Canal Bank Shuffle committee sees Thorold as "part of Niagara experience"
Steve Burnside rocks out at the 11th annual Canal Bank Shuffle Blues Festival at Holy Rosary Hall in Thorold on October 20, 2012. (JEFF BLAY PHOTO)
While Thorold may not be the number one tourist destination in the region, Bob Liddycoat believes it can certainly become “part of the Niagara experience”.
Liddycoat, a member of the Canal Bank Shuffle Blues Festival committee, says events such as the Shuffle give tourists a reason to visit Thorold while they’re vacationing in hotspots such as Niagara Falls or Niagara-on-the-Lake.
“We’re not going to draw millions of people each year like the Falls does, but if we have some events that can attract a few thousand of them to Thorold for an afternoon or night, that’s great,” he said. “but if you’re going to push the tourism angle, you’ve got to create something the visitors want to see.”
And the 11-year-old Canal Bank Shuffle has evidently done just that.
This year’s festival attracted an estimated 3,000 people to a variety of venues in Thorold. By bringing in respected blues acts from locations ranging from San Diego to Nashville, along with some local names, the Shuffle has gained a reputation in both the Canadian and American blues community. It’s also a member of the Blues Foundation, which is headquartered in Memphis, TN.
The festival’s website and YouTube page also gets hits from all over Canada, the U.S. and overseas, which Liddycoat says helps get Thorold’s name on the map.
“One of the top four words people use to search our festival on Google is ‘Thorold’,” Liddycoat said. “People know there’s a blues festival here and we do as much as we can to continue promoting it and Thorold in general throughout the whole year.”
A visitor poll taken by the Shuffle Committee this year shows 13% of attendees came from the Hamilton and Toronto area, 4.5% from the United States and 3.5% from eastern Ontario and Quebec. Attendees from Thorold accounted for 26% while the remaining 53% of ticketholders were from elsewhere in the Niagara region.
“There seems to be an attitude right now that there’s nothing here to see, but we’re proving that wrong,” Liddycoat said. “This year, for example, we had people from Ohio and Syracuse who were visiting Niagara Falls come out to the festival… they emailed me after and said they ended up spending three days in Thorold, so that just shows how these types of events can bring people in.”
Liddycoat mentioned Thorold’s façade grant, which assists downtown businesses in revamping their storefronts, as a positive improvement for the city. However, he feels more needs to be done to attract visitors to the downtown core to see those improvements.
“It’s a great idea to spruce things up, that's step one. Now you’ve got to get people to come here and see it,” he said. “If there were more events in the city that gave people a reason to visit, Thorold would be much better off.”
Since it started 11 years ago, the Canal Bank Shuffle has grown tremendously, but Liddycoat attributes that success to the volunteer committee and the event’s sponsors.
“We’re promoting it all year; it’s a volunteer group and we put in a lot of hours,” he said. “We really appreciate the generous sponsors and advertisers because we cannot keep promoting without that support.”
In recent years, the City of Thorold has provided funds for the Shuffle through community grants, but since the event advertises Thorold’s name and brings visitors to the city, council recently discussed moving it back to where it once was, under economic development.
SHUFFLE GIVES BACK
In addition to attracting visitors to the city, the Canal Bank Shuffle also donates a significant portion of its annual proceeds to charity. This year, the Shuffle donated $10,000 to Autism Ontario’s Niagara Chapter, $5,000 to the help build a Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis, and $1,000 to the Animal Assistance Society of Niagara.
To date, the Canal Bank Shuffle committee has donated roughly $122,000 to a variety of different charities.