Blessed with stunning natural beauty and a friendliness known around the globe, Atlantic Canada is inviting folks east.
The region is inviting friends and family home and wants meeting planners to think about coming this way, too. Sure, every city has the bricks-and-mortar to accommodate large meetings and conventions. But Atlantic Canada has so much more, starting with the geography and extending to its people, with lots of other great selling points in between.
ST. JOHN, NEWBRUNSWICK
In Saint John, Maritime hospitality and urban sophistication meet.
The country’s first incorporated city (est. in 1785) is rolling out the welcome mat in 2009. Colorful and historic streetscapes show that the port city is proud of its history but development proves the city is also looking ahead with great enthusiasm and optimism.
At the famous Saint John City Market, locals and visitors gather to sample fares of local farmers and see the wares of local craftspeople. As the country’s oldest continuing farmers’ market, the building is as much the draw as the market itself. The roof is built like the inverted hull of a ship and is a symbol of the city’s proud shipbuilding past. Whether it’s to see local artists at work or grab a bite to eat, visitors will experience something that has brought generations of Saint John residents together.
The city’s history is seemingly always on display and for guests who want to leap back into the past, various tours are available. There are three self-guided walking tours featuring gargoyles spitting coins, Victorian-era homes and the gothic-styled Stone Church. There’s Loyalist House, which survived the Great Fire of 1877, and the Old Number 2 Engine House Museum, where one can learn how volunteer brigades fought big fires with hand pumpers.
Guests can hop on a trolley to see the award-winning Trinity Royal Heritage Preservation Area and also a wonderful view of Saint John Harbour at the foot of Canada’s shortest and steepest main street.
Known as the anchor of the Bay of Fundy, Saint John’s history, present and future are linked to the ocean. The Bay is home to some of the world’s highest tides, rising and falling as much as eight and a half metres twice each day. The Reversing Falls gives visitors the best lesson in the power of these famous tides. As the tides rises it forces the Saint John River to reverse its flow, an awe-inspiring sight.
For the active visitors, there’s golf, hiking and biking in the 890-hectare Rockwood Park, the nation’s largest urban park.
When it’s time to get down to business, Saint John is ready to serve.
Saint John has seen a mini boom in available rooms in recent months. With the opening of four hotels recently, the greater Saint John area boasts nearly 1,900 rooms. As well, two of the city’s larger hotels — the Delta Brunswick and Hilton Saint John — are undergoing major refurbishments for a modern look and feel.
Already blessed with its Saint John Trade and Convention Centre, the 10,000-square-foot Cruise Terminal will give meeting organizers another option. Located on the waterfront and within walking distance of the SJTCC, the Cruise Terminal’s Great Hall will have 5,900 square feet for approximately 300 sit-down delegates, while Assembly Hall will have 4,300 square feet for about 400 people at stand-up receptions.
Many of the city’s meeting spaces are linked by a pedway system, the “Inside Connection.” The city’s two major hotels and the convention centre are all within a short walk if the weather is not to one’s liking (but what’s the chance of that?).
Add to the Inside Connection the city market, New Brunswick Museum, Harbour Station arena and plenty of shopping and dining and virtually everything a convention goer might need is covered, literally.
“We have that small-town feel, yet we’re a city with the amenities of a big city,” says Sally Cummings, convention officer with City of Saint John’s tourism department.
“We also have distinctive venues and unique experiences because of our history, and location on the Bay of Fundy. You also get a better bang for your buck here, with room rates generally lower than other destinations of a similar size.”
Getting to the New Brunswick city will be even easier this summer. WestJet is resuming return service to Toronto six days each week, which combined with Air Canada, will offer travelers plenty of options for getting to Saint John.
HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA
Travelling east, either by car, ferry or plane brings visitors to Nova Scotia’s capital city of Halifax. Atlantic Canada’s largest city has a population of 385,500 and enough activities and events to keep a soul busy for months.
Originally founded as a British garrison town, Halifax has maintained much of its colonial charm. In the city’s downtown, century-old buildings that once kept the booty of privateers nudge up against modern glass and steel skyscrapers crammed with 21st century treasures like satellite technology and wireless internet and nothing looks a bit out of place.
Located on the world’s second-largest natural harbor, Halifax and the sea go hand-in-hand. The sailing ships that brought immigrants to the new world are now replaced with giant cruise ships that bring hundreds of thousands of tourists to the city each year.
The region’s largest airport, Halifax Stanfield International Airport, brings many, many more to the province.
“Halifax’s main advantage over other Atlantic Canadian destinations is its great air access and U.S. pre-clearance, which make it easy for people from across North America to travel to Halifax,” says Hélène Moberg, Destination Halifax’s executive director of sales.
For visitors traveling to the United States from Halifax, customs clearance takes place at the Halifax airport, making the return home a hassle-free trip.
Thousands of convention goers also call on Halifax annually. What brings them? Maritime hospitality is surely a prime reason, along with a professional and accommodating attitude.
