susan), the carpet at the front of the store was starting to get wet and the water began seeping in. We just locked up and headed to higher ground.”

 

According to a 2014 article in the GRCA’s GrandActions newsletter, by 7 p.m. that night, the Grand River was rushing through downtown Galt at a rate of 1,490 cubic metres per second, nearly 100 times the normal summer flow. Floodwaters engulfed parts of Paris, Caledonia, Cayuga and Dunnville, and left about four feet (1.2 metres) of water filling Galt’s downtown core.

 

Murray says many of the merchants who were affected ended up waiting out the disaster at the Iroquois Hotel, which had been located at the southwest corner of Main and Wellington streets and was destroyed by fire less than a year later.

 

He vividly can recall seeing the floodwaters pouring into the former Right House building located at 60 Main St. 

 

“I remember the floodwaters filling up the store and then bursting through the front doors dumping water all over the top of the lower end of Main Street,” he says, adding at that point, it became a matter of ‘wait and see’ until the floodwaters began to recede later that evening.

 

The cleanup began almost immediately, says Murray, describing how he and Don used snow shovels to remove the silt left behind in his store by the floodwaters.

 

“Everybody went back to doing business the best they could and got cleaned up as best they could, and did what they could with their merchandise,” he says.

 

In fact, in a Cambridge Times article Bill Couch, who was the ‘retail chairman’ of the Chamber for the downtown, was quoted as saying approximately 90% of the 45 businesses that were severely flooded were back in business with their doors open soon after.

 

Financial impact hits hard

 

“Many brought their merchandise on to the street since it was nice sunny weather. Some of the goods were very dirty, and they knew they would have to reduce their prices,” says Murray, adding he was grateful when the City finally closed Main and Water streets to traffic. “The silt was so bad on the roads and all these people driving by to have a look were raising all kinds of dust and the merchandise was getting filthy.”

 

During this time, the financial impact of the disaster was being tallied.

 

In a Cambridge Times article published a few days after the flood, Right House manager Elmer McCullogh estimated damage to the store was at least $750,000. Major financial losses were also reported by many larger downtown businesses and industries, including Dobbie Industries Limited, Mannion’s Quality Furniture, and Canadian General Tower Limited.

 

“The monetary figure on our losses will be substantial. Plastic material can be cleaned up, but General Tower got a hard kick in losses of some paper products, materials and cores,” said Gord Chaplin, former president of the company, in a Cambridge Daily Reporter article. The late Francis Mannion was also quoted in that same article stating his company suffered at least $100,000 damage to the building and stock.

 

Being located on a floodplain, many businesses did not have flood insurance.

 

“It was just too expensive,” says Murray.

 

In the end, the total damage amount in Cambridge was pegged at approximately $5.1 million (the equivalent of $33 million in 2024), with approximately $2.9 million suffered by small businesses and residences, with industries facing $1.9 million in damages. These figures do not include cleanup.

 

Calls for compensation surfaced almost immediately, as the scope of the disaster continued to unfold.

 

Former Ontario Premier, the late Bill Davis, toured the area four days after the flood and eventually heeded demands for financial relief by unveiling a compensation formula where the Province agreed to provide $4 for every $1 raised by the Grand River Disaster Relief Committee.

 

“The province feels a deep sense of concern for those whose properties who have suffered from the Grand River flood, and the measure of relief we are announcing today is a direct reflection of that concern,” he was quoted in a Cambridge Times article.

 

Public inquiry held

 

As well as compensation, calls for a public inquiry were also growing as anger over how the disaster unfolded grew, much of it aimed at how the GRCA handled the situation when it came to warning of the disaster.

 

To assist, the Chamber’s general manager sent out a questionnaire to all citizens who suffered flood damage to gauge how they were warned of the impending disaster. Of the 546 that were sent out, 320 responses were returned with the results indicating a severe lack of notice had been received.

