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Back to our roots: cultural tourism development in Twillingate

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Wilma HartmannIt might seem that online marketing has almost nothing to do with root cellars, but according to Wilma Hartmann, it’s not such a stretch.

As one of the founders of Applecore Interactive, a web-based branding company, and the new co-owner of the Anchor Inn Hotel and Suites in Twillingate, Ms. Hartmann understands how important it is to tell an authentic story—after all, good marketing is about helping consumers connect with a product or company.

Recently, the Harris Centre connected her with the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador and Memorial students to help her complete a research project about the root cellars of the Twillingate area. She’s hoping that the research could contribute to an interactive root cellar map that visitors to the region could access through their smart phones.

“Marketing has taught me a few things, primarily that god and the devil both lie in the details,” chuckled Ms. Hartmann. “The hospitality industry is no different: the experience is created by attention to detail. Both entail creating memorable experiences.”

That’s where root cellars come in. Aside from providing a cool, dry spot to store all the fixings for a Jiggs Dinner, they also speak volumes about life in Newfoundland and Labrador prior to the modern conveniences that we all depend on today.

Ms. Hartmann also believes they also have the potential to be a tourist attraction.

Twillingate’s strong cultural history, along with beautiful scenery, draws people from all across the world to the community. “Our visitors at the Anchor Inn Hotel are keenly interested in the town's cultural heritage,” said Ms. Hartmann. “They ask questions, look at books in our lobby and want to know what it is about and where they can see and experience what they see in print.”

The problem is that sometimes culture is hard to find and even harder to interpret. “Accommodations provide merely a place to rest—the experience is made up of a multitude of encounters during the rest of the day—things to do, see, people to talk to,” explained Ms. Hartmann. While many community members in Twillingate have memories and stories about the root cellars, currently, the greater meaning of the cellars can be hard to grasp for someone who is just visiting.

Helping visitors experience the best that Twillingate has to offer is something that Ms. Hartmann sees as crucial to the success of the community’s tourism success. “The Newfoundland and Labrador Government has made an enormous investment in building the brand of this province as a unique destination based on its people, its history and culture,” Ms. Hartmann said. “When coming to visit, tourists are looking for experiences that fulfill this promise—exploring the entire Twillingate area by chasing root cellars with a GPS in hand or a camera over the shoulder could fit perfectly.”

It was an idea that Ms. Hartmann raised when she attended a Harris Centre Regional workshop in Gander this summer. Regional Workshops are an open opportunity for community members to discuss their needs and ideas with researchers from Memorial University. After a session, the Harris Centre returns to the university with a list of ideas, and sets about finding Memorial researchers to help make them happen.

After the Gander workshop, Bojan Fürst, manager of Knowledge Mobilization at the Harris Centre contacted the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, suspecting that they could help. The answer was ‘yes’, and this fall, Memorial University public folklore student, Crystal Braye, traveled to Twillingate to locate, map, photograph and measure all the root cellars she can find.

She interviewed local people to find out more about the role of root cellars in the community, today, and in the past. The interviewing process is important to unlocking the interesting, less traditional uses of the cellars that can give a visitor a real sense of what they meant to past residents of the province. And, you never know what you’ll find out. “We’ve heard stories about one being used to keep a deceased person till they could be buried. Many are being used to store wine, and we know they were used to store moonshine back in the day,” said Braye.

While Ms. Braye’s visit is just the first step in better developing Twillingate’s rich root cellar history, Ms. Hartmann believes the project is the beginning of something positive, both for the tourism industry, and the community as a whole. “Based on this initial work, I am hoping that a second phase will be outlined and a project owner found- if not, I am happy to keep driving it to develop a tourism product that can be self-guided with a web-based component,” she said.

“Preserving history and culture is what will keep the authenticity in this place that visitors come to seek,” she explained. She’s also positive about the potential for the project to have a positive cultural impact on her community— “I am hoping that the younger generation in Twillingate will realise how important the culture and heritage of their place is: that it makes Twillingate unique and that it is something to showcase with pride. If the local community can be as excited about "just another ol' root cellar" and see it as the marker of a rich story, this project will fulfill its role,” she concluded.

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