Mark Clairmont |

MUSKOKA LAKES The pandemic pivot is paying off big-time for local chambers of commerce and their members who are coming out of COVID with renewed hope and a big thumbs up.

Tuesday at the Ontario Chambers of Commerce’s virtual AGM and convention the Muskoka Lakes Chamber of Commerce was recognized for helping its business cope with COVID and turn commerce around.

They received the new ‘Power of the Pivot Award’ for small- to medium-sized chambers.

“I want to share this award with all chambers in Muskoka,” said director Norah Fountain in accepting the award.

“We all pivoted. We all are working so hard and collaboratively, together.

“Especially, I want to thank Sandy Lockhart of Gravenhurst Chamber for her support.”

She said in a release: “Our Chamber was selected out of 135 chambers and boards of trade across Ontario and was selected for the number of ways we pivoted.”

Cambridge and the Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chambers won the large chamber award for their smashingly successful Rapid Antigen Testing pilot program.

Traditionally, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) annually celebrates the extraordinary efforts of its members at its AGM (which was held in Rosseau two yeas ago).

“To say it has been one heck of a year is an understatement,” they said the release.

The award is given to a chamber that has embraced the pressures and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, quickly modifying existing services and/or introducing exceptional new programming or services to meet member needs during a most challenging time.  While almost every chamber has adapted to some degree, they were looking to recognize a chamber that has gone well beyond “the expected.”

The Muskoka Lakes chamber’s highlights began with a Muskoka Emergency Response Fund, which took 14 weeks of lobbying all levels of government to get in place.

Said Fountain: “We were worried that businesses that had been flooded out in spring 2019 would find themselves ineligible for support (as it appeared really early that governments would compare spring 2020 revenues to what would be higher Spring 2019 revenues in other parts of the province).

“I have to thank Bracebridge Chamber for jumping on board with us right away (and the other Muskoka chambers followed suit shortly afterward) and we couldn’t have done it without the support of Muskoka Futures who ended up growing the fund to $5.5million.”

She said the second way the chamber pivoted was by going beyond the typical ‘Support Local’ initiatives.

New efforts included a “tangible way” for people to shop local from anywhere with their multi-vendor online marketplace:, which has 20 vendors on now and 20 more ready to get onboard.

“And we’ll keep building,” said Fountain.

She said it was a huge undertaking to get started while thanking the Township of Muskoka Lakes and FedNor for helping support build costs.

Not only did member businesses pivot, but so did the chamber itself.

“We pivoted ourselves — taking everything virtual, instantly, from our AGM to Business After Hours functions, trivia nights, workshops and endless webinars about how to access COVID resources and supports to even some hybrid in person/virtual ‘re-opening’ ribbon cuttings, such as when Sherwood Inn started welcoming guests after the first wave.”

“It’s been a whirlwind, exhausting year. Our work was noticed though,” said Fountain.

“We had 49 new members join us in 2020 — so we are now a small ‘medium sized chamber.’”

Norah Fountain said, while accepting the ‘Power of the Pivot Award’ on line that all Muskoka chambers of commerce can share in this “incredible award.”


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