Tag Archives: First Impressions program

First impressions report — room for improvement

Last week, we reported on the positive first impressions of Unity as noted by visitors from Maple Creek when they spent a day in our town late last summer. As stated last week, along with the positives, our guests also gave us some constructive criticism when they completed their First Impressions surveys forms, as provided by the Saskatchewan Economic Development Association’s First Impressions program.

A frequently mentioned theme in the comments was the lack of signage and not knowing how to get to the downtown or where it was. As luck would have it, the Maple Creek people were in Unity Aug. 26; the new “ShopportUNITY” signs pointing the way to downtown were installed shortly afterwards, to be followed in short order by the directional signs.


Both sets of signs and the large “OpportUNITY in Unity” signs were a joint project of the Town of Unity and the Unity and District Chamber of Commerce. The chamber is a volunteer organization of local businesses and in total contributed $8,000 for the bright, up-to-date signage.

Along with multiple comments on the lack of signs generally, the visitors also noted that there was “no sign on the rink.”

Once the First Impressions participants found the Unity downtown area, despite the then-lack of signage, they were impressed with the variety of shopping available, but noted “Needed to be more garbage cans, seating and floral displays/greenery in the downtown core.”

In general window displays were found to be lacking and individual signage by stores and businesses also came in for some criticism. Specific comments included: “signs on business downtown were hard to read;” storefronts were generally ‘blah;’” “saw only one window display, and only the bottom 15 (inches) as all stores had their blinds down;” and “majority of businesses did not seem to have window displays.”

To sum up the impression given by Unity’s downtown area, it was clean and serviceable but lacked some oomph; although the murals did receive favourable comments.

Perceptions of service were mostly favourable but with a few commenting on being kept waiting or sales staff seeming uninterested in answering questions. Perhaps a reminder to business owners to remind employees of the importance of customer service?

Another issue noted was inconsistency of business hours, with the suggestion being made that all, or at least most, businesses should be open the same days and hours so both residents and visitors can plan accordingly.

Another spot in Unity which received mixed reviews was Memorial Park. Positives were the paved pathways, green space and the cenotaph itself, drawing the comment, “The cenotaph is extraordinary! Beautiful sculpture of a WWI soldier at the top.”

Cenotaph, Unity, Saskatchewan

While the setting for the memorial was described as “beautiful, peaceful and moving,” the flower and shuddery beds around the cenotaph were described as “overgrown” by more than one commentator. Someone added the park seems to be “under-utilized.” More than one person suggested benches and/or picnic tables might improve Memorial Park, both in appeal and use. The “gorgeous mature trees” were appreciated but “some of them require pruning.”

The Unity and District Heritage Museum and grounds received much attention and many comments. A common theme in articles in the Unity Wilkie Press-Herald over the past couple of years has been a request for more volunteers to help at the museum. Please keep the need for additional volunteers in mind as you read the following comments.

People checking out the Highway 21 north entrance to town commented, “the grass and weeds growing up among the machinery” gave the impression of an industrial compound rather than an enclosure for an outdoor museum. “Removing the weeds would have made it more obvious that the machinery were artifacts.”

Also described as “a currently under-utilized community asset,” it was suggested “Even just enhancing the basic visitor experience with interpretive panels (and/or) a self-guided walking touring booklet … would make the visitor experience more compelling and memorable.”

Other suggestions in general made by the First Impressions out-of-town participants included walking path maps; partnering with industrial businesses such as Sifto Salt to create a regular tour schedule to attract tourists; offering tours at KC Rescue; restoring downtown buildings to take their heritage character into account; expanding upon the murals, “possibly paired with a street chalk festival;” listing dates and events on signage at the rodeo grounds; educating front-line sales staff at downtown businesses on “what there is to do in Unity;” and developing more cultural activity.

In their introduction to the report, the Maple Creek team reminded Unity readers, “The comments in this report are … in no way meant to be critical. The team greatly enjoyed the visit to Unity and found it to be a lovely community. It is our sincere hope that you find some of our comments and first impressions of some value.”

Next week – what Unity First Impressions participants learned on their trip to Maple Creek.

A long weekend and a new paper

Wishing all our readers and subscribers, in print and online, a very Happy Family Day weekend! The February 16th Unity Wilkie Press-Herald will be available Tuesday, February 17. In its pages you can expect to learn:

  • which UCHS team has won a provincial award for sportsmanship;
  • what First Impressions visitors to Maple Creek, SK,  brought back with them as ideas for Unity to try;
  • about a “school of rock” in Luseland; and
  • who the winners were in the Denzil men’s bonspiel.

And of course more, including a thought-provoking piece on vaccinations, the RCMP report, hockey reports, a Royal Purple report and an article on an unusual sport being pursued by a Unity SK teen.

