By Rachel Naud
Atlantic Canada is a traveler’s dream. It is an area renowned for its history, culture and adventure. Visitors are enticed by its pristine shorelines, majestic lighthouses, succulent seafood and charming hospitality. But don’t think you have to be on vacation to experience the wonder that is Atlantic Canada. It is also one of the country’s best destinations to host annual meetings and events.
Atlantic Canada, situated on the country’s most eastern shores, consists of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador. Although it may seem a world away from some of the nation’s most prominent business hubs, the region is accessible by air, sea and land. However, most business delegates fly into the Halifax Stanfield International Airport and continue their journey from there.
“Halifax Standfield International Airport is a modern facility that has recently completed a major expansion that is easily able to handle current traffic demands as well as accommodate forecasted growth in air traffic service over the seven-to-10-year planning horizon,” says Jerry Staples, vice-president of marketing and business development for the Halifax International Airport Authority (HIAA).
The full-service airport offers such amenities as six on-site car rental agencies, food services including fast-food outlets, snack bars and coffee shops such as Tim Hortons and Starbucks. It also offers a full-service restaurant where travellers can sit and enjoy a hot meal in between flights.
If delegates want to fly to another province in Atlantic Canada, they have a short haul ahead of them. Flight times from Halifax are relatively short with an hour-and-a-half to Newfoundland, 40 minutes to Prince Edward Island and approximately 45 minutes to New Brunswick.
However, delegates who make the executive decision to stay and do business in Halifax will be most happy with their choice.
The Nova Scotia capital offers more than 3,500 hotels rooms, ranging from five-star hotels to quaint inns. Almost one-third of the rooms are conveniently connected by an enclosed pedway to the World Trade and Convention Centre, the city’s biggest meeting area that offers up to 100,000 square feet of flexible meeting and exhibit space.
The convention centre includes more than a dozen rooms, which can accommodate up to 3,000 people for banquets and receptions. The facility is also fully integrated with the 10,000-seat Halifax Metro Centre, a major trade show, exposition, sporting event and entertainment facility.
But for those delegates looking for a more unique work experience, Halifax offers a myriad of options.
“Halifax is a city steeped in history and filled with lovely, unique buildings, exuding character, ready to host groups,” says Deanna Wilmshurst, communications manager for Destination Halifax. “Halifax offers a host of fantastic options to make conventions, meetings or events stand out.”
Groups can step back in time with costumed actors at one of Canada’s most frequently visited national historic sites, the Halifax Citadel. The music and pageantry of the kilted 78th Highlanders will bring history to life where special guests can relive the past as a Soldier for a Day, complete with ceremonial dress, precision drills and the firing of muskets. The courtyard can host tented events for up to 1,500 people. There are also a number of smaller rooms available for dinners, receptions or wine and scotch tastings.
“The skirl of bagpipes, the boom of a cannon and the finery of the kilted animators make this a truly one-of-a-kind meeting experience,” says Wilmshurst.
If you want to make a splash with your delegates, why not take your meeting to the sea? Groups can board a tall ship with Canadian Sailing Expeditions and ply the waters of the Halifax Harbour. The tall ship Silva can accommodate groups of up to 150 for sailings and receptions. Fully catered meals are also available for up to 100 guests in the spacious dining area. After a day of meetings and high-sea adventure, delegates can unwind in the licensed wood-paneled lounge and enjoy live music.
The Cunard Centre, Halfax’s newest meeting venue, is open at Pier 23. The 53,000-square-foot centre is a year-round, multi-purpose facility that can host up to 2,500 people for sit-down banquets and 4,000 delegates for receptions, trade shows, concerts and product launches.
“The facility can be divided for smaller groups,” says Wilmshurst. “The centre will also assist the cruise industry when it services passenger changes through the home porting program.”
If you want to get the group together for some team-building exercises, Halifax is also a great place to be. Refine the palettes of your delegates with a Valley Wine tour. In addition to winery tours, Valley Wine offers weekend retreats and team-building packages for corporations and small groups.
“The weekend retreats are the ultimate package for building a sense of team within a corporation,” says Wilmshurst.
Events can range from an evening of wine and food tastings led by a professional sommelier and wine educator to more intensive team-building weekends. Weekend events are the ultimate in building team unity through a very interactive approach to learning how to analyze wine like a professional and make the ultimate food and wine pairings.
