Sandy Casselman
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

MORRISBURG – South Dundas Chamber of Commerce president Cindy Peters congratulated the municipality’s businesses for adapting and surviving despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s been quite a year personally, professionally, business-wise for everybody,” Peters said. “Kudos to everybody in business. You’ve had to adapt promptly. I’m really proud of the people in South Dundas and the community for supporting them. Congratulations to all of you for keeping going and making it work and thank you to the community for supporting everybody.”

Once again, the Chambers’ annual general meeting (AGM) was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Roughly 20 people attended the April 14 meeting, including United Counties of Stormont, Dundas, and Glengarry’s warden Frank Prevost, Stormont, Dundas and South Glengarry MPP Jim McDonell, Municipality of South Dundas Coun. Archie Mellan, and South Dundas’ economic development officer, Rob Hunter.

Peters highlighted the “great working relationship with all government levels,” noting that chamber manager Geraldine Fitzsimmons has “made lots of partnerships over the years to help businesses in the community.”

The South Dundas business group has roughly 112 members of which eight are brand new to the chamber, Peters said. She also noted that the $100 annual membership fee can be paid in installments for those who require that option. Peters acknowledged the outgoing board of directors’ members as well as those joining the team for 2021.

The new board took effect immediately following the April 14 meeting. While Cindy Peters (president), Tracy McMillan (secretary), and Stepheny Rocks (treasurer) will be continuing, Tracey Veinotte, Julianne Swindells, Dale Charbot, Joanne Ouellette, and Monika St. Louis are leaving their positions on the chamber’s board of directors. Joining Peters, McMillan and Rocks for the 2021 year are Marilyne Kelly, Kathy Moger, Swapan Randhawa, Jim Cooper, Steve Gergis, and Barry Keicks. 

Peters said there is room on the board for more directors, as the minimum is eight and the maximum is 12, leaving three spaces available, including an open spot for someone interested in becoming the chamber’s vice president. Those interested in joining the board are encouraged to contact Fitzsimmons (geraldine@southdundaschamber.ca).

The financial report was created and delivered by Fitzsimmons and Rocks. It was noted that although 2020 was a lower income year due to the pandemic, this year is progressing much better despite the COVID-19 challenges.

The group is working on a virtual trade show, which Fitzsimmons said she hopes to announce dates and times for this week. Whether virtual or in-person depending on the pandemic guidelines, there will be more networking events this year. A new business membership directory is currently being compiled. Updates are being made to the chamber’s website to modernize it and make it more user friendly. In addition, the group is working on a member-to-member discount project whereby members could receive discounts or perks when they purchase products or services from other members. Fitzsimmons noted the ongoing benefits of being part of the Ontario and Canadian Chambers of Commerce, as well.

The AGM’s keynote speaker was Ky-Lee Amanda Hanson, owner of Iroquois’ Oneida Grand, formerly the Iroquois United Church. Hanson said the purchase documents were signed three days before the pandemic happened last year, leaving the new owner to quickly change plans and adapt to the new circumstances.

“We decided to focus more on kitchen and catering aspects,” she said, noting that she and her partners have been busy renovating. So far, she said, roughly 25 to 30 per cent of the building has been renovated. She has hired a Red Seal chef from British Columbia, and they have been developing dishes, including items that are gluten-free and dairy-free to accommodate those with dietary restrictions.

The kitchen recently passed inspection. Hanson said they will be piloting the food for two weeks with friends and family before opening to the public for takeout in just a couple of weeks. She also talked about the many other plans they have for the building in the coming months and years, including the potential for a ballroom, event room, market fairs, classic car drive-in events, and possibly a boutique hotel.

“It’s stunning, the colours are beautiful, they’ve honoured the history of the building. It’s absolutely amazing,” Peters said, noting that she and Fitzsimmons were able to tour the Oneida Grand facility and meet the new chef. “I can’t wait to get in there for some food.”

Following Hanson’s presentation, viewers were reminded of the many supports from the local, provincial, and federal Chambers of Commerce, as well as the municipality’s economic development department. MPP McDonell invited viewers to check out the new provincial government programs offering COVID-19 supports for businesses.

“It takes everyone working together to help our businesses as much as we can to hopefully weather the storm and get back to normal,” Mellan said, noting that businesses are “the heartbeat of South Dundas.”

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