Tourist trade picking up steam for most in area

Published on July 29, 2014
Kelsey Pettipas, an employee with the hatchery of the Northumberland Fisheries Museum, feeds some of the baby lobsters growing in tanks inside the hatchery, to be released as part of the Adopt a Lobster program. Sueann Musick – The News 

PICTOU – Karla MacFarlane’s job title as retail business owner is soon coming to an end.

The Pictou entrepreneur, who was elected MLA for Pictou West in 2013, says sales are down 57 per cent this past fiscal year which makes it impossible to keep the doors of the Ship Hector Company Store open much longer.

“I’ve got about two to three weeks left,” she said. “I will be closed by the end of August.”

The Ship Hector Company Store has been operating on Pictou’s waterfront for the past 25 years, but MacFarlane started working there 15 years ago. When the foundation owned the store, it used sale proceeds to help fund the Ship Hector.

When the Hector Quay Society took control of the Ship Hector and Hector Heritage Quay site a few years ago, MacFarlane bought the business from the Ship Hector Foundation while the society still owns the building.

MacFarlane said she knew early in the season her numbers were low but she thought she would wait to see if things picked up in July with the extra traffic generated from the Pictou Lobster Carnival.

“The writing was on the wall,” she said.

She said sales have been declining for the past five years, attributed to many reasons including the value of the Canadian dollar and a trickle-down effect from the 9/11 terrorism attacks.

There are still people in the United States not getting their passports because of the cost or paperwork, she said. This limits where they travel and keeps them within their own borders.

She said the stoppage of the Yarmouth ferry service also had an impact on the traffic flow in the county because people would often take a trip on the ferry and travel through to Cape Breton or Prince Edward Island with a stopover in Pictou County.

MacFarlane said the store currently has sales ranging from 15 to 50 per cent off in hopes of clearing out as much inventory as possible before the door is shut for good.

Meanwhile, retail sales on the waterfront might not be strong, but neighbouring tourist attractions are holding their own this season.

Both the Hector Heritage Quay and the Northumberland Fisheries Museum are reporting steady traffic numbers this season despite a slow start with cold spring weather.

Anne Emmett, chair of the Hector Quay Society, said the number of visitors to the Quay is about the same as last year.

“There are not as many buses dropping in, but we have just as many pre-booked as in other years,” she said. “Generally speaking things are good and we have quite a lot going on at the site with two shipwrights working there and the masts going up.”

Emmett said the society isn’t sure what will become of building once MacFarlane moves out, but she is sure it will be put to good use, whether by the society or another entrepreneur.

Ruby MacCallum-Roberts of the Fisheries Museum said there have been people in adopting lobsters from hatchery. She said visitors from the United States and England are particularly interested in the lobster’s life cycle and how its goes from a tiny larva to a person’s dinner plate.

She encourages anyone who has been to the museum at the CN Station to visit one last time before the artifacts move up to the new site on Caladh Avenue. She said work is progressing on the site and the first artifact, the Silver Bullet, will be brought up to the new museum building in the near future.

Outside of Pictou, other museums such as Carmichael Stewart House in New Glasgow and the Museum of Industry in Stellarton are showing steady traffic numbers this summer.

The Museum of Industry has a new exhibit, Courage and Commitment: Pictou County in the World Wars on display now until Sept. 28. It honours the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War and 75th anniversary of the beginning of Second World War.

Carmichael Stewart House just wrapped up a doll display that drew in a large crowd and now is preparing for a teapot display on Aug. 12.

The New Glasgow Farmers Market is also experiencing a strong season.

According to recent statistics, crowds have been averaging around 1,100 to 1,300 per market day with 42 different vendors offering their goods for sale each week.

"This summer appears to be a very solid tourist season so far especially for our festivals and events," says Kim Dickson, New Glasgow's communications director.

She said events such as Art at Night and the Johnny Miles Running Event Weekend kick-start the tourist season and festivals or conferences such as the Race on The River, Festival of the Tartans and the Maritime Fire Chiefs Convention attract a diverse group of visitors coming for specific interests. The Jubilee attracts tourists from across the Atlantic region and beyond, some even travelling by pleasure craft to the marina for Jubilee weekend.

She said some events or activities benefit one sector more than another – hotels might be filled for the conventions or sports tournaments but restaurants can gain more traffic for another particular event.

“It is great to be part of the overall product of the Northumberland Shore and the strong cultural product in this part of the province with so many festivals, performing arts centres and art galleries helps us build the appeal of the town and the region as a destination,” she said. “Our impressive dining sector is also a strong draw for day trips."