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Halifax waterfront businesses brace themselves for another slow season

There will be no cruise ship tourists for the second year in a row

3 min read
caption Now closed for the winter, some Halifax food stands are anticipating a shorter season without cruise ship tourists.
Sarah Moore

Food stands at the Halifax boardwalk are facing another summer of trying to stay afloat, following a federal government announcement last week that banned cruise ships from Canadian waters until February 2022.

For Jamie and Sonja Williams, owners of the BeaverTails stand at the waterfront and pop-up locations at the Emera Oval and Ski Martock, the news wasn’t surprising, but it was a blow.

“It just means another year of trying to scramble and get by,” said Jamie.

Shorter season, fewer staff

In 2020, sales at the BeaverTails waterfront location were down 67 per cent, in large part because there were no cruise ships bringing tourists to the harbour, said Jamie.

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Those tourists make up the bulk of business during the spring and fall “shoulder” seasons. Without them, the Williamses are looking at opening for a shorter season: June 1-Sept. 30, rather than the normal May 1-Oct. 31.

caption BeaverTails will be open for two-thirds of its usual season.
Sarah Moore

“We appreciate the people who are out and who are supporting local,” said Sonja. “There’s certainly a lot of those people out there, which is fantastic.”

But relying on local people for business will be hard because the volume of customers just isn’t the same, she said. In 2019, cruise ships brought more than 300,000 people to Halifax.

Another boardwalk business, COWS Ice Cream, is hoping to stay open for the full season at the waterfront. They’ll be making some other changes: because of less business, they’ll be hiring 20-30 per cent fewer people compared to a normal year.

“2021 will definitely be another difficult year for us, but we’ll try to get through as best as we can,” said Susan Theriault, director of operations for the P.E.I. company. “We’re certainly hoping for broader tourism with cruise ships in 2022.”

caption COWS will be hiring fewer staff this summer. Even if the Atlantic Bubble is reinstated, a big chunk of their business is missing without cruise ships.
Sarah Moore

Getting back to normal

The Atlantic Bubble, which opened in July last year and was suspended in November, helped bring some tourists to Nova Scotia, but Theriault said it didn’t make up for the lack of tourism from the rest of Canada and around the world.

In Nova Scotia, where COVID-19 numbers are low and gathering restrictions are loosening, Jamie Williams said there’s a false sense of normalcy that small businesses like theirs are doing well – but until vaccines are rolled out and the provincial state of emergency is lifted, they’re in “survival mode.”

“You hear a lot of ‘we’re all in this together,’ but the fact of the matter is yeah, we’re all weathering the same storm, but the boats that each of us are piloting are very, very different,” said Jamie.

“Who’s going to sink and who’s going to swim? Well, we’ll wait and see.”

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About the author

Sarah Moore

Sarah Moore is a journalist from Calgary who is working in Halifax.

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