You can't keep a good park down
When floods hit the Northeastern Ontario town of Mattawa, many local businesses were obviously affected. Sid Turcotte Park, the longtime campground, trailer camp and cottage resort in the heart of town, took a massive hit, with hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages in addition to the lost revenue from cancelled trips.
But Sid Turcotte Park is still running, and still welcoming visitors to Mattawa.
The park has been a staple of Mattawa summer life for many years. “It’s been passed down through several local families for decades,” says Ian Foster, who co-owns the park with his wife Brooke and Meadow and Andrew Stevens. “We’ve had it for about three years. It has a long history in the area and is pretty well supported by the people in the town.”
As a tourism business, the park is meaningful not only to the town, but to its visitors. “Last year we met two people, one was visiting for his 49th year and one was his 50th,” recalls Foster. “And we had a group last year that was four generations of friends—not family—who’d been coming to the park for years.”
When the waters started rising this year, the park’s owners initially didn’t think much of it. “Every year since we’ve been in the park we’ve had some level of flooding. Probably a good couple acres of our park are on the flood plain,” explains Foster. “In our first year, we came in as new owners and we saw the water coming up—we had no idea of the history. We put out the word to our campers, and the response we had was ‘Ah, this happens every year, it’s no big deal.’”
Again this year, campers were given the option of moving their trailers, and all but one decided not to. Then came the day of the big flood. “We had no warning that this would be more than slightly worse than a normal year,” recalls Foster. “But we could see the water creeping up fast, and we knew something was wrong.”
The park, along with Mattawa’s downtown core, was hit with two to three feet of water in only two hours. “We managed to save what we could,” says Foster. “But we lost 14 trailers, our rec hall, our check-in office, hundreds of feet of fence, power lines ripped out of the ground… it’s between $300,000 and $500,000 of infrastructure damage. A third of our park has been destroyed. It’s going to be a tough rebuilding stretch, but we want to redesign the park in a conscientious way for the future, and rebuild in a way that’s more sustainable and more resistant to this kind of impact.”
Despite this devastation, Foster says he never considered closing the park for the summer. “There’s still a huge section of our park that’s still open,” he points out. “Our goal from day one was to stay open and get back in business, to keep the word out that Mattawa is not underwater. We could just shut down, but that’s the easy way out—it doesn’t help people in town.”
Foster explains that the park typically hosts 64 trailers all summer long, in addition to 45-50 camping spots and cottages that are filled by more temporary visitors. “Those people are all out eating in restaurants, buying food at local grocery stores,” he says. “I feel for the other businesses in the town that are gonna be impacted when we can’t serve visitors.”
This community spirit goes both ways. “The community has really come together to help each other out,” Foster emphasizes. “We got our ice cream shop open the other day, and families come by every day after work . Sid Turcotte’s daughter visited us after the flood to bring some food. Mattawa Adventure Camp, who is our direct competitor, has been really helpful.”
And visitors have helped too; when Foster called one family to tell them their campground reservation had to be cancelled, they responded by upgrading to a cabin in an unaffected part of the park.
“When it hits the fan, business is kind of secondary: we’re all human beings, and a lot of people here understand that,” says Foster. “It shows the strength of Mattawa, it’s unbelievable. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”