Canada's Atlantic Provinces Set Sail for Tourism Dollars

OUT on Boston Harbor's Black Falcon's pier, a dozen tall, kilted bagpipers from Nova Scotia finish their wailing routine to applause. One piper on break pauses to chat with a pigtailed and freckled "Anne of Green Gables" character from Prince Edward Island.

Not far away two red-jacketed Royal Canadian mounted policemen draw a crowd while just standing at ease. A bearded Atlantic fishing boat skipper in oversized clogs greets visitors to a 400-foot passenger ferry turned ocean-going road show. Folk music whines. Scores of Bostonians stand agog.

This is how it is when Canada's typically low-key Atlantic provinces really want to impress. Last week's two-day Boston Harbor visit was the last stop on a week-long floating public relations tour of four East Coast cities. As in the past five years, this year's voyage was to attract United States tourists to Atlantic Canada.

But this year is different in one key respect. Hard hit by losses in the devastated cod-fishing industry, the Atlantic provinces have for the first time united with the Canadian government in a $10 million (Canadian; US$7.9 million) bid to dramatically boost tourist dollars flowing to the nation's weakest regional economy.

The federal government imposed a ban on all cod fishing last year to protect the dwindling northern cod species, throwing tens of thousands of fishermen and others out of work in Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island.

"The Atlantic provinces are under immense pressure," says Donald Savoie, an authority on the region's economy at the University of Moncton in New Brunswick. "There is a crisis in the fisheries, most notably in Newfoundland. We've seen 20,000 Newfoundland jobs lost because of the loss of the fisheries."

In response, the federal government has extended unemployment benefits to fishermen and embarked on a massive job-skills retraining program to shift them to other fields. It is also contributing $6 million of the $10 million regional advertising push.

Together, the four provinces are the size of Oregon and Nevada combined and have about 2.5 million residents. Fishing and food processing are the region's No. 1 industry, with services next. But tourism is nearly tied with manufacturing for third place and growing fast, so hopes are staked on it.

"We recognize tourism's potential," says Thomas Merriam, deputy minister of tourism for Nova Scotia. "We don't want a smokestack economy. We want to trade on our natural beauty. Tourism dovetails nicely as a solution to declining resource industries."

He and other provincial officials say they hope to pump up regional tourism revenues from $1.4 billion a year currently to $1.7 billion by the year 2000.

Nearly half of the region's population lives in Nova Scotia, where Mr. Merriam says about 40,000 jobs are tourism-related. The province nets about $750 million annually from fish exports. Tourism in the province yields $800 million annually, says Merriam, who expects 10 percent growth in tourism-related jobs over the next four years.

But some experts doubt that tourism can ever replace cod fishing in places like Newfoundland and Cape Breton Island.

Unemployment among Newfoundland's 573,000 residents is officially about 20 percent but is unofficially much higher because of the large number of discouraged workers not seeking work.

"It may not help in areas where it's needed most," Professor Savoie says of the expected rise in the number of tourists. "The problem is where tourists will not go - the outlying ports of Newfoundland where the fishing communities are."

Atlantic tourism officials argue, however, that "soft outdoor" and "eco-tourism" are perfect for Newfoundland. Long a haven for hunters and lake fishermen, Newfoundland's old strengths are being played down in favor of ocean kayaking, hiking, and backpacking. Former cod fishermen take tourists deep-sea fishing, and iceberg, whale, or puffin watching.

Prince Edward Island, the smallest Canadian province, has become a master of the tourist trade. More than 700,000 visitors last year spent $98 million. Much of that was spent exploring the myth of Anne Shirley, the literary creation of writer Lucy Maude Montgomery in her "Anne of Green Gables" novel about a precocious redhead growing up on an island farm. For unexplained reasons, Anne has become such a hit in Japan that more than 20,000 Japanese are expected to visit the province this year, and more mark eting dollars are being aimed at Japan.

Still, the focus remains on the US, the source of about 20 percent of total tourist revenues. The $2.5 million cruise down the East Coast, for instance, attracted more than 40,000 visitors to the converted ferry boat. That, tourism officials say, will translate into about $9 million to $11 million in visits from the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states.

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