 

“One can understand the bitterness of the large number of victims who had no notice or had inadequate notice. A flood warning system must be devised to give citizens reasonable notice of a threatening flood,” wrote the Hon. Judge W.W. Leach in the conclusions of his 1974 Flood Royal Commission Report. “I have been critical of the City Engineering Department, the City Administrator, the Police, and the Fire Department, for the role they played in the flood warning system. However, in all fairness to them, once the city was in flood, they performed outstanding services to the citizens. This extended right through the clean-up.”

 

Despite any controversary in the aftermath, Murray can still recall some lighter moments during the disaster, including how he found his friend, the late Aubrey McCurdy, wading through three feet of water in his flower shop trying to retrieve flowers for a Saturday wedding.

 

“I told him he had to leave, and he said, ‘No, I have to finish this’,” laughs Murray.

 

And even when Aubrey told a Cambridge Daily Reporter journalist a few days later his store suffered a $10,000 loss, he still found a reason to remain positive.

 

“The flood did have its good points,” he was quoted as saying. “It showed how unified merchants are and highlighted a spirit of co-operation never seen before.”

 

 

Grand River Flood facts

 

  • GRCA issued a prediction for Galt at 9:15 a.m. for a five-foot (1.24 metres) rise of water during the afternoon to a probable height of 16.7 feet (5 metres).
  • The flood affected at least 75 businesses and caused approximately $6.7 million in damage (the equivalent of $36.9 million in 2023) across the Grand River watershed, cleanup not included. 
  • By noon the Fountain/ Blair Road intersection was closed to traffic.
  • Highway 401 westbound was closed due to culvert washout and traffic was backed up more than 24 km. 
  • Highway 24 was closed by early afternoon.
  • Floodwaters flowed over the bridges at Concession, Main and Park Hill.
  • The low-level railroad bridge (Holey Bridge) on Water St. South was completely submerged.
  • Many of the dramatic photos taken during the flood occurred at its peak between 2:45 p.m. and 3:55 p.m.
  • Floodwaters crested at 6 p.m., reaching a height of 18 feet (5.4 metres) – 16 feet above the Grand River’s normal height at that time of year.
  • No major injuries reported, although 45-year-old Norm Taylor spent close to 10 hours in a tree before being rescued by a helicopter. 

 

Flood prevention measures 

 

  • The flood accelerated and added significant control elements to the development of a Grand River beautification program announced by the Cambridge Greenbelt Committee in September of 1973. The initial stages of the plan called for the creation of a park running along the east bank of the Grand River from Park Hill Road bridge to the old Carnegie Library at Dickson Street. Buildings standing along that portion of the river were to be purchased and demolished and replaced by parkland.
  • In 1980, city council approved an $8.2 million flood control project that would see earth and concrete barriers built along the banks of the Grand River. Two years later, council also endorsed a $317,220 flood control program calling for the construction of a berm from Mill Race Park to Dickson Street. Also, the GRCA introduced its extensive Grand River Water Management Plan which included improved forecasting and monitoring tools, taking into consideration the localized effects of climate change.

 

 

 

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The forecast is looking good for the summer tourism season in Waterloo Region.

 

After two years of uncertainties, restrictions and pivoting due to the pandemic, the hospitality and tourism sector is poised for a significant comeback.

 

“Everything is coming back this summer,” says Michele Saran, CEO of Explore Waterloo Region. “There is so much pent-up demand, and it seems like the concerns about COVID-19 are receding and people are feeling a lot more confident to get out and about.”

 

Compared to last year at this time, she says tourism operators in Waterloo Region, including hotels and attractions, have already seen a higher demand in the first quarter of this year.

 

“It’s going incredibly well so far, but there are still labour shortages and supply chain issues,” says Michele. “I know some of our hotels can’t run at full capacity just yet because of these shortages which is a shame because we’ve been hit so hard the last couple of years.”

