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Paris Of The Prairies?

One Saskatchewan community has its heart set on attracting tourists to its park, golf course, restaurants and shops. And it’s using the Eiffel Tower to do it.

It all started in the middle of a Montmartre wheat field with a farmer on a tractor who had hours to think of ideas for his town.

Local farmer Lloyd Fink came up with the concept of Montmartre being “Paris of the Prairies” several years ago, raising the idea at a Montmartre Economic Development Committee (EDC) meeting.

With the village having been settled by immigrants from a suburb of Paris, France named “Montmartre,” Fink thought the idea of “Paris of the Prairies” would be a fitting slogan. The idea took some time to germinate, and has since been adopted as Montmartre’s beautification theme.

Regina businessman and former Montmartre resident Mallory Englot did his part to bring the Paris theme to life by creating, building and donating a 28-foot-high replica of the Eiffel Tower.

The 2,400-pound steel tower, which is 11×11 feet square at its base, was installed at the end of Montmartre’s Main Street in June, 2009. The Montmartre version of the Eiffel Tower glows at night and can be seen for miles.

“This is a dream come true,” said village councillor, Patsy Fisher. “This tower is worth tens of thousands of dollars and the town could never have afforded to buy it. A gift has been given to the entire community and that gift is one of dreaming big and building our town.”

While the signature Eiffel Tower is located on Montmartre’s Main Street, several smaller towers are popping up around the community. Local businessman Cory Chittenden has purchased an eight-foot-high version and has it lit and displayed in front of his Chitt-tronics business on Highway No. 48. Three-foot-high replicas are also appearing around town, one at JoJoBeads artisan studio and one at the Village of Montmartre office.

The Eiffel Tower project has become a regional affair, with many area businesses pitching in to fund the welding, installation, cementing and painting of the $40,000 tower.

“We live in such an amazingly supportive and giving area,” said Fisher. “It’s just mind blowing to think one little idea has brought people and communities together and has shown that anything really is possible.”

Montmartre’s Eiffel Tower has not only captured the attention of local residents, but the project caught the eyes, and ears, of the country’s media, being featured on the front page of Toronto’s Globe and Mail and making it on to CBC Radio’s national “As it Happens” show.

Travellers from across the country were suddenly taking the 30-minute detour off the Trans-Canada Highway to get a look at what the volunteer efforts of Montmartre’s dedicated citizens had produced.

“In the summer, people were here every day taking pictures at that tower,” says Cory Sebastian, owner of Montmartre’s Trackside Inn. “We even had one couple who ended up looking at a house here because of it.”

Tourism has been the focus of the town for several years, with the Kemoca Regional Park being the cornerstone for the community’s “green” tourism development plan. The expansive park, which features an outdoor swimming pool, 20-site full-service campground, 1.3-km walking trail, volleyball courts and a frisbee golf course, underwent $110,000 in environmental renovations in 2009. The entire energy system at the regional park is now solar, with new light-capturing panels providing all of the power for heating the Kemoca Park Swimming Pool and operating the park facilities.

Other affordable and environmental attractions include the volunteer-operated sand-green golf course that has maintained its incredibly reasonable rate of $5 per day for decades. And the community’s monthly farmers’ market (second Saturday morning of the month) has steadily grown since its inception seven years ago.

The town’s tourism-serving businesses, complete with two restaurants, a fashion-forward boutique and European-style bistro, an artisan studio housing a glass-jewelry maker and purse designers and a highway-side ice-cream stand with homemade fries, say the Eiffel Tower is boosting their sales.

“We’ve had 15 to 20 people a week coming to town just to see the tower and of course as a result they’re touring the rest of the community and stopping by our business and others,” says Marie Anne Fournier, owner of Sisters’ Boutique & Bistro.

With the community experiencing such overnight tourism success, there is a sense of faith in the oft-used phrase, “build it and they will come.” A fully landscaped park will be built surrounding the Eiffel Tower thanks to the thousands of dollars that local citizens have donated. And the next big attraction to be created in the town is a Folk Festival on July 16 to 18, 2010 at the town’s regional park, complete with the Eiffel Tower as its backdrop and Saskatchewan talent as its main feature.

To see Montmartre’s Eiffel Tower, travel one hour east of Regina on Highway No. 48; or travel 30 minutes south of Wolseley, Sask. (off of Highway No. 1). Visit http://www.montmartre-sk.comfor more information.

Christalee Froese writes from Montmartre, Saskatchewan

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Christalee Froese writes from Montmartre, Sask.

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