There is a newcomer to the arts scene in the Ottawa Valley: Bonnechere Valley Inspired launched in 2023 and is already making plans for rapid growth, including taking a sustainability approach to operations. 

As a brand-new arts and culture tour focused on the Bonnechere Valley, Bonnechere Valley Inspired invites visitors to experience the valley from a creative perspective, while supporting local artists, artisans and local food producers and celebrating community. 

For Laurel Cook, one of the founders of Bonnechere Valley Inspired, their organization is about far more than a summer art tour.  Bonnechere Valley Inspired’s mandate is to create a more healthy, creative, culturally enriched and socially connected community, all of which makes thinking about sustainability a good fit for their vision. 

“It’s not just a tour, we do things throughout the year,” said Laurel. “Everything we do throughout the year, although it helps promote the tour, every step should also take you a little bit closer to building your community.”

Laurel has a robust background in operating an arts tour – she was involved for many years with the Pakenham Maple Run Studio Tour and the Crown & Pumpkin Studio Tour, and was also the director of the Art in the Attic Show in Almonte, which she ran for 16 years before moving to the Ottawa Valley in 2020. 

After moving to the Bonnechere Valley, Laurel started getting out and meeting people and, with a group of likeminded people, pulled together the Bonnechere Valley Inspired tour which took place the first weekend in August. With a slogan of ‘Intrigue, Inspire, Ignite,’ the tour is focused on fostering creativity and community mindedness in both visitors and creators. 

“When we first got together we knew we wanted to do something more than just a studio tour that created a financial opportunity for creators…we knew we wanted to have a greater impact on our community,” said Laurel. 

In their inaugural event, the tour featured 17 stops and over 30 participants, and included a farm-to-fork dinner that naturally touched on the issues of sustainability. In October 2023, the group of eight board members decided the organization should take the 2030 Sustainability Pledge, which naturally led to thinking more about sustainability, and how to get there.

“The pledge created a guideline for what to do if we wanted to be sustainable,” said Laurel. “I think sustainability makes you think differently. Every time you do something you ask yourself, how does this make it better for the community? Writing out the action plan gave us the framework for that,” said Laurel.

The Pledge led the group to create a Sustainability Action Plan, a tool to help the organization outline how they would pursue sustainability in real time, rather than just on paper. The Action Plan outlined three sustainable pillars that impacted their organization: social and economic, natural and cultural, and environmental, along with the action items they could choose to pursue to support these pillars.

“You have to wrap your head around this whole concept which is so different when it comes to sustainable tourism,” said Laurel. “Every year we will revamp the action plan, but it’s a starting point right now…we just started this tour a year ago, and we’ve come a long way in a year. Sustainability will keep us busy for the next few years.”