Ontario’s Bruce County is a little bit of heaven on earth and is home to numerous conservation areas and national and provincial parks including Bruce Peninsula National Park, Fathom Five National Marine Park, Sauble Fall Provincial Park and many others. The area is perhaps most famous for the Bruce Peninsula and the Bruce Trail that follows the edge of the Niagara Escarpment for approximately 900 kilometres and is one of the thirteen United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Biosphere Reserves in Canada.
With its countless streams, rivers, forests, rock formations, hiking trails and beaches encompassing almost four thousand square kilometres, Bruce County is a must-see, four-season destination for visitors from across Canada and the world.
Bruce County has many of the amenities that come from living in a big city, such as quality public schools and hospitals, but none of the traffic congestion or costs. The County is just two hours northwest of Toronto with its County seat located in Walkerton, Ontario. Its population of approximately 70,000 and rising is served by highways 21, 9, and 6.
Bruce County became an incorporated County in 1867 – the same year as Canada’s Confederation. Over the years, the County was widely known for industries related to water and shipping due to its waterfront access. Today, it is comprised of three economic regions: one around the Bruce Peninsula and its tourism, resources and environmental economy; another around the Lakeshore region and the Bruce Power generating station; and the third being the area’s Interior, which remains primarily agriculture-based.
“Historically, a lot of the area’s industry was centred on water access, with many towns established for shipping,” says Kara Van Myall, Manager of Corporate Policy and Economic Development for Bruce County. “It is part of the Greenbelt and Niagara Escarpment in Ontario, creating a unique economy and opportunities for development.”
In recent years, Bruce County has allocated additional resources and workforce toward economic development, specifically based on the three key areas of agriculture, tourism, and nuclear.
The Bruce Nuclear Generating Station is a key economic driver for the area. It was constructed in stages from 1970 to 1987 and remains the largest operating nuclear facility in the world, with eight Canada deuterium uranium (CANDU) reactors. Bruce Power provides thirty percent of the province’s electrical power and is one of the area’s largest employers, with approximately 4,200 regular staff and growing. Many others are brought in on contract during planned maintenance and outage campaigns.
“Bruce Power supports 18,000 direct and indirect jobs annually across Ontario,” says Manpreet Kaur Sangha, Economic Development Officer for the County. “Also, there are many utility companies related to the nuclear facility as employers.”
Bruce County signed an agreement with Bruce Power looking at spinoff opportunities related to the recently announced Major Component Replacement (MCR). This will see the first refurbishment project commence in 2020 to 2023, with six units undergoing restoration, considerably extending the life of the reactors until 2064. Over this thirteen-year period, even more workers will be required to meet the needs of this momentous undertaking.
Many jobs and business opportunities are directly and indirectly related to the nuclear plant. “What we see is that there is a lot of opportunity around entrepreneurship related to the relocation that’s happening as a result of the nuclear facility, and that’s something we’ve really highlighted as a priority we want to foster,” comments Van Myall.
The County is home to numerous other industries both large and small, from one-person craft shops to large manufacturers. One of the more unique activities is the quarrying of the Eramosa limestone that is found in the Wiarton-Owen Sound area of Ontario and nowhere else on earth. It is quarried from a vein of stone that runs through the Niagara escarpment and is prized for its unique fleuri pattern and extreme durability compared to other limestones.
Other areas of key economic growth include tourism and agriculture, and the County is investigating ways to increase agricultural opportunities and create added value around production and distribution for growers. The area boasts a range of agricultural opportunities from large scale farming operations around cash cropping and beef and dairy to niche opportunities like vineyards at Hoity Toity cellars, cooperative cheese making at Pine River Cheese and one of the few produce auctions in Ontario at the Huron Bruce Produce Auction. The area is known for its ability to take agricultural products and leverage them into economically viable business opportunities.