 

To offset some costs surrounding the implementation of health and safety protocols to keep patrons and employees safe, Explore Waterloo Region and RTO 4 (Regional Tourism Organization 4 Inc.) distributed nearly $600,000 to support 125 attractions, hotels, and other operators in 2020 and 2021 through the Tourism Adaption and Recovery Program (TARP).

 

“Our industry was the first hit, hardest hit and the last to recover is what we say, and we still have those impediments in a way with these labour concerns,” says Michele.

 

She says this summer Explore Waterloo Region is taking a ‘divide and conquer’ approach when it comes its marketing tactics.

 

“As we are easing out of COVID-19 we’re looking to our local operators and BIAs to market our region to local residents,” says Michele. “We as Explore Waterloo Region are expanding a little further out with our marketing focus and trying to encourage people from the GTA to get out of the city and come to a place where it might be a little less urban, but with all the amenities of the big city; close to nature where they can get out and enjoy walking and bike trails and still have incredible culinary and cultural experiences, just with a little less of the crowds.”

 

Michele says the many festivals and attractions Waterloo Region has to offer this summer will be a big draw, such as the Cambridge Scottish Festival and the Canada Day celebrations which features a parade and returns to Riverside Park with fireworks.

 

“People are feeling a bit safer in being groups but still outside,” she says, noting this should be a good summer for domestic tourism due to long lineups at major airports which has been blamed on staff shortages and COVID-19 screening.  “There is still a little bit of concern about travelling internationally so I think this is the summer we really have to take advantage of the opportunity to get people in and around Waterloo Region to come and experience everything we have to offer.”

 

For a detailed look at what’s available, visit Explore Waterloo Region.

 

A few summer highlights in Cambridge:

  • Kin Carnival (May 26)
  • Cambridge Tour De Grand (June 12)
  • Cambridge Celebration of the Arts (June 17 – Civic Square)
  • Host Springs Music Festival (June 25 – Central Park)
  • Cambridge Celebrates Canada Day (July 1 - Riverside Park)
  • Thursday Night Live Performances (July 7, 14, 21 and 28 - Mill Race Park Amphitheatre)
  • Hespeler Village Music Festival (July 9 – Forbes Park)
  • Cambridge Scottish Festival (July 15-16 – Churchill Park)
  • Forbes Park Movie Night (Aug. 18 – Forbes Park)

 

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Cloudy morning skies gave way to afternoon sunshine which paved the way for a fun day at our recent Golf Classic.

 

The annual tournament, the first ‘official’ large golfing event held at the Galt Country Club since the pandemic began, brought out more than 80 participants July 12, many of whom couldn’t wait to hit the links again and reconnect with others outside of a virtual setting.

 

“It’s so nice to see camaraderie and nice to actually see people and faces,” said Energy+ CFO Sarah Hughes, after taking a swing mid-course during the day-long event.

 

She had already been golfing for a couple of weeks with her women’s league prior to our event but relished the chance to golf with members of her corporate team.

 

“One of the gentlemen is new to our team so this is a nice onboarding. And another gentlemen on my team I haven’t seen in-person in a year and half,” said Sarah. “It’s just so great to be able to see people.”

 

That same sentiment was shared by many of the participants as they made their way around the 18-hole course, and visited the sponsored holes spread throughout.

 

“I find it very energizing to see people and reconnect,” said Kristen Danson, Managing Partner at Mitographics Inc./Swift Components Corp., adding the tournament is a great way for operators of the businesses that sponsored holes to network. “It’s neat for them to have the chance to engage with Chamber Members. A virtual setting is hard for small businesses, and they really need to be here in-person talking to people.”

 

Networking and having the chance to meet people was something Anthony Gignac, an Associate at Racolta Jensen LLP Chartered Accountant, said he welcomed as a first-time participant at the Golf Classic.

 

“It’s great to have the chance to socialize and say hi to new people,” he said, while finishing his boxed lunch after a busy morning of golf.

