Township of Scugog, Ontario
Embracing the Balance Between Rural Charm and Urban Progress
Business View talks with representatives of Township of Scugog for our focus on growth and economic development in communities across North America
The Township of Scugog, located just an hour northeast of Toronto, presents a unique blend of rural tranquility and urban aspirations. Scugog offers a landscape adorned with scenic countryside, charming hamlets, and a vibrant historic downtown. At the core the township’s identity lies Lake Scugog, a picturesque manmade lake that draws residents and visitors to the community.
Mayor, Wilma Wotten, highlights, “We’re a small rural community, mainly agricultural, service and tourism oriented. We have a great historic downtown, and lots of agri-tourism in the surrounding areas, with the lake as a huge drawing card.”
Growth Challenges in Ontario’s Greenbelt
Wotten admits that Scugog’s location has its own unique challenges. “We’re quite limited in our growth potential and our sustainability due to the entire community being within the Greenbelt. Construction and availability of land is fairly restricted,” she acknowledges. “Many would say that’s a fabulous thing, and in one hand, it absolutely is. But with a population of 22,000, it does make it very challenging with respect to space and the things we can accomplish for our residents as we move forward.”
Navigating Infrastructure Improvements
Carol Coleman, the Director of Public Works and Infrastructure, sheds light on critical projects underway in the township. She shares that as part of a two-tier municipality, the region of Durham takes charge of water and sewer upgrades, leaving Scugog to primarily focus on maintaining existing infrastructure. Coleman underscores the significant challenges the township faces, particularly in the condition of its roads, which is a major concern for residents. In her words, “We have a significant deficit in the maintenance of critical infrastructure, including roads and bridges. Our equipment that we use to deal with the maintenance of these facilities is older and needs replacement. Our facilities are also in poor condition and a lot of work is needed there.” The main issue stems from the townships large geographic area which includes 413 kilometers of road, coupled with a relatively small tax base due to limited growth within the Greenbelt area.
Scugog is committed to addressing these challenges, implementing a dedicated roads levy nine years ago, along with vehicle and equipment levies and building and facilities levies. “We’re putting money towards these things, and we’re starting to see improvements,” Coleman says. “It’s a lot on our taxpayers, but it’s working. We’ve also looked at other ways to try to save money, by looking for efficiencies, and looking for grants from other levels of government, which we’ve had some success with.”
Ken Nix, CAO of Scugog Township, communicates the importance of reliable internet, which is equivalent to other essential utilities. He points out, “Ours is largely a rural community, and farmers nowadays need access to internet, for anything from plowing the fields to accessing the markets. It’s as critical for a farmer, as it is for any business in town, to have that capacity.” Sharing that the municipality has identified several areas with underdeveloped internet infrastructure, he adds, “We’re lucky there have been grants, that Rogers was successful in obtaining, to help fill in a number of the gaps. We’re supporting Rogers in terms of installing the fiber to households.” The township’s efforts are supported by the Region of Durham’s development of a municipal services corporation to provide internet to areas not covered by Rogers.
Downtown Preservation and Development
Historic Downtown Port Perry truly is the heart of the community, and a dedicated Heritage Committee ensures its preservation, for the enjoyment of residents and visitors alike. The introduction of a Community Improvement Plan (CIP) further bolsters efforts to maintain and restore the downtown buildings. Although accessibility can be an issue in the historic district, Wotten says, “There’s a very strong pride and ownership to our downtown, the facades of the buildings and everything are being very well maintained by the owners.”
Adjacent to the downtown is the Lake Scugog waterfront, and Scugog Township is actively investing in its continued vitality. “The waterfront is one of the big attractions. When you walk along it, you see people everywhere, just enjoying it,” Nix portrays. Key developments in the area include a new inclusive playground in Palmer Park, improvements to the boat launch, a permeable trail connection, a new picnic shelter, a splashpad, and enhancements to the outdoor pool area. Additionally, there are plans for a new washroom building, and an accessible change room for the pool.
Nix expresses the positive impact of events held in the area, such as those for Canada Day and Fall fairs. “We have events virtually every second weekend that bring people to the downtown and to the community. We are also extending the tourism season through locating an ice pad at the waterfront in conjunction with a small winter market. The spin offs there are fantastic for our businesses and for the residents themselves, so that we can enjoy these great things that are happening.” He also mentions the historical Old Mill, an iconic landmark in need of restoration. “It really is the intersection between the waterfront and downtown. We’re looking to partner to find ways to bring it back to its splendor, because it truly is a huge landmark within the municipality and on the waterfront,” he remarks.
Mayor Wotten discusses the ongoing efforts in the municipality to address the housing shortage through the development of several small subdivisions. She notes the challenge of finding suitable land for construction due to Greenbelt restrictions, highlighting the township’s active initiatives in this regard. “A couple of years ago, when the housing crisis became more apparent, we as a municipality looked for different lands where we could potentially support residential. At the time, we were very limited by the land that was available and that could be constructed,” she recounts. “I did advocate for a conversion of some land, and it is still in the books through a new regional official plan. We’re hopeful that will enable us to build more residential, as well as a long-term care facility.” Wotten recognizes the need to accommodate every segment of the population, ensuring that seniors in the community have options to age in place, or downsize, while younger families are able to obtain affordable housing.
Supporting Business Success in the Township
The township of Scugog is actively working with existing businesses to understand their needs for growth and expansion. Currently a Business Retention and Expansion survey is underway to gather information from local businesses. “We’ve got a very vibrant small business community here,” Nix conveys. “We are going to visit as many businesses as we can and find out exactly what they need, and what they want from us, and what their plans are for expansion in the future, because we believe that expansion of our existing business is key.”
In terms of new business development, Scugog is currently awaiting infrastructure servicing for a designated block of lands dedicated to employment expansion in the community. Nix says, “Once that comes, we’ll be in a good position for employment expansion. I don’t think we want the large warehouse Amazon type of development, but focus on good mid sized and smaller offices and industry that can support businesses throughout the region and the GTA, since we’re so close. We’re on the verge of that, but in the meantime, we’re still developing and still bringing in quite a few new businesses.”
He relays that collaboration with the Durham Region in business attraction has yielded success, with a recent relocation of a head office to the township, adding that the rural charm of the community is a major selling point. “It is part of our attraction in terms of coming to this area. They came because their owners are small town people, and they liked the environment that we have here,” he maintains. “That is really one of the tools we have in our toolkit to attract businesses.” He notes that a CIP is also in effect for the employment area, offsetting development costs that businesses would face when expanding or locating in a new area. “We are doing a lot to invest in business as we move forward. We have an economic development committee that’s made up of a broad sector of our business community and ourselves. And they are always out promoting and trying to figure out ways to help business grow,” Nix states.
Vital Partnerships and Collaboration
The importance of collaboration in small communities cannot be overstated, and Nix emphasizes the value of strong relationships with various entities, including Durham Region, the Downtown Business Improvement Area (BIA), the Chamber of Commerce, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Ontario Ministry of Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), the MSIFN Indigenous community, and Ontario Tech University. The township is also partnering with Port Perry Medical Associates and Lakeridge Health, taking part in discussions on attracting and retaining healthcare professionals. Mayor Wotten asserts, “We value all of those partnerships, and we certainly couldn’t do it without them. It’s invaluable what they give us and we’re fortunate that everyone is willing to collaborate and make us and every municipality within the region, as whole as we can be.”
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AT A GLANCE
Township of Scugog, Ontario
What: A community of 22,000 in Ontario’s greenbelt region.
Where: Durham County, Ontario, Canada