If you’re not from Chatham-Kent, Ontario, and you end up in Ridgetown this summer looking a bit lost, you might bust yourself out, well, sort of.
The business improvement association (BIA) in the city nearly 2,800 people call home is bringing back its tourist of the week program, which has gained notoriety: it ran for more than 40 years before disappearing ago about a decade.
Due to the promotion, Ridgetown was often referred to as the “friendliest city in Ontario, so much so that the phrase used to be written on the city’s welcome. The welcome sign now reads: “Agriculture at its best.”
The campaign involved the Ontario Provincial Police before Chatham-Kent merged and brought in a municipal force. Officers from the Ridgetown detail would “stop and arrest” random non-local drivers.
Now, instead, they will be making simulated citizen arrests.
windsor morning8:23arrest of tourists
Jim Brown of the BIA and editor of the Ridgetown Independent News said he’s glad the promotion is back.
“I always missed it … it was a program that we had that nobody else had,” Brown said.
“You know, things get repeated all over the place. And when you can have something where you have your own niche, it’s always nice.”
The tourist of the week program used to be every week in the summer, according to Chatham-Kent Ward 3 Coun. John Wright. However, he added, it will be brought in four times this summer, on a trial basis, to recognize people who come to Ridgetown, spend money and take the time to visit.
“So we just go down the street to find the people, the tourists and we don’t ‘arrest’ them like they used to, we make them the tourist of the week,” Wright said.
“They have a little quote that is read to them and then they bring their awards or prizes.”
Last week marked the first time this summer that a tourist was turned away.
Wright said that after one failed attempt, they finally stumbled upon the ideal out-of-town resident at a women’s clothing store.
“We just found…a car that was from Alberta that we were chasing. They walked into the variety store, but it was an agriculture student [at the University of Guelph’s Ridgetown Campus]. And then we located someone else, in [retail store] Lucky Lady, you’re just wandering around asking people questions.”
The selected visitor, Bonnie Berdan of Glencoe, Ontario, received a gift basket. Glencoe is approximately a 30 minute drive and 28 miles from Ridgetown.
Brown said they will keep a close eye on the license plates.
“If we have to catch someone at a stop sign or stop them in a parking lot or…go shopping…we’ll catch tourists one way or another.”
No police involvement this time
After Chatham-Kent merged in 1998, Brown said, it became “increasingly difficult” to use the police and keep the program together.
“We used to have the OPP right in town.
“We’re doing it without the police this year just because that’s what we have to do,” he said.
The Chatham-Kent Police Service said it was not contacted about taking part in the show’s revival. However, Sgt. Lynette Rosina said the idea of detaining unsuspecting people raises concerns.
“The primary concern lies in the potential confusion and public safety risks associated with simulated traffic stops,” it said in an emailed statement.
“It is crucial to communicate to the public that these activities are part of a community-led initiative, as replicating law enforcement procedures without proper context can lead to misunderstandings and increased anxiety.”
Rosina said she applauds the organizers for their commitment to creating a welcoming community and that partnering with local police services is crucial to upholding public safety and promoting inclusion.