Contest takes aim at promoting James Bay region

Tourism officials in the James Bay region of Quebec are hoping a new contest will help create more local jobs and attract international travellers interested in adventure and Indigenous culture.

Into the North will introduce travellers to Cree culture on stops in Quebec communities

Participants will experience activities like kayaking, fishing and learn more about Cree culture, all while having their adventure filmed for broadcast online this fall. (Bosum Media and Photography)

Tourism officials in the James Bay region of Quebec are hoping a new contest will help create more local jobs and attract international travellers interested in adventure and Indigenous culture.

Eeyou Istchee Baie-James Tourism, an association promoting the region, has launched an ambitious contest called Into the North — a five-thousand kilometre, two-week road trip for six people.

The all-expenses-paid adventure will take participants to 11 places in the James Bay region this July, starting in the town of Chibougamau, in central Quebec.

Participants will experience activities like kayaking, fishing and learn more about Cree culture, all while having their adventure filmed for broadcast online this fall.

"People don't really know Eeyou Istchee Baie-James. We are kind of a remote region," said Robin McGinley, executive director of Eeyou Istchee Tourism and the Cree Outfitting and Tourism Association.

"But by making a big project and making a big impact, I think we will be able to attract the attention of people not only from Quebec, but people around the world."

Anna Bosum runs Nuuhchimi Wiinuu Cree Cultural Tours, a camp near Oujé Bougoumou in Quebec. (Submitted by Bosum Media and Photography)
Into the North is the latest offering from a tourism industry that has been coming of age since the Cree Outfitting and Tourism Association (COTA) was created as part of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, signed in 1975.

Eeyou Istchee Tourism became Quebec's 22nd regional tourism association in 2007 and immediately began working with their Tourisme de la Baie James sister association to jointly promote the region. The contest is also part of an effort to offer visitors more than just outfitting.

Increased focus on cultural tourism 

"If you went back 20 years, the principal product was outfitting," said McGinley, who points out the sport hunt of the caribou is in its final year because of a drastic decline in the population. "Over the years we've put more focus on Cree cultural tourism."

Nuuhchimi Wiinuu Cree Cultural Tours, a camp near the Cree community of Oujé-Bougoumou belonging to the Bosum family, is part of those efforts to broaden tourist services in Quebec. The family has been welcoming guests informally for many years, but officially opened Nuuhchimi Wiinuu in 2016, with the support of the Cree Outfitting and Tourism Association.

"It's about exchanging and sharing our Native culture — how it's important to keep our culture alive," said Anna Bosum, who runs the camp with her husband David. "That we still carry our language and our culture — that's what I wanted to show."

The Bosum family camp is one place the Into the North contest winners will stop during their road trip. They'll also visit Shammy Adventures, an eco-tourism site that opened in 2016 near the Cree community of Wemindji.

According to statistics collected by Eeyou Istchee Baie-James Tourism, occupancy rates at hotels in the region were up by 7.3 per cent after the summer of 2017.

The number of visitors to the region's tourism reception centres were up, on average, by 31 per cent compared to the summer of 2016. The statistics also show the vast majority of visitors in 2017, or 88 per cent, were from Quebec.

McGinley says she hopes the contest will help attract the attention of international travellers and encourage Cree youth to work in the tourism industry.

"[We hope] the next generation will look at tourism as a way of sharing their culture and learning their culture," said McGinley, adding it's an opportunity for them to be outside, interact with guests and take pride in themselves.

A group at the Nuuhchimi Wiinuu Cree Cultural Tours poses for a photograph. (Bosum Media and Photography)
Regional statistics show that the two most popular activities last year were fishing and Indigenous tourism.

McGinley said the increases are encouraging to see and important in the context of reconciliation, as visitors "go away with a better understanding of who we are."

The long-term goals of Cree Outfitting and Tourism Association are to support more Cree entrepreneurs and guides to be able to make a living from tourism, McGinley said.

Registration for Into the North is open until Feb. 28.