20 Years in the Making

Jolene Kisilevich Announcement, Camping, East of Edmonton, Highway 16, Highway 45, Minburn County, Myrnam, North Saskatchewan River, Outdoor Adventures, Train Excursion, Two Hills County, Vegreville, Water Adventures

— March 2017 —

Kevin, Jolene & Brandon Kisilevich waiting for the Vegreville Country Fair Parade to begin (2001).

It was 1996 and married couple, Kevin and Jolene Kisilevich were on the cusp of starting their own marketing business, The Marketer. Jolene was a graphic designer and Kevin was a marketing graduate. They had the skills to receive their first contract — creating the Vegreville Kinsmen Telephone Directory — but they didn’t have an important piece of equipment. “We had no money back then, so I said to Kevin: “How are we even going to do this project? We don’t even have a computer,” says Jolene.

“And you know how we did it? We rented the program and we rented the computer until we could afford to buy one,” says Kevin with a confident laugh. Determination is a consistent theme for the couple, who have been dedicated to furthering tourism in the eastern part of the province for the last two decades.

In the beginning, the young couple also ran Berryland, a u-pick strawberry farm, while growing grain and raising cattle. One year, more than 10 bus loads of tourists came to the farm. Agri-tourism was starting to gain traction in the province and people were curious to see how their food was being grown.

Jolene and her dad, Victor Didechko with Brandon golfing at the Wainwright Golf Club (2008).

But the Kisilevich’s were interested in being part of tourism in a different way. In 1998, they were planning on developing a travel guide and came across a group getting into tourism. The group was called Kalyna Country, which became the name of the travel guide for many years. Running both the berry farm and the marketing business created a workload that was unsustainable so they had to make a decision. In 2005, the couple solely focused their attention on their growing marketing business, while raising two boys, Brandon and Cody.

In 2012, major changes happened, and the Go East Regional Tourism Organization (Go East RTO) was formed and became the umbrella organization for tourism in the region. Kevin and Jolene developed the brand (Go East of Edmonton), and launched it with the 2013 travel guide issue. The launch was a great success as was the name change. It was called “awesome” by readers and advertisers alike.

Kevin and Jolene look at its production like a way of life rather than just a job; the work requires a large amount of commitment. It means constantly keeping updated with what is happening in the region, promoting events and attractions weekly, travelling to visit each of the places that are featured in the Go East of Edmonton Travel Guide, and using social media on a daily basis including weekends. Every year, Kevin and Jolene have to contact over 50 communities and hundreds of businesses to collect all of the information for the magazine. It takes six months with staff to put this magazine together, and that means a solid month, prior to printing, of Jolene and Kevin working evenings and weekends and plenty of overtime with multiple edits and proofs of each page. In the early years, files could not be sent by email so the couple would drive them in for printing or proofing at the printing press. They have experienced snow falls so intense that they couldn’t leave the farm and temperatures cold enough to freeze their pipes; but they have always delivered the magazine on time for spring. “People ask us why do we work so hard, why don’t we just get a nine to five job? says Jolene. “We are wired differently, it’s like we were meant to do this.”

“To put us in a regular job would be like putting a tiger in a cage,” says Kevin. Clearly, the freedom to be creative, innovative and flexible makes a big difference in what they do.

Jolene and Kevin are also quick to point out that it’s not just them working on the publication — for many years, team members, Wanda Magnan and Eugene Dmytriw, other tourism staff, local photographers, and several family members, have also helped them.

Kevin and Jolene are motivated by the testimonials from readers and advertisers, who compliment the magazine, or say it’s made their business grow. Every year, people call and say the Go East Guide is the best travel guide in Alberta and suggest that the couple make one for West of Edmonton. Kevin chuckles and says, “Thanks, but our hands are full right now.”

Travel has always been the couple’s passion, and they have a long history of travelling in their area. They started travelling close to home shortly after they got married, spending a lot of time camping at area lakes and campgrounds. Over time, they graduated from a tent trailer to an RV trailer and now have their own campsite at Bear Ridge Campground north of Myrnam, along the North Saskatchewan River.

Kevin & Cody boating on the North Saskatchewan River (2016).

In more recent years, the couple have extended their research into the United States – all on road trips. While on their travels, they collect travel guides and have found great ideas south of the border that they have used to promote tourism in eastern Alberta. “We could have a visitor center for Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest since we have gathered so much information. We also look at websites since everything we do is online and there is an online version of our magazine that people can use on their phones,” says Kevin.

The long hours of work do not end when the printing of 70,000 Go East Guides come off the press. That’s when most of the distribution work starts; it takes an entire month to deliver the guides to outlets and businesses in each town, along with the Edmonton Capital Region, and visitor information centres across Alberta. This is done all while juggling multiple projects. Kevin continues to work closely helping with marketing and development projects with Go East Regional Tourism Organization, with Vegreville tourism and with other communities. The relationships built over the years have proven to be a key to their success. Kevin says he’s driven over 300,000 km working, promoting, and supporting regional tourism in the area, wearing out vehicles in the process. As if he wasn’t busy enough, Kevin is also a volunteer board member with ACTA – Alberta Culinary Tourism Alliance – an award winning organization also dedicated to developing and promoting local food and drink in Alberta.

Kevin posing with the Friends of the Battle River Railway (2016).

When Jolene is not updating the Go East of Edmonton website or doing social media, she stays extra busy from fall to spring working on other projects simultaneously, such as the Lac La Biche Travel Guide, the Camrose Travel Guide, the Canadian Birkebeiner Ski Festival program, and the Vegreville Kinsmen Telephone Directory, plus other brochures and event programs. A lot of their work supports non-profit organizations.

Twelve year old Cody, and twenty-year-old Brandon, the Kisilevich’s sons, have grown up knowing that tourism is a huge part of all of their lives. Whenever the family goes on a trip in the area, they know the photos that their parents take, may end up in the guide. Or, if they go with their parents to a museum in the region, or a golf course or any other kind of attraction, they know there will be boxes of magazines in the trunk for distribution.

Over the course of 20 years, Kevin and Jolene have seen improvements and growth in the communities they feature. In recent years, more unique events and attractions have been developed, as well as facilities that really cater to families — spray parks and multi-use recreation centers in particular. Rural restaurants have elevated their menus, focusing on locally grown food.

In a digital age like we are in right now, the real interesting fact is that the printed travel guide is even more popular than ever. People get very excited every year when the new guide is released. It’s the only regional travel guide covering all areas east of Edmonton and for the couple, it’s exciting and motivating to see first-hand the growth they’ve had a hand in promoting.

A Note from Kevin & Jolene: We definitely would like to thank all of our advertisers, communities and contributors for their support over the last 20 years and hope everyone enjoys this special issue. After all, now you know how much positive energy went into producing it for you!

Of special interest, Caroline Barlott who wrote this story, is an award winning freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in several magazines, including Avenue Edmonton, Canadian Geographic, Discover, Reader’s Digest and The Tomato. Caroline was Kevin & Jolene’s very first employee years ago when they ran Berryland u-pick farm. “We love how it has truly come full circle!”