The territorial government recently spent more than $600,000 on its “NWT Days” campaign in Ottawa – so what did its target audience think?
Politicians, artists, entrepreneurs and other ambassadors of the North descended on Ottawa in January.
While the Premier and his cabinet met federal ministers and made announcements designed to bolster the NWT’s profile, a major exhibition took place to publicize the territory to a southern audience.
Ottawa residents Emily Van Koeveringe and boyfriend Kirk Roy turned up to the exhibition, and were captivated.
“We had no plans to see this exhibition and we had no idea it was going on, but we saw some people walking around with huskies, promoting it,” says Van Koeveringe.
“So we decided to go over and it was a beautiful exposition. We ended up staying for almost the whole afternoon, it was really nice.”
The couple even entered a contest, run by NWT Tourism, to win a trip to Yellowknife. All they had to do was tweet a photo of themselves in front of a poster showing the northern lights.
Van Koeveringe, a 22-year-old federal government worker, tweeted 10 times over – and won.
“It’s crazy. I still can’t believe this has happened,” she said, stopping in at Moose FM’s Yellowknife studio on the last day of the couple’s free, three-day trip.
Flying direct from Ottawa to Yellowknife, they stayed at the Explorer Hotel and tried to pack as many activities as possible into their Valentine’s weekend.
“One of the highlights has been Aurora Village. We’ve been there three times and I loved going dog-sledding,” says Van Koeveringe. “Being able to drive our own dog sleds, I would never have thought I could do that.
“And the big teepees? We have nothing like that in Ottawa, it’s super-unique.”
The couple’s experience will be heartening to those in the territorial government who have been forced to defend the hefty price tag of the NWT Days campaign in Ottawa.
Speaking to the CBC during last month’s event, tourism minister David Ramsay said: “It’s important to attract investment and promote ourselves. No-one is going to do that for us and if you are going to be successful, you have to put your money where your mouth is.
“Events like this are very important to put the Northwest Territories squarely on the map in Ottawa.”
Both Van Koeveringe and Roy say the trip, and even the exhibition in Ottawa, transformed their opinion of the Northwest Territories.
“What I knew of the Northwest Territories before was pretty much: cold. Expect the worst,” says Roy, 26, who works at a warehouse. “So yeah, my expectations were kinda low.
“As soon as I got here it was amazing – an amazing city and territory. Definitely cold, but a lot more stuff to do.”
Read: Minister defends cost of NWT Days trip to Ottawa
Van Koeveringe adds: “From my perspective the exposition really did work. It gave such a sense of what the NWT is, what kind of nature you can see here, different activities, things that we’re just not used to in Ottawa.
“I think it has worked. It’s such a nice city, I love it here and we’re definitely going to come back for sure.”
It’s not entirely surprising that the winners of a free vacation might be fervent supporters of the contest organizers.
And these are just two happy customers as the territory seeks large strides in tourism and 2,000 additional residents over the next five years.
Even with a recent injection of federal tourism funding, the NWT cannot start flying everybody north in the same style afforded to Van Koeveringe and Roy. (Can it?)
Read: CanNor contributes $2.8 million to enhance NWT tourism industry
But these two lucky visitors believe the NWT’s largesse, in laying on their experience and promoting the NWT Days campaign, has already had a broader impact.
“People in Ottawa see the Territories as cold, cold, cold,” says Roy. “A lot of nature but the cold? No. ‘No way we can do that.’ People get put off right away.
“But with this trip and all the pictures and information we’re sending back, my family are starting to change their viewpoints on the NWT. Even my brother is very interested in seeing the northern lights – before he was just like, ‘big deal’.
“Now, I’m starting to convince them that this is a pretty nice place. Beforehand, there was zero per cent interest. They’re starting to open up their minds a bit and see this is a place to visit.”
Van Koeveringe says: “I’ve been posting pictures on Facebook to show friends and family, and I think people are shocked at what you can do here.
“The job fair at the exposition was also really good. I had no idea there was such a variety of jobs and they are looking for people – I didn’t have that sense of the Northwest Territories.”
Read: NWT set to announce immigration changes in bid to boost numbers
So, how about those jobs then. Would they consider taking the ultimate step – the one 2,000 people need convincing about – and relocating to the NWT?
There is polite, nervous laughter.
“That’s a tough question,” says Van Koeveringe. “I would consider it. The hardest part would be moving away from my family in Ottawa.
“Other than that, I would love to move here, I think it would be a great experience.”
“We love it here,” admits Roy. “Moving here… would be quite an interesting story, I guess. I don’t know.
“It would be very hard to leave our family and our surroundings. It’s hard to imagine at the moment.”