 

Lunch and a take home dinner ‘kit’ created by the talented kitchen staff at Galt Country Club were provided to all the participants in keeping with Stage 2 safety protocols regarding indoor dining. (Waterloo Region was scheduled to move into Stage 3 of the province’s reopening plan on Friday, July 16).

 

In terms of the COVID-19 protocols, participants said they felt very safe.

 

“People are just so glad to be outside. I don’t think there’s as much apprehension or hesitation considering vaccination rates,” said John Tyrrell, Sales Manager at TD Commercial Banking.

 

Erica Tennenbaum, Wealth Advisor at RBC Dominion Securities, agreed and said she felt comfortable with people’s mask etiquette.

 

“It’s just so nice and refreshing and heartwarming to see everybody,” she said.

John echoed that same feeling.

 

“It’s just nice to be out of the office and see people’s faces again and golf is really the only thing you can do in a larger group setting, so it’s nice to see some familiar faces again,” he said.

 

Having the opportunity to not only reconnect with both familiar and new Members helped make the day a success said Cambridge Chamber CEO and President Greg Durocher.

 

“We’re thrilled we could provide our Members and their guests with the chance to not only meet safely but have a great time doing something that’s familiar and fun. We all can use it considering how tough the last year and half has been,” he said. “We also appreciate the support of our many sponsors for helping to create such a memorable event for everyone.”

 

Plans are in the works for our annual Fall Scramble, so please keep an eye on our Events calendar for more.

 

For a look at photos from our Golf Classic and a list of prize winners, please visit: https://bit.ly/3AEyTkB

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Nothing represents summer more than a barbecue.

 

The smell of food cooking on the grill and the sounds of the outdoors are a feast for the senses, especially on a warm and sunny afternoon.

 

But for many, good food is not the only reason barbecues are so popular.

“A barbecue is a meal that everyone can enjoy,” says Steve Varnasidis, General Manager of Q BBQ Public House in Cambridge, who has spent 25 years cooking on just about every surface possible. “It brings people together.”

 

James Empringham, Chef De Cuisine at Cambridge Hotel & Conference Centre, agrees.

 

“I think for myself and a lot of other people, the biggest attraction to BBQ, like any other food, is the social interaction,” he says, adding ‘breaking bread’ or this case beef, pork, seafood or chicken, is important. “It’s that aspect of standing around a BBQ, smelling that delicious food while in the company of friends and family on a hot summer day.”

 

The Farm Boy Product Development Chefs (Maria Garza, Liam Fulcher and John Cadieux) also agree and say not ‘heating up’ the kitchen is another big attraction to heading outdoors.

 

“It’s an easy clean up and the ability to cook many different foods at the same time,” says Farm Boy’s Maria Garza.

 

However, when it comes to barbecuing, there can be so many questions  surrounding not only what to put on the grill, but how to cook it?

 

So, we asked these local barbecue experts a few questions to help you host the best barbecue possible this summer:

 

1. Does the heat source matter?

* According to the Farm Boy chefs, the answer is yes since – gas vs charcoal vs wood – all give a slightly different taste profile. “For the novice, gas would be the easiest and most convenient way to grill, whereas charcoal or wood require a bit more know-how so you can regulate temperatures correctly,” says Liam Fulcher.

* For Todd Diamond, Director of Food & Beverages at Bingemans, using the proper heat source is imperative. “Ultimately, there are a number of different ways to approach a BBQ and a variety of different preparations for the meal,” he says. “The important part is matching them together to produce the best results.”

* When it comes to producing the best results, Steve at Q BBQ Public House says wood is a great heat source. “I like to mix fruit wood, like apple or cherry, and then mix it with maple or oak which are more readily available around here.”

* James and his colleague Nick Ruthardt from Cambridge Hotel & Conference Centre say flavour is everything and the right heat source can help. “Charcoal briquettes are one of the most popular heat sources and they can provide a wonderful grilled flavour. Then as you get more into BBQ and adventurous, you can start to also play around with smoking with woodchips and the different flavours they can add to the cooking process.”

