Nova Scotia Archives

'Canada's Ocean Playground'

The Tourism Industry in Nova Scotia, 1870-1970


Wherever possible in the text below, discussion of specific locations, activities or published material has been linked directly to corresponding photographs or digitized travel literature featured elsewhere on this Website.



Government Gets Involved in Tourism, 1923-1970

The modern history of tourism in Nova Scotia began in 1923 with indirect government investment in what was already being described as the tourist trade or tourist industry. Growing out of the post-First World War recession, which had severely affected coalmining and steel-making, as well as agriculture and the fisheries, tourism was a new industry. It was also a new kind of industry — a service industry. Distant vacation travel for the purpose of rest and recreation was by no means a new phenomenon, but government promotion of it was. Also new was the idea that tourism could significantly benefit the economy. The tourist trade was decentralized small-business development, perfectly adapted to the skills, resources and aspirations of the small-scale entrepreneur. Regional and local tourist associations did not want government control, but they did want and need government support, as well as leadership, central planning and coordination. Government's role from early days was to promote the industry by helping to build its infrastructure.

In June 1922 the Halifax Morning Chronicle (the Liberal daily) brought out a 64-page "Tourist Edition," in which it advocated government support of tourism as part of the progressive social and economic policy on which the Liberal Party prided itself. In the same feature, the secretary of industries and immigration (the official in the provincial secretary's department responsible for government information and publicity) took out a full-page advertisement headlining Nova Scotia as the "Tourists' and Sportsmen's Paradise." In his annual report for 1922 the secretary devoted more than a page to tourism. He called for government attention to the tourist trade, whose commercial possibilities he described as enormous, and proposed a plan of action, though not one which specifically called for government intervention.

By the beginning of 1923 the Liberal Party had been in power continuously for forty years, and George Murray's 27-year run as premier was coming to an end. In January 1923 Murray was succeeded by E.H. Armstrong, minister of public works and mines. February's speech from the throne announced the government's intent to financially support the promotion of tourism. In March 1923 Premier Armstrong moved a resolution to establish the Tourist Investigation Committee, a select committee of the House of Assembly. The committee was chaired by cabinet minister J.J. Kinley, a former mayor of Lunenburg. It began by issuing a circular letter asking for descriptions of local areas which could be compiled in a pamphlet on Nova Scotia. The committee received many replies and its public hearings were well-attended. Its report recommended the establishment of a permanent organization with a province-wide mandate and $10,000 in public funding.

The Tourist Investigation Committee also recommended that its proposed tourism organization assist with developing the "Old Home Summer" project. Old Home Summer was meant to encourage Nova Scotians by birth or descent, living in New England, to embark on a sentimental journey to their province of origin. The concept was destined to have a long life — Old Home Summer was staