Top News

JOHN DeMONT: COVID's challenge for Lunenburg, an iconic tourist town


No crowds milled around Nova Scotia’s most famous tourist attraction when I approached it Monday. 

Not a single visitor stood dockside, reverentially eyeing the ship on the Canadian dime, the Bluenose ll. 

Precisely nine vehicles were parked in the waterside Lunenburg lot where it was docked, but at least one of them was owned by a sailmaker with a vested interest in the crewmembers fiddling with the wall of canvas that will propel the famed schooner through the ocean. 

Out on the road, I asked a guy driving a van with Ontario plates to roll down his window. 

Dion Crane, from Newcastle, Ont., told me that, “it was such a blessing” to be able to go to a place like Lunenburg, this time of year, and “not be absolutely crowded out.”

Otherwise, three days after the Atlantic bubble opened, all seemed hushed in the epicentre of one of Nova Scotia’s iconic tourism towns. 


- Tim Krochak
- Tim Krochak

Quiet places, to me, seem quieter when they normally bustle with noise and energy. 

Granted, it was raining Monday, a day when summer tourist centres like Lunenburg normally catch their breath after the weekend’s onslaught of visitors. 

But I had been there a day earlier, on the tail end of a long weekend that, for many, began on Canada Day.

It wasn’t like the other July Sundays when I’ve walked Lunenburg’s crowded streets, as I have the streets of many of our tourist towns. 

That, to be fair, was back before the pandemic hit, causing governments and individuals to be wary of crowded shops, restaurants and bars, before the Yarmouth ferry closed, Halifax Stanfield International Airport grew quiet, and automobile traffic from big places to the west and south stalled.

So Monday I could get a parking spot right in the middle of Lunenburg’s old town. 

With no crush of visitors pushing me along I could take my time walking through the ramrod straight British-style streets, past the homes with the distinctive dormers and other architectural touches that helped the town earn its UNESCO World Heritage Site status.


- Tim Krochak
- Tim Krochak

“Normally we would have had lineups out the door and flipping tables quickly,” Katherine Eisenhauer, the chef and owner of the Savvy Sailor eatery on Montague Street told me. “I wouldn’t have had time for a conversation like this.”

But that was when tourists made up 90 per cent of her business, unlike the 60 per cent that, she figures, tourists accounted for this past weekend. 

Eisenhauer, whose people go back nine or 10 generations in Lunenburg, is the kind of person who means it when she talks about the pleasure it gives her to provide summer employment in her hometown. 

In the past she would have 30 people on the payroll in the first week of July. This summer — with her seating capacity cut from 48 seats to 26 -- she’s down to five in the kitchen and five more out front. 

She’s “cautiously optimistic” that opening the Atlantic bubble will bring more Maritimers to her restaurant this summer. However even that optimism dwindles when she talks about the fall “shoulder season” which is made up mainly of retiree travellers, who normally arrive on cruise ships and bus tours, none of which are expected to materialize this September and October. 

“We have to understand that a lot of these restrictions are going to be here for a long, long time,” she said. I have to agree.


Katherine Eisenhauer, owner of The Savvy Sailor, stands in front of her cafe in Lunenburg on Monday, July 7, 2020. - Tim Krochak
Katherine Eisenhauer, owner of The Savvy Sailor, stands in front of her cafe in Lunenburg on Monday, July 7, 2020. - Tim Krochak

 


Elsewhere in the town, a few business owners — a hairdresser, and a retail shop -- have already decided they can’t wait around to see if they can make a go of it. 

Up on Lincoln Street, the front window of Shop on the Corner, a café and gift shop that has been there for eight years, was papered with signs of a going out of business sale. 

After COVID-19 hit, Vicki Buckley closed her business down for two-and-a-half months. When she reopened, with government restrictions limiting business only to takeout, revenues declined by 89 per cent from the previous year. 

“You need to have a full tourist season to survive the winter,” she told me. 

Even with the bubble opening, she figured that she would have to endure a “nail-biting time for the next year-and-a-half.”

She added, “We just couldn’t do that.”

Outside, where the rain had stopped, a few more people walked down the streets, past hopeful OPEN signs at the entrances to art galleries and restaurants. 

Down on the waterfront, a family from New Glasgow, Merrill Hillier, Amanda Hatfield, and their kids Roman and Grace, were headed in the direction of the Bluenose II. 

The dad, who works for Michelin Tire, told me they were using COVID-19 as a reason to see some of Nova Scotia. 

Sunday night they arrived at the Rissers Beach campground. They weren’t sure where they were going next. 

But Monday, walking through the crowdless streets of Lunenburg, and getting to see the famous schooner for the first time, “was just great,” the dad said. 

They, for sure, will come back again, which is what any tourist town wants to hear.

RELATED:

Did this story inform or enhance your perspective on this subject?
1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

Recent Stories