“Teams be warned,” says Wilmshurst. “This weekend requires you to get dirty in the kitchen, drink wine, have fun and by the end of the weekend, work as part of a team to create the ultimate food and wine dining experience for your group.”
Need to burn off the pounds after indulging on all that great food and wine? Get the group together for a walking adventure with Scott Walking Adventures. The company can create custom walking and hiking adventures for your group designed for those who like to walk on beautiful and peaceful trails, who like to talk and laugh and who enjoy the camaraderie of others, taking the time to stop and experience nature along the way.
A plethora of guided or self-guided tours are available including the Explore Four Shores adventure where trekkers discover the white sand and magnificent granite shoreline, curving along Nova Scotia’s South Shore.
Loosen up your delegates with the Historic Halifax Pub Tour. This ideal ice-breaker turns meeting delegates into honourary Nova Scotians. Once the ceremony is complete, the real fun begins. Visitors are escorted by kilted guides and a bagpiper through the streets of Halifax, taking in libations at some of the city’s unique, Olde English-style pubs.
Of course, there are plenty of things for delegates to do during their personal downtime as well. “Delegates can discover a world of ways to fill free time with a myriad of shopping, dining and interesting cultural and historic sites,” says Wilmshurst. “From urban excitement to rural tranquility, there are many wonderful ways to unwind after a hectic day of meetings.”
Shopping in Halifax is supreme as the city is bursting with fabulous and funky shops. Visitors can take a waterfront stroll among the shops at Historic Properties or browse chic boutiques along Barrington Street or Spring Garden Road. Halifax streets and shops offer unique gift ideas. Delegates can bring home some hand-made Nova Scotian pewter or plan an outing to a local clothing designer and order custom-made clothing or vintage fabrics.
Halifax heats up at night with more than 450 eclectic eateries that serve up everything from home-style eats to haute cuisine. “Halifax offers a feast for body and soul,” says Wilmshurst.
Delegates should treat their taste buds to the area’s most renowned fare – seafood – whether it is cedar-planked salmon, Digby scallops or sumptuous seafood chowder. “Most of the dining establishments are within easy walking distance of theatres, nightclubs, hotels and shops making them very accessible for delegates,” says Wilmshurst.
A trip to the Cape
After delegates have enjoyed all that Halifax has to offer, a short hour flight away (or approximately a four-hour drive) is another great delegate destination – Cape Breton Island. Chosen by National Geographic Traveler magazine as the No.2 travel destination in the world, delegates can soak up breathtaking scenery while getting the job done.
Located minutes away from downtown Sydney, the Membertou Trade and Convention Center (MTCC) is a popular venue for delegates to host meetings and events. The MTCC boasts a full range of conference and meeting spaces including individual conference/break-out rooms, an executive boardroom, multi-purpose room, VIP lounge and gourmet catering and banquet services.
State-of-the-art machinery such as its Polycom video conferencing technology, Christie projection systems and portable Smart Carts and wireless Internet capacity allows delegates to do business with whomever they want, wherever they want.
If you want your business to reach great heights, the Keltic Lodge in Ingonish is also a great place to host a meeting. Situated high on a cliff, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Keltic Lodge offers a view like no other as your delegates will be surrounded by the rugged beauty of Cape Breton Highlands National Park, on the world-famous Cabot Trail.
Comfortable meeting and function rooms on its spacious grounds accommodate from 10 to 250 delegates. The Main Lodge, the Inn at Keltic, and rustic cottages offer 105 guest rooms that suit a variety of tastes. In the evenings, delegates are treated to live entertainment in The Highland Sitting Room Lounge.
And recreation is in abundance – and nearby – including golf at Highlands Links, a world-ranked 18-hole Stanley Thompson course, tennis, an outdoor heated pool, spa, fresh and saltwater swimming beaches, Highlands National Park hiking trails, sea kayaking, mountain biking and whale-watching cruises.
For delegates looking for a cultural experience, a popular attraction in Cape Breton includes a tour of the 18th century Fortress of Louisbourg. The largest historical reconstruction in Canada, Louisbourg was built to protect France’s interests in the new world and to serve as the centre of its massive seasonal fishing industry.
Its location near the eastern tip of Cape Breton Island, enabled it to serve not only as the capital of the new colony of Ile Royale but also to act as the first line of defence for France in its 18th century struggle against Great Britain for colonial supremacy in North America.
“You can step back in time, experience life as it was, dine in an 18th century style restaurant, feast on period bread and sing with the minstrels,” says Sandra MacDonald, general manager for Destination Cape Breton Association.
