A group of ‘secret shoppers’ from Foam Lake recently invaded Grenfell, where they secretly spied on the town as part of a Community Exchange program, and last week they came back to town to let Grenfell residents know the first impression they make on outsiders.
In September of 2010, the Foam Lake group posed as visitors thinking of moving to town, but unbeknownst to community members, they were taking notes, taking photographs and evaluating everything they saw.
The trip was part of the First Impressions Community Exchange Program, a structured program that offers communities a fresh perspective on their strengths and weaknesses.
Ruth Gislason and Terry Lynn Bouvier were among the five Foam Lake residents to visit Grenfell in September, and last week they presented their final report at the Grenfell Friendship Centre.
Gislason kicked off the presentation with words of high praise for the community of Grenfell.
“First of all I think Grenfell should be renamed “Gemfell” because you really do have a gem of a town and we really enjoyed our visit,” she said.
As a hockey mom, one thing that stood out for Gislason was the signage on the way to the Grenfell Regional Park rink.
“The rink signs are just awesome - those are a big plus,” she said.
On the day of their visit, some group members stopped by the Grenfell Fire Department and were delighted with what they saw there.
“They were very impressed. The fire chief gave them a great tour and it looks like you’re well taken care of in an emergency,” Gislason said.
The downtown area also made a great impression on the group.
“Everybody was friendly, helpful, answered all of our questions - very welcoming.”
Gislason herself noted Thomlinson’s in particular for the variety of items available, the quaint nature and good food at the bakery, and the floral shop, where she purchased a picture frame that people have been asking her about ever since.
“The variety of the business sector was really appreciated by everybody,” she said.
One thing in particular that really blew the group away was Grenfell’s unique heritage, showcased by the churches, museum, residential buildings and downtown area.
“We were very impressed, to the point of envy, at the heritage you have in your community,” Gislason added.
The group was given a tour of the museum, and they were very impressed by their guide, whom they described as ‘very knowledgeable.’
Some of the other highlights included the well-maintained homes and the warm reception they received at the Grenfell Elementary Community School.
And of course every town has its flaws, which the speakers reluctantly pointed out, such as the lack of signage on the #47 Highway coming in to Grenfell, and the lack of curbing on the streets. They also felt the Grenfell Regional Park rink needed a sign indicating that it was a rink, and felt the town could use a computer repair person, which they couldn’t find advertised.
Some other suggestions the group had were to make up signs leading to the curling rink, construct a tourist attraction near the tourist booth (such as mini-golf) to attract passersby, and to update some of the signs in town.
“We started having to be really picky, because there were so many good things. I didn’t want that to overshadow all the good things that the community has going for it,” Gislason said.
Overall, she says that she and the rest of the Foam Lake visitors were delighted with the Town of Grenfell and will mention to others in the future.
“It just made for a really unique experience, and we would just love it if people could come off Highway #1 and share what you guys have to offer.”
Grenfell Recreation and Economic Development Manager Danean Karlunchuck was surprised with some of the things on the list of things to work on, like the comment about the regional park rink sign.
“I guess that’s because we just know where it is and we think everybody does and you take it for granted,” she said.
She added that some of the other things commented upon have already been fixed, such as the updated GRP building, which has since been painted, and the cluttered lot in town, which has since been tidied.
“A lot of the other things are very simple things that I think would be easy for us to do, and we’ll probably work towards making those changes.”
Of February 15, two representatives from Grenfell will go to Foam Lake and present their own report about their impressions of place. That group, including Karlunchuck, visited Foam Lake in September.
“I thought it was an awesome experience, and you do actually look at your own community differently when you come back,” she said.