Maintaining a balance between the environment and the economy can be a challenge, especially when it comes to sustainable development in tourism and community development. Nevertheless, graduates of Lakehead's School of Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism (ORPT) are bringing new ideas to the table, thanks to a talented team of faculty and staff.
Lakehead's School of Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism offers both undergraduate and graduate programs in ORPT, and also conducts interdisciplinary research through the University's new Centre for Tourism and Community Development (CTCD).
Professor Norm McIntyre
The Centre is designed to be a "one-stop shop" offering information, resources, and support to members of communities and regions serviced by Lakehead University's Thunder Bay and Orillia campuses.
Its mission is "to promote balanced sustainable development in cooperation with communities and partners through involvement in interdisciplinary research, community education, and consultancy services."
Today's communities often find themselves in complex situations, due to constantly changing economic, political, and social environments. Government studies have found that single-industry communities relying solely on mining or forestry as the mainstay of their economies tend to be the least resilient of Ontario communities, due to the boom and bust cycles which are often characteristic of resource-based industries.
"This is basically the issue of putting all our eggs into one basket," says McIntyre. "Communities in Northwestern Ontario are beginning to recognize the problem in doing this, and many of them are beginning to move towards a more diversified economy. The key to sustainability is building in resilience and diversity into the community."
LEARNING FROM OTHERS
Professor Rhonda Koster
Professor R. Harvey Lemelin
A major advantage of this geographical location is the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area, a Parks Canada initiative, which is the largest freshwater marine protected area in the world. This local asset, located on the north shore of Lake Superior, was the main focus of the CTCD-hosted 4th International Lake Tourism Conference Making Conservation Work for Communities and Lakes held in Nipigon/Red Rock in June 2009. A report called Community Workshop: Ideas into Action was produced based on information gathered at the conference.
McIntyre participated in a one-day field trip in the area, along with other professors and tourism experts from around the world. They met with local First Nations representatives and engaged in activities, such as boat trips, to learn more about the area's natural environment. The workshop brought together international experts and local community members to discuss experiences from all over the world as well as local tourism issues.
One of the great challenges is getting people here to work together on a regional basis, due to what McIntyre calls a "tradition of competition."
"For this region to work as a tourism destination, it's got to package the community offerings together so that people can come here and spend a few days in Northwestern Ontario and get a more comprehensive experience," he says. ORPT Associate Professor Dr. Rhonda Koster also participated in the conference in Nipigon/Red Rock. "There is a huge niche market for Aboriginal tourism," says Koster. "People are interested in learning more about the culture in authentic, engaged, learning ways, not just through something that is staged."
Koster, whose research often focuses on rural community-based tourism, has an interest in the connections between tourism, rural sustainability, and quality of life. She says communities need to identify assets that are important to them, which assets they are willing to share, and what they are not willing to share. This could include developing trail systems to increase tourism in a specific area. By working together, community members are able to develop opportunities for collaboration and control over their natural assets.
In 2012, CTCD Research Associate Harvey Lemelin, in conjunction with the Nunatsiavut Government and Parks Canada, will be hosting the 3rd International Polar Tourism Research Network in Nain, Newfoundland and Labrador. This conference will provide an opportunity to showcase some of the tourism research currently being conducted in this area at Lakehead University.
A UNIQUE PROGRAM
Besides the option of completing a single degree, another unique aspect of the program is the opportunity to enrol in a double degree program combining Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism with either Arts (Geography, History, or Women's Studies) or Science (Natural Science). Lakehead also offers a concurrent Honours Bachelor of Outdoor Recreation/Bachelor of Education program. In fall 2009 there were 242 full- and part-time students enrolled along with fifteen graduate students.
The Masters of Environmental Science (MES) in Nature-based Recreation and Tourism (NBRT) is an interdisciplinary degree that has its roots in social sciences such as geography, leisure studies, and sociology, as well as in the areas of tourism, community development, resource management, parks and protected areas, and forestry. It draws students from all parts of Canada and abroad. "More than fifteen individuals have graduated from the MES-NBRT program since its inception in 2004," says Harvey Lemelin, Graduate Coordinator for the MES-NBRT program. "And many of these individuals have gone on to pursue doctoral studies, create their own businesses, and work in the field."
ORPT's faculty members are recognized around the world for their research projects, as editors of journals in their fields, and for running courses with service components to help communities as far away as the Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation in the Northwest Territories.
"We are the largest outdoor recreation program in Canada, and we are recognized by other professionals and academic institutions as leaders in our fields," says the School's Director Brent Cuthbertson. "We regularly field requests from employers wanting to address our students, hoping to lure the best and brightest to their organizations and programs."