A stop at the Alexander Graham Bell Museum is a must while visiting Cape Breton Island. The National Historic Site consists of 10 hectares of land, overlooking Baddeck Bay, part of the Bras d’Or Lakes and Beinn Bhreagh, Bell’s summer home, where much of his scientific work was conducted. The famed inventor is honored with a museum where delegates can see a unique exhibit complex where models, replicas, photo displays, artifacts, and films describe the fascinating life and work of Bell.
And, of course, no visit to Cape Breton Island is complete without a hike or drive along the Cabot Trail. Explore the world-famous trail that spans 187 miles of scenic coastline. “You can drive through fishing villages with unspoiled beauty and nature or travel through a national park, walk alongside cascading waterfalls or watch the surf of the Atlantic Ocean,” says MacDonald.
If you’re in Cape Breton Island in October, the Celtic Colours International Festival is world-famous. This fall, the award-winning festival celebrates its 11th anniversary with a line-up featuring the finest in Celtic music. Artists from around the world will join many of Cape Breton’s finest singers, players, dancers and tradition bearers in a celebration of North America’s only living Celtic culture.
For nine days, Cape Breton Island is home to a unique celebration of music and culture as the festival presents dozens of concerts all over the island, close to 100 workshops, a visual art series of exhibitions and a nightly Festival Club.
Prince Edward Island
Prince Edward Island may be Canada’s smallest province, but it serves up big meeting opportunities. Known as Atlantic Canada’s “Cradle on the Waves,” PEI is a highlight destination for meeting convention planners across the globe. PEI is known for its world-class golfing, unique landscapes, picture-perfect beaches, picturesque coastal towns and the Land of Anne of Green Gables.
“Great moments make great stories,” says Nancy Beth Guptill, sales and client services with the Summerside Convention Centre and Summerside Economic Development Co-ordinator. “They are the kind of stories that transcend the Monday morning breakfast meeting and the annual company picnic. Prince Edward Island has the capacity to host your convention requirements and the soul to deliver unique experiences.”
For the ultimate story-telling adventure, delegates can share ideas during a seaside social – a wine reception on the beach that can include clam bakes and lobster boils.
“The ocean has always freshened everything, including our outlook, enabling us with unheard-of-ideas and practical ideas to socialize over,” says Guptill. “The sea, you see, is societal in and of itself. It is the ebb and tide of contemplation and the island where inventive thoughts rush to shore and are harvested on every wave.”
Once your mind is rejuvenated, Summerside, centrally located in PEI, is host to many great meeting venues. The new C$38-million state-of-the-art Summerside Convention Centre offers 4,500 square feet of meeting and exhibition space, divisible into three 1,500-square-foot rooms. The centre also features two large arena complexes that can be used for concert, exhibition or trade show space. Summerside Convention services include planning assistance, suppliers and itinerary planning. In addition to the convention centre, the aquatic and fitness facilities feature a competitive and leisure pool, hot tubs, squash courts as well as a full gym facility.
For delegates who want to venture out of the gym and into a fun adventure, the Summerside Convention team also specializes in interesting team-building activities. Meeting planners can learn to play the bagpipes and participate in a Highland Gathering, challenge one another to a group water polo tournament, find Zen in a spa or yoga session or jive with some live entertainment.
After a day of meetings and fun, delegates can rest at any of the 724 guest rooms available in Greater Summerside. Some of the top hotels include Slemon Park Hotel & Conference Centre, Loyalist Lakeview Resort & Convention Centre, Causeway Bay Linkletter Hotel & Convention Centre and Quality Inn. There will be more infrastructure available in 2009 when the town hosts the Canada Games. Two new luxury spa resort/hotels will be added to the works.
Check it out
If meeting planners still aren’t convinced that PEI is the best place for their next meeting or event, the province is helping delegates make their decisions easier as the rule of “try before you buy” applies.
Thanks to a new initiative by the Prince Edward Island Convention Partnership, meeting planners can check out the area before they commit to a meeting in PEI through The Prince Edward Island Convention Partnership’s new “Fam Tour Program, Prince Edward Island – On Your Own Time.” It is the province’s personal invitation for meeting planners to experience the seaside meeting retreat when it suits their schedule. The province will look after airfare, accommodations and activities for qualified meeting planners. Interested delegates must complete a request form and all requests are subject to approval by The PEI Convention Partnership.