Potatoes and Tourism. Two words that most people wouldn’t find particularly synonymous. Ryan Albright is one of the exceptions. The New Brunswick potato grower is a co-founder of the Covered Bridge Potato Chip Company, which is featured in our lead story of this issue of Spud Smart.
Albright’s company makes old-fashioned potato chips at its plant in Hartland, N.B., which is home to world’s longest covered bridge. About 100,000 visitors come to Hartland each summer to see the bridge.
Tying the company’s name and products to a famous landmark has not only resulted in a strong brand for Albright’s business. The Covered Bridge Potato Chip Company has successfully tapped into Hartland’s robust tourism trade to become a thriving attraction itself.
Albright says about 200 tour buses stop by Covered Bridge Potato Chip Company each year. Visitors can tour the plant to see how chips are made and are offered hot bags of chips fresh off the production line with their choice of 35 different seasonings.
Albright’s innovative marketing and agritourism efforts caught the attention of Rick Mercer, the CBC television personality who featured the Covered Bridge Potato Chip Company in a segment on The Rick Mercer Report earlier this year.
Situated in New Brunswick’s major potato growing region, the Saint John River Valley, the folks in Hartland are proud of their potato heritage. The town is one of a number of Canadian communities that host annual festivals celebrating the potato, which contribute to agritourism in their areas.
Another New Brunswick event is held further up the Saint John River Valley, where the annual Grand Falls Potato Festival is “still going strong after 50 years,” according to organizers.
Head due east across New Brunswick and the Northumberland Strait and you’ll find the Prince Edward Island Potato Blossom Festival held annually in O’Leary.
There’s also a potato festival in Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix, Que., and a couple more in Ontario — the Alliston Potato Festival and the aptly named Spudsbury Potato Festival in Sudbury, Ont.
Then there’s the Portage Potato Festival held annually in the Manitoba community of Portage la Prairie. You’ll even find a potato festival in British Columbia, a one-day event staged at the Huble Homestead Historic Site near Prince George.
In addition to festivals, there are some prominent potato museums in Canada that cater to everyone from curiosity-seekers to serious spud aficionados.
Potato World is a popular tourist spot in Florenceville-Bristol, N.B., offering visitors an assortment of hands-on displays, educational videos, views of antique farm machinery and strolls through a potato variety garden.
The Canadian Potato Museum in O’Leary, P.E.I. bills itself as a celebration of all things potato. In addition to the largest collection of farm implements and machinery used to grow potatoes in the world, the museum features heritage buildings and a potato-themed cafeteria, where the offerings include potato fudge. Visitors can also get their picture taken with the world’s largest spud sculpture, right outside the museum’s front doors.
The Canadian Potato Museum’s important contribution to Prince Edward Island’s tourism industry was recognized when it received the 2015 Premier’s Award for Tourism at a P.E.I. tourism industry awards gala this past March. In handing out the award, Premier Wade MacLauchlan applauded the museum for having its best season ever with more than 10,000 visits in 2014.
“It is an excellent example of what can be accomplished with a strong product, wise investments, and a staff and board dedicated to creating a memorable experience for visitors,” he said.
As they’re proving in O’Leary, P.E.I. and Canada’s other spud hubs, potatoes and tourism aren’t such strange bedfellows after all.