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Pádraic Gilligan, Chief Marketing Officer, SITE & Managing Partner, SoolNua

Golden Moments in Nova Scotia

Great travel experiences have golden moments during which something triggers a change of consciousness, and, almost without prior warning, you’re transported to another realm, beyond the physical limitations of time and space that tether us to the here and now.

On this trip to Nova Scotia that moment occurred when the sails on the Tall Ship Silvia were hoisted and the raw power of the wind led us home, back to the harbour from which we had departed 2 hours previously.

You could feel the surge and, in the blink of an eye, you were part of an historical continuum, intimately connected with men and women through the centuries who had experienced that same natural surge, as the wind caught their sail, albeit under different circumstances.

The Tall Ship Silvia

And then, of course, in the deep recesses of your mind, the soundtrack starts: Christopher Cross’s inimitable voice mixed with The Beach Boys “Sloop John B” …

I was in Halifax, Nova Scotia for Incentive Canada, Destination Canada’s annual initiative that provides a deep dive into the country’s considerable inventory of incentive travel experiences. For many participants, it was a first time encounter with Atlantic Canada and, based on the star quality and uniqueness of what we experienced, it won’t be the last.

Just Halifax and me

WestJet flies direct from Dublin to Halifax three times per week but to avail of the blissful convenience of a direct connection I had to arrive in advance of the main arrivals. This allowed me encounter the destination on its own un-filtered terms, without the comforting benefits of a mediator or guide to shape and direct the experience. It was just Halifax and me.

My ride to the Westin Nova Scotian took about 30 mins from Halifax International but, thanks to a garrulous driver with strong opinions, was highly informative, giving me a real sense of a rapidly evolving city, intimately connected to, and deeply proud of, its rich Maritime past, while responding to a massive growth surge, making it Canada’s fastest growing city – with the attendant cost increases, particularly in housing.

Point Pleasant Park

The city sits on the west bank of the world’s 2nd largest deep sea harbour (Sydney is the first, BTW). The harbour zone is part marina / part busy boardwalk with hotels, restaurants and bars landside and all manner of vessel / seacraft waterside. It’s also a working port with one of the biggest container parks I’ve ever seen.

Halifax – Art Town

Downtown Halifax extends westward from the harbour in a steep incline towards the Halifax Citadel, one of many national historic sites around the city. The city boasts no fewer than 6 universities and many of these are located in this downtown area, gifting it that special atmosphere of a university town. I allowed myself to amble aimlessly up and down these streets and, amidst some wonderful period architectural detail, found a plethora of small galleries and art shops.

The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia is currently located across 3 period buildings but will soon move to a new USD$42m purpose built facility close to the harbour area. The gallery has 55 paintings by world renowned folk artist, Maud Lewis as a well as the faithfully re-constructed house in which she lived and worked with her husband Everett. Other notable exhibits include Miss Chief’s Wet Dream, a massive allegorical piece by First Nation’s artist, Kent Monkman.

Art in Halifax

To combat the encroaching jetlag, I set off on a late afternoon run and stumbled serendipitously across Point Pleasant Park, a magnificent headland on the west side of the harbour, full of historical monuments, wild greenery and stunning ocean views. There aren’t too many cities in the world where, within a mere 1.5km of a bustling downtown, you can be so totally enveloped by such verdant stillness and beauty.

Halifax Stories

Restorative morning freshness and bright sunshine accompanied me next morning as I ran along the board walk, my run punctuated by frequent pauses to read the great stories about Halifax told so conveniently on monuments, art pieces and display boards along the way. I read about hometown hero, Monica Parsons (1901 – 1976) who helped the Dutch resistance rescue Allied airmen during WW2 and was incarcerated by the Nazis for 4 years before her escape. I also read about Benjamin Bridge and his wine growing project that focuses on sustainable and responsible growing, aligning his winemaking with the unique and precise maritime growing conditions. Later, at the superlative Fox Harb’r Resort, I got to taste Nova 7, a signature production – it’s stunning!

Monica Parson – Local heroine

Halifax Museum of Immigration

Pier 21 in Halifax served as the equivalent of Ellis island (New York) from 1928 until 1971 and today is the Canadian Museum of Immigration with two permanent exhibitions, one telling the specific story of Pier 21, the other covering 400 years of immigration history in Canada. The Canadian Immigration Story starts with a massive interactive screen the plots the patterns of immigration from various world geographies against the time or epoch but, strangely, despite the fact that almost 15% of ALL Canadians have Irish ancestry (that rises to just shy of a quarter in Nova Scotia), Ireland doesn’t merit a mention on the map at all!

My disappointment at the inexplicable absence of Ireland from The Canadian Immigration Story, however, was compensated for at Pier 21 by an outstanding temporary exhibition of astonishing portraits shot by the Yousuf Karsh over his long and fruitful life. Getting up close and personal with that intriguing portrait of Winston Churchill and the fascinating story behind it was an immense privilege.

Portraits by Yousuf Karsh

Turning the moments golden

The Incentive Canada event finally kicked off with a genial drinks party hosted by the debonair and gracious, Glenn Bowie, GM at the Westin Nova Scotia. Glenn knows our industry well and having hosted the Halifax Security Forum at the hotel for many years, knows how hotels and meeting planners can collaborate to co-create great events.

From there we took the short walk to the harbour, boarded the Tall Ship Silvia and enjoyed a great opening party with live music provided by Gordon Tucker whose repertoire extended from “Farewell to Nova Scotia” to “Rock around the Clock”.

On the return journey the sails were hoisted and we glided back to the harbour just as the sun was setting in the west …

Pádraic Gilligan is Chief Marketing Officer at SITE and Managing Partner at SoolNua.


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