“Planners choose Halifax because of the friendliness of the local people,” says Moberg. “Halifax is well-known for its warm hospitality.”
Halifax offers a vast range of options for meetings and conventions, from intimate gatherings to affairs for numbers into the thousands. Imagine hosting a reception on a tall ship or holding an event in one of the country’s most visited historic sites, the Halifax Citadel. There’s the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Pier 21 and Canada’s Immigration Museum, where many Canadians can trace their ancestors arrival in the New World, and the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron. Each location offers something a little different — and special — for meeting planners. And there’s still plenty more.
“Planners can host larger events in Halifax than anywhere else in Atlantic Canada,” says Moberg. “The number of restaurants, and the caliber and quality of culinary offerings is unmatched, and as the entertainment capital of Atlantic Canada, the nightlife is lively and entertainment options abound year-round.”
Once the work day is over, it’s time to soak up Halifax’s famous nightlife and try the eateries. But that poses a big problem: how to choose between the scores of choices from practically every type of dining imaginable. Is it the small chef-owned restaurant or the large dining facility that can accommodate hundreds? It doesn’t matter; whatever you choose is sure to tempt every taste bud.
Halifax has an energy and excitement that comes from being the home to six leading universities. The great range of educational options has played a big part in the city developing 12 business and industrial parks and being home to a wide range of research facilities and companies that span all industries.
When the day is over, the city has more than 3,500 hotel rooms in accommodations ranging from top hotels to quaint inns. Nearly one third of these rooms are in the heart of downtown and connected by a pedway system that leads to the World Trade and Convention Centre, the city’s premier meeting facility.
But no matter where you stay, nothing is very far away.
“Planners choose Halifax for meetings and conventions because of the compact, safe and clean downtown core,” explains Moberg.
ST. JOHN’ NEWFOUNDLAND
A ferry trip or flight will take us to our final stop, St. John’s, the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Is it a little out of the way? Yes. Is it worth the effort to get there? Absolutely.
That’s a big reason why Newfoundland and Labrador — and St. John’s specifically — is such a draw for convention goers. It is a part of the country most have not visited before. While it is high on wish lists of places to see in our great land, it’s a place most of us still haven’t visited.
So when a meeting or convention decides on Newfoundland in the summer, for example, attendance numbers shoot up by as much as 15 percent, according to Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism.
Research shows that many delegates coming to conferences in St. John’s come early or stay late to visit the areas outside the city that also makes Newfoundland and Labrador such a special place. For some, a visit to the province is the perfect reason for a family vacation, too.
It’s only been in the last 10 to 15 years that St. John’s has become a big player in the meeting and convention market. Why just recently? The answer why is pretty simple — oil and gas.
People who have not been to Newfoundland and Labrador have the perception of the province based on what they may have seen on television. Their vision is often of small towns and fishing villages.
“They don’t see us as being a driving force economically in the country, which we are now as a result of our oil and our gas,” says Brenda Walsh, a marketing specialist with Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism
That boom has led to lots of growth in St. John’s.
New hotels have been built, while existing hotels have expanded and are making improvements to their facilities to meet demands.
“Now all of those big nationals that would have loved to come but couldn’t come because we didn’t have the infrastructure to support it, we now have that,” says Walsh.
The city’s downtown is bookended by two major hotels — the Delta St. John’s Hotel and Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland, formerly the Fairmount Newfoundland.
In between there are lots more hotel rooms, boutiques and restaurants and, of course, famous George Street, believed to be home to the most pubs and bars per square metre in all of North America.
“All of a sudden, you have an enclave of things that have been built in past 10 to 15 years to support a market that otherwise we could not have done 15 years ago,” says Walsh.
Once in St. John’s, one-of-a-kind experiences await. Rally in the Alley is a popular activity with meeting groups in the provincial capital, Walsh says.
Visitors move between George Street pubs and bars during the evening. One stop might be for dinner, another to learn step-dancing, and at the end of the evening the group gathers in one club reserved just for them.
Or perhaps the ideal excursion is joining a thousand colleagues for a boat tour to watch breaching humpback whales up close off Bay Bulls. Back on land, a giant lobster boil concludes the day.
And all this is just 30 minutes from downtown.
“If you’re in Toronto and you want to do something really creative like that, you have to transfer for an hour and a half or two hours,” says Walsh. “St. John’s allows you to do that within half an hour of the confines of your hotel.”
“Everything is so close and easy to do with large groups here.”
St. John’s has more than 85,000 square feet of meeting space and over 1,000 hotel rooms in the downtown core alone. Groups as large as 2,000 people can experience a city that is glad to have the company. Stand on a street corner with map in hand and it won’t be long before you’re offered directions or maybe even a lift. St. John’s is growing yet has the feel of a small town with all its hospitality that encourages its guests to relax and soak it all in.
Three dynamic cities, world-class facilities and warm hospitality — what more could you ask for?