Portal brings rural Ontario community together, encourages e-commerce


A rural community’s commitment to increase its visibility, establish a diversified economy, and instill a sense of pride in its 6,000 residents took the form of a web-based and interactive portal.

They call it the Greenstone Community Portal.

The portal, which launched last week, features a community event calendar, tourism trip planner and a list of local businesses. The site also enables visitors to make recreation program and park reservations, and pay taxes and water bills.

The project was pioneered by the Municipality of Greenstone, Geraldton District Hospital, and Geraldton Community Forest Inc., and funded by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture.

The portal was developed by Cambridge-based Concept Interactive Inc. that assists companies in creating mobile and portal tools.

There were various drivers to creating a community portal, says Hal Dremin, president of Toronto-based Connected Insight Inc. who oversaw the 8-month portal implementation.

Engaging youth in the Web, encouraging e-commerce, attracting tourists, luring professionals, and sharing information across the community were just a few of the reasons behind the project, he says.

“The best solution to address these various needs across multiple stakeholder groups was a strong web portal,” says Dremin.

He added that Greenstone’s isolated and interspersed communities made the portal particularly attractive.

Hit hard with forestry industry layoffs, Greenstone residents can also count on the portal as another tool for job hunting in the Internet.

The Web site is based on a distributive content management model that allows local businesses and community organizations to create and manage their individual sites – as opposed to centralizing the process.

It was therefore imperative that the site be designed for users with minimum IT literacy, says Dremin. “Local businesses have very limited exposure to IT in general and there is very little IT support in the area.”

The distributive model provides users with templates that enable them to easily add content – text, graphics, maps, links – in predefined areas, says Jay Lucas, portal administrator with Geraldton Community Forest. He manages the portal – post-implementation – on behalf of the municipality.

To further facilitate and encourage individual content management, Lucas leads portal-specific training sessions and assists businesses one-on-one.

The Confederation College has teamed with the municipality to provide basic computer training to individuals and businesses – for the purposes of job hunting as well as portal usage.

Lucas doesn’t expect the Web site to remain static given that it’s still in its infancy. “The structure and content will evolve as the community takes hold,” he says.

Although the general response to the site has been “fantastic”, Lucas notes that local businesses have been slow to catch on in terms of content creation. However, he anticipates they’ll warm up to the idea once they see others making the first step.

While featuring local businesses and cultural events on the site might pique the interest of tourists and attract professionals, it also serves to raise resident’s moral and instill pride in their community, says Lucas.

The site is also a “one-stop forum” to efficiently connect with local government, by way of online queries. “The focus is on trying to improve municipal services to the community,” he says.

But besides serving as an information resource, the portal holds a deeper significance to residents. “They’re awakening into a new world. The portal brings everyone into the same train of thought and same positive picture of the community.”

And from that, will stem a culture of innovation, says Lucas. Already, there’s mention of conducting surveys and posting forestry and mining research data online, as well as having project teams collaborating and sharing documents.

Michael Power, mayor of Greenstone, also sees the portal as a vehicle for economic growth and innovation.

“By providing workshops and developing training partnerships within the region, our residents will have the opportunity to learn how to use new technology and most importantly, how to leverage the portal to develop new economic growth opportunities for our region,” he said.


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