NS: Winds of fortune sweep Strait area

Nancy King
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The Cape Breton Post

Tall ships deliver economic boost during uncertain time

Port Hawkesbury is expecting the Tall Ships festival to have an economic impact of about $3-4 million. Sail Training International photo.

[PORT HAWKESBURY, NS] — Strait area merchants are hoping a two-day visit by the tall ships will provide a much-needed boost to the area's battered economy.

Despite windy and somewhat wet conditions at times, a steady stream of people went to the Port Hawkesbury waterfront for the first day of the Tall Ships 2012 visit, which continues today. The event comes as residents of the Strait area await word on the fate of the region's largest employer, the former NewPage paper mill, which shut down in September, throwing hundreds of people out of work.

Parker Stone, president of the Strait Area Chamber of Commerce, says it has been a tough summer for the retail sector.

"Hopefully with the tall ships this week we'll get a little boost. The end of the month is usually a good time anyway, so this should hopefully start us on the road to recovery, if we can an announcement in the next few weeks on the pulp mill," he says.

Pacific West Commercial Corp., which is working to reopen the mill, has said if a power-rate arrangement it negotiated with Nova Scotia Power is not approved, it won't proceed with plans to restart operations there. Provincial regulators are currently considering that application.

People have been looking forward to the festival and the people that it will bring into town, Stone says.

"It's a good, impressive showing down on the waterfront there in Port Hawkesbury and hopefully it's going to spin off for all the businesses in town," he says.

Jim Pyke, town director of parks and facilities, says he saw a lot of unfamiliar faces around the waterfront throughout the day.

"We've got a steady stream of people, things are progressing quite well. It is a spectacle to behold," he says.

"I think it's a great economic impact, we've got a lot of people down here that are from other parts of the country and other parts of the world and it's good to see."

Port Hawkesbury Mayor Billy Joe MacLean says the town just celebrated its annual summer festival, and to have it immediately followed by the tall ships lifts the spirits of residents.

"Over the past 12 months, it's been a very trying time for the Strait region in general, and the town of Port Hawkesbury, with emotions running very high," he says. "It creates some excitement, but also for the businesspeople and the community, I would say it has put $3-4 million in sales for small businesses in our town. It gives everybody in the tourist trade a lift, with rooms and meals and activities."

Even if Pacific West is able to get the necessary pieces in place to restart the mill, it will take time for the economy to start to rebound, MacLean says.

MacLean says the Tall Ships Festival is a good opportunity for residents of the town, which was formerly named Ship Harbour, to get a close-up view of nautical history, and it provides a bit of a temporary distraction for those waiting to see when they may go back to work.

The festival is expected to pump $30 million into the provincial economy.

Organizations: Strait Area Chamber of Commerce, West Commercial, Nova Scotia Power

Geographic location: Port Hawkesbury, Cape Breton

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