Below – painted windows soften the appearance of empty stores in Maple Creek’s downtown.

main street, maple creek SK


Positive first impressions of Unity

What do visitors think of Unity, Saskatchewan? What’s the first impression our town makes on those just passing through or popping in for a quick visit? Are there things about our community — positive or negative — a traveller or guest notices that we have become so used to seeing, it’s no longer on our radar?

Answers to those questions were sought in August, 2014, when the Town of Unity and the Unity and District Chamber of Commerce took part in the Saskatchewan Economic Development Association’s “First Impressions” program. “Volunteers from two somewhat similar communities agree to do unannounced exchange visits and then report on their findings. Participants become ‘secret shoppers’ for the day to discover what they can about their sister city,” explains SEDA’s website.

Under the guidance of Carey Baker, economic development officer for the Town of Unity, Unity and Maple Creek were partnered up and one sunny day towards the end of August, eight individuals from the Town of Maple Creek descended unannounced upon the Town of Unity.

A comprehensive written report on their “first impressions” has now been received from the Maple Creek visitors. In this first of a three-part series on the First Impressions program, we will look at what these visitors saw as strengths and positives about Unity.

For the most part, the First Impressions participants were impressed with how clean and tidy our town is, along with the green space we have.

Some comments along this line included: “lots of green space & wide streets;” “town was very neat and tidy — streets, houses, yards;” “drove every street, only two residential lots were unkempt;” “despite being overwhelmingly the first thing one experiences upon arrival in Unity, the industrial areas and facilities are remarkably well maintained and landscaped;” “residential parks are peaceful & well maintained;” and “Parkview Place seniors’ housing impressed me in a positive way because of its beautiful grounds which includes benches, flowers, vegetable garden, & fruit trees.” Although school was not yet back in session, it was noted the grass was mowed in all the school playgrounds.

Of course the regional park with our ball diamonds was also referenced. One person said, “I was blown away by the ball diamond complex. It is vast and elaborate with amazing infrastructure from bleachers to scoreboards & announcer’s booths, to concession stands. The quality of everything was exquisite. Given the scale and immaculate condition of the baseball diamond complex, it appears as though Unity takes its baseball very, very seriously.”

Town of Unity ball diamonds

Another site which garnered a very favourable reaction was Pleasant View Cemetery. “The cemetery was spectacular! The setting amidst the wheat fields, the metal gateway arch, the landscaping design, the perimeter spruce rows, and the grooming. Easily the most beautiful, best landscaped, and most amazing cemetery I have seen.”

Pleasant View Cemetery

Along with the praise for the cleanliness of the town and the green space, our downtown murals were enjoyed by the visitors. One person said, “The murals made the downtown very striking, especially those on the fronts of buildings like the Funeral Home.”

In the report summary, four items were listed as the most outstanding feature of our community: community pride, murals and green space, the cemetery and the baseball diamonds.

Along with those things, positive feedback was received about residents’ access to health care. It was noted Unity has a resident dentist, optometrist, chiropractor, massage therapists, doctors and “seniors’ housing for all levels of care.”

The availability of other professional services in town such as banks, credit union, accountants, lawyers and financial planners was also commented on.

Other highlights mentioned in the evaluation by the volunteer visitors were the dog park, KC Rescue — “what a fantastic undertaking for a community of this size” — the “OpportUNITY” slogan and signage, the Courtesy Car and the cenotaph — “extraordinary!”

Cenotaph, Unity, Saskatchewan

Businesses of note included Country Pantry, Found Treasures, Wildeman’s Sports Excellence, Chase Pilates and “the crystal store,” most of which were referenced in several parts of the report including in answers to questions such as “what … would bring you back?”

Another noteworthy business was Maljan’s Shoe Repair. “The cobbler’s shop on Main Street was like stepping back in time. What a great business to still have operating within the community!”

The North American Lumber store building was a highlight: “Loved the lumber yard! What an incredible example of that era of lumber yard architecture with the central hardware shop and the two drive-through lumber sheds on either side … Modern tin aside, the building is a gem.”

Prior to the visit, the Maple Creek people had checked out the town and other websites. The town website received a number of favourable comment, including specific mention of the business directory and of the website in general being “easy to use.”

One person’s wrap-up comment about Unity was “It was different than I expected. I had expected it to look much  more tired and rundown, and it was crisp and clean.”

Perhaps these fresh eyes looking at our town will remind us all to stop and consider ho much our community has to offer both to residents and to visitors. That being said, no town is perfect, of course, and Unity is no exception, according to our “secret shopper” visitors. Stay tuned – next week we will post a summary of their suggestions for improvement.