Bruce County provides an abundance of activities from stunning sandy beaches along more than 850 kilometres of shoreline to world-famous hiking trails, camping, snorkelling and scuba diving on twenty-two shipwrecks in Tobermory. There are fun winter activities like skiing, snowshoeing, sledding and hiking. For those wishing to take things at a leisurely pace, there is the Chantry Island Lighthouse in Southampton, numerous art galleries, farmers markets and much more. There is Little Cove Adventures, which provides rope courses twenty to thirty feet in the air for more adventuresome types. Families come to ride the train in Port Elgin, see the Bruce County Museum and Cultural Centre and visit the annual Pumpkinfest that attracts over 50,000 people annually.
“When we look at it from a tourism perspective, Bruce County is very well-known as a travel destination,” says Van Myall. “We have quite a few international travellers who visit us year-round, so we are on the map from that perspective. But what we are really looking at is how we leverage the small business opportunities related to that – around experience development – and what we call retail and service with a backend.” One example, she says, would be products handcrafted by local artisans that are then shipped internationally. The County is also investigating ways to build and support tourism and vacation experience platforms.
The County still has an unhurried, old-fashioned charm, and with the price for an average home at about $260,000, Bruce County is far below the respective national and provincial averages of $450,000 and $525,000, making it affordable for younger and older homebuyers and their families.
As part of Bruce County’s mandate, it recently underwent a thorough rebranding program, including a vibrant new logo of the Bruce County Star with the County’s coordinates – 45.0°N 81.3°W – a refreshing new typeface. The new tagline “Be an explorer” characterises living in Bruce County “as a lifestyle based on curiosity and discovery.” Combining these elements creates a brand which acknowledges the County’s future while paying homage to its unique and past.
“I always say that everybody who’s here has an ‘explorer story’ they are able to tell about how they ended up in Bruce County,” comments Van Myall. “And so, when we look at business development and recruitment of entrepreneurs, we are looking at connecting with people who are those explorers, those that have taken the road less travelled and want to discover a lifestyle that provides endless opportunity for exploration.”
To further attract business to the area, the County has developed its Business to Bruce program that is focused on business development and attracting entrepreneurs to Bruce County. Its recently unveiled website, businesstobruce.com, has valuable information about starting or expanding a business, matching skills, partnering, life in one of Bruce’s many unique communities and more. “Imagine life here,” its slogan, sets forth the challenge of exploration and discovering what life can represent for entrepreneurs coming to the County.
Bruce County was successful in acquiring two rural economic development grants from the province of Ontario in 2014. One pertains to business development, and the second is aimed at coordinating marketing. With the goal of creating a vibrant and healthy business sector by focusing on those three key areas of agriculture, tourism and nuclear, the County offers companies and entrepreneurs support through its business development program, including a series of grants that let Bruce County businesses focus on tinkering to lead to invention, art becoming industry and sweat becoming equity. It is less about the race and more about the individual drive in Bruce County.
“Our approach is to partner with the County, our local municipalities and our local businesses in order to support and develop the business climate for success. Our local business communities are the true ambassadors for business development and support,” says Van Myall, “and we are supportive of that at the County level, but it’s at the local level where you get a flavour of each of our local communities and the support that is there to help local businesses succeed. So this idea of a macro approach is what all three of those entities are working toward or working together in collaboration. And that program philosophy has been recognized for awards that we’ve received for our approach on how we handle community development here in Bruce County.”
Part of the County’s macro approach is Spruce the Bruce – a downtown improvement program for communities within the County – and Explore the Bruce, which serves as the County’s visitor attraction program. The latter offers a comprehensive list of activities, places to shop, restaurants, events, towns and much more.
There are plenty of events ahead to mark Bruce County’s sesquicentennial in 2017. From a New Year’s Eve gala at the Bruce County Museum and Cultural Centre to an art installation, curling funspiels at the Wiarton Curling Club, a Military reunion dinner, County-wide doors open and Spooky Bruce at the Bruce County Jail next October, there will be plenty to see and do in Bruce County.
Bruce County can be summarized as a place that has time and space for business to grow – where your equity can go further than you ever imagined. It’s a County where energy, nature, agriculture and innovation all combine to create fertile ground for finding yourself in a position to build what you always dreamed possible.
Imagine what life and work could be in Bruce County.