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Nova Scotia is a growing force on the festival and events map, as festival planners from inside and outside the destination attest…

Nova Scotia, which boasts direct flights from New York and London, has been creeping onto the world’s radar of late. A tipple from its winery Benjamin Bridge was recently championed by chef Gordon Ramsey, and the destination was selected as the film location for The Lighthouse, a soon-to-be-released movie starring Batman-to-be Robert Pattinson. 

The Canadian maritime province, whose population just reached an all-time high of 971,395, also hit the headlines in September after a freak storm saw the locals pull together to barely leave a trace of debris the following day.  

Nova Scotia’s natural beauty, and sparkling wines, were taken in by Access when we travelled its length and breadth to check out what it has to offer for events. Along the way, we met some of the people behind its emergence as an up-and-coming festival destination. 

Dan Andrew, co-founder BeKnown Music, warmed to Nova Scotia’s festival and music industry prowess after being invited for a tour with fellow promoters and industry big wigs with a view to upping the destination’s music and event offering. 

“It’s one of my favourite provinces for sure. Canada in general just gets music right, it serves the industry amazingly. I went to the East Coast Music Association Awards and was briefed on the export and import strategy there. I got flown out with other event planners and had an amazing experience. I’ve been there twice to check out St Johns and Hopscotch Festival, a hip-hop offering.

“I was blown away by their level of support and how proactive they are – how they develop relationships. It’s a real hustler mentality. They support acts coming over, and promote their own acts. We shared our networks with other managers and festival bookers. We were so well looked after and given so much information. The efforts of such a big province with so much beauty and culture really stood out. They’re now being heard on a global scale. I just loved Canada, and how it feeds artists and the wider event industry.

“It’s a great networking mentality. You get to meet people you’ve nbever met before, who share the same passions and interests. And damn is Nova Scotia a beautiful place!”

Meanwhile, there’s ample talent pushing events including festivals and sporting events in the province. Candice Phibbs, co-founder of Mile East Productions, started the company with her husband Rick in 2015. The pair saw the need for port town Yarmouth to develop signature events to increase the profile of the community and attract newcomers. With Rick’s vision and experience in large-scale event management and Candice’s attention to detail and organisation skills, the business has grown to incorporate several small- and large-scale events.

Phibbs tells Access: “We run an array of events including beer festivals, and we are providing South Western Nova Scotia with events that would typically only be seen in larger urban areas. We own most of the events we run and we handle all aspects from start to finish including sales, marketing/advertising, logistics, programming, staffing, etc. We will typically contract out AV and other man power heavy things as we are a small team.”

The journey has not always been smooth, however, but some infrastructure changes have been a big boost. “Nova Scotia is a growing market. Yarmouth in particular has seen growth over the last five years. Challenges with political decisions made in 2009 led to a downturn in the area. In particular, the discontinuation of an international ferry service that had been in place for almost 120 years. Young people moved away seeking employment elsewhere and businesses closed. But in 2014, a new government came in and the town has been revitalized. Our ferry service is back and in the past five years the area has grown, attracted newcomers (warmly referred to as ‘come-from-aways’) and business is flourishing.” 

Mile East Productions has been instrumental in Yarmouth’s event growth. “There was little happening in the way of events and festivals. Those that had been in place were often poorly organised and often struggled with staffing as they were primarily led by groups of volunteers. Over the past four years, we’ve steadily been able to add to our repertoire of events. They now attract guests province wide and at times from other parts of Canada as well.”

A notable growth area for Mile Productions, and indeed the destination as a whole, is the burgeoning craft beer industry, which not only provides fuel for regular festivals, but the breweries themselves come complete with readymade event spaces, perfect for local events. “The market has exploded in the past decade in the province and Nova Scotia currently has the highest number of craft breweries per capita in Canada. The craft beer events we run typically showcase brewers from around the province with a tasting session and an after party. We also host a novelty event at the Yarmouth International Airport called the Starlight Runway Run. This event continues to grow traction and sold out in 2019.

“Interestingly enough we are come-from-aways and moved to the area right after the ferry left. We saw the rock bottom of Yarmouth and have taken an active role in seeing Yarmouth bounce back. Rick worked with the local Destination Marketing Organisation to bring a number of large events to the region, the biggest being a National Street Hockey Championship. Many consider this to be the turning point for Yarmouth, resulting in an attitude shift for the town. Events are an infinitely powerful tool to bring about monumental change.” 

While Nova Scotia gains a steady event presence, Phibbs says there’s still much the destination can do. “Ongoing support of the International Ferry Service connecting Canada to the USA would boost Nova Scotia and the tourism industry. This essential service is vital to the success of not only the Yarmouth region but the province as a whole. We also need further airlift into the region and continued expansion of STEM sectors within Nova Scotia specifically rural areas is key. We also need to encourage youth to get into the trades and business, youth are not at all encouraged to consider these areas of study, yet they are extremely important.”

With favourable marketing and support opportunities, easy access and a strong novelty factor, Nova Scotia is a festival destination to watch. We’ll raise a glass of Benjamin Bridge to that. 

Nova Scotia’s key festivals

Celtic Colours International Festival
11-19 October 2019

Devour! The Food Film Fest
22-27 October 2019 

Nova Scotia Forest Festival
26 October 2019

Nova Scotia Lobster Crawl
1-29 February 2020 

Hopscotch Festival
28 September 2019