 

2. What is the best thing to cook on a barbecue?

* Pork is great thing to cook on the barbecue according to Todd at Bingemans. “But I really believe the very best thing to cook is whatever you are working with on any given day,” he says. “It’s about the amazing variety of incredible meals that you can prepare, just don’t be afraid to try something new.”

* James and Nick Ruthardt also believe the possibilities are endless, including various meats, seafood, and all sorts of vegetables. “Once you dive down into it, there really isn’t much you can’t do on a BBQ or with a smoker,” says James. “Yes, some of these things take a little bit more practice than others to really get them down to perfection, but BBQ really does have a little bit of something for everyone.”

* Farm Boy Flattened chicken receives top marks from both the Farm Boy chefs and cooks up fast and crispy, while remaining moist.

* Steve at Q BBQ Public House also agrees that flattened chicken is great, providing it’s well marinated and basted on the grill.

 

3. What can be the most difficult thing to cook on a barbecue?

* For the Farm Boy chefs, they say fish and seafood can be a difficult because it can stick to the grates and can easily be overcooked. “Same applies to seafood, because it cooks so fast, you have to be careful not to overcook,” says John Cadieux.

* For Steve at Q BBQ Public House, he says cooking the perfect steak can often prove difficult. “If you’re not an expert barbecue or griller, it can be really challenging,” he says.

* For James and Nick, they insist brisket is the hardest thing on a BBQ to get done properly. “It’s hard cut of meat to get tender because it’s a very fatty piece of meat and takes a very long time for the collagens to break down so that it is super tender,” says James. “When cooking brisket, it is definitely a long game and can’t be rushed.”

* Todd at Bingeman  jokes that dessert is the toughest thing to barbecue.

 

4. What is the easiest thing a novice can cook on the barbecue?

* When it comes to simplicity, Steve at Q BBQ Public House says a really tasty homemade burger is a great thing for a novice to try. “Grill up some portobello mushrooms and put them on top, or some bacon or pineapple,” he suggests. “It’s delicious and everybody appreciates a good homemade burger.”

* The Farm Boy chefs agree and say the Farm Boy gourmet burgers are quick and easy. As well, they recommend the Farm Boy mesquite chicken wings and all beef frankfurters.

* James and Nick recommend trying some pulled pork, if a nice bone in pork shoulder slice of meat can be used. “The key to pulled pork is low and slow. One the pork shoulder is on the BBQ, all that has to be done is wait,” says James. “Fun fact, when people refer to a ‘pork butt’, they are actually referring to the widest part of the shoulder.”

* When it comes to something simple, Bingemans’ Todd Diamond also says pork chops are easy to whip up.

 

5. What are the most common mistakes you can make barbecuing?

* The Farm Boy chefs say not planning ahead is a big problem and that lighting the charcoal or wood far too late doesn’t allow the barbecue to property heat up. As well, not cleaning and greasing the grates is another mistake.

* James and Nick agree. “Starting with a grill that isn’t up to temperature will result in either burned food, undercooked food or food that just won’t come unstuck from the grill,” says James. “Another mistake I see often is people opening the lid way too much. It’s important to keep the lid shut.”

* Using a fatty slice of meat is another mistake says Steve at Q BBQ Public House, when it comes to barbecuing. He says fatty meat can lead to a great deal of smoke and flame ups.

* For Todd at Bingemans, he says using lighter fluid is a big no-no and must be avoided.  “Don’t use too much heat,” he says.

 

A few tips from the experts:

  • Don’t use too much heat
  • Be creative with veggies
  • Know your equipment inside and out
  • Don’t move the food around
  • ‘Rest’ all the meat
  • Cook food in order of how long things take to cook
  • Don’t forget the wine/beer

 

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