MacDonald looks back on 30 yrs with the municipality

October 26, 2022

Playing a part in helping Inverness County communities reach their true potential is the legacy left by Donna MacDonald as she looks back on 30 years working with the Municipality.

MacDonald retired this summer as director of Tourism and Culture. She says being able to help volunteer organizations chart the course for their communities and seeing the creation of a tourism plan that would increase visitation to Inverness County have been two of the most fulfilling parts of her three decades.

MacDonald was hired full time in 1992 to work alongside John Cotton, then director of recreation with the municipality. At that point Cotton had been working with community leaders and supporting community growth for over 12 years including historical societies, service groups, arenas, community halls, schools and minor hockey and ball programs.

She points to the Inverness County Trails Federation as a prime example of the many hard-working organizations in the county.

“It is made up of volunteer trail organizations who have been building and maintaining trails, securing funding and partnerships,” she notes, “and who in the late 1990s were instrumental in the transformation of the abandoned rail line into Inverness County’s section of the national Trans Canada Trail, known today as the Celtic Shores Coastal Trail.”

“The trail has been one of Tourism Nova Scotia’s Top 10 cycling destination trails for several years now,” MacDonald adds. “Inverness County is fortunate to have volunteer trail organizations in communities across the county, including Whycocomagh, Lake Ainslie, Mabou and Cheticamp.”

She says in 2005 Cotton encouraged the creation of development organizations throughout the Municipality and, with Council, created funding support in the form of seed funding for those organizations.

“What (Cotton) encouraged them to do was to create a development association in their area, so basically, if there was a major project in that area, there would be a lead development group that would spearhead it,” MacDonald explains. “So, there were 16 development associations created back then.”

Many are still in place today and have worked with Municipal staff on many initiatives such as beautification, as well as façade and signage programs.

MacDonald also holds up the county’s five cultural centres as another example of what can be achieved by communities when they have proper support. They include the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre in Judique, Strathspey Place in Mabou, the Inverness County Centre for the Arts in Inverness, the Centre de la Mi-Careme in Grand Etang, and Place des arts Père-Anselme-Chiasson in Cheticamp.

“We have five cultural centres in Inverness County that I’ve seen grow over my years,” she says. “I think that is remarkable for a rural municipality. Unfortunately, with COVID and the state of everything, there have been struggles. But to see them develop and standing on their own, and be resilient, it’s pretty incredible.”

When MacDonald began her career with the County, the work of the Recreation Department was broken into various responsibilities, including recreation programming, literacy, adult education, and culture. Community development and tourism would soon be added to that list.

“We often joked that anything that wasn’t water and sewer kind of fell under recreation at the time,” she recalls. “In the early ’90s, the province was looking to municipalities and other agencies to help with tourism promotion.”

At that time, the Cape Breton Tourist Association was the marketing agency for Cape Breton Island with the name eventually changing to Destination Cape Breton Association (DCBA). In 2010, Mary Tulle was hired as Chief Executive Officer and under her guidance and expertise the Municipality began to look seriously at developing a tourism plan for Inverness County, says MacDonald, who was named Recreation/Tourism Director when Cotton retired in 2007.

“It wasn’t until I started working with Mary Tulle and her staff at Destination Cape Breton that my eyes were really opened to the possibilities of expanding tourism opportunities in Inverness County,” she adds. “Under her leadership, she encouraged municipalities and the tourism industry to work collaboratively. The partnership with DCBA remains strong, now under Terry Smith’s leadership as CEO.”

With the scope of both recreation and tourism growing, the decision was made in 2019 to split the departments, and MacDonald became the Municipality’s Director of Tourism and Culture.

She credits Cotton with helping to shape how she approached her responsibilities over the years. “His vision and approach were always grassroots focused, it was always community, community organizations, and the volunteers.”

In the early years, she says, others who helped her along the way included Mary Anne Ducharme, former editor of The Participaper, Jim St. Clair, teacher and noted historian, who was also a regular contributor to the municipal publication, and Donna MacDonell-Doiron, with whom she worked for many years.

MacDonald says she also gained invaluable insight and experience from working with neighboring municipalities in Victoria County, Richmond County and the Town of Port Hawkesbury and serving on Destination Cape Breton Association’s board of directors, the Cabot Trail Working Group and the Celtic Heart of North America, through partnerships and interactions, fellow board members and committee members.

“Since becoming Director in 2008 I have to mention those who supported me along the way including former CAOs Kate Beaton, Joe O’Connor and the Municipal Council of the day. Anna Lee MacEachern was our Recreation Program Coordinator for 19 years before she retired in 2018. She was my biggest supporter and was really the strength of the recreation portion of the department.”

“Margie Beaton was our dedicated Administrative Assistant until 2018 and Marie Aucoin, editor for The Participaper, was part of the team until her retirement in 2020. Long time literacy instructor Shirley Miller left her position this year to enjoy full retirement and Jesslyn Timmons is our Literacy Coordinator and Instructor. There have been a lot of transitions made over the last number of years. I have to say, though, the hardest part was saying goodbye to my staff and coworkers at the ‘Courthouse.’

“In recent years, tourism coordinator Amey Beaton and administrative assistant Lisa Organ were my anchors. I was so lucky to have all of these strong women on my team. They did much of the leg work and heavy lifting and always made me look good. I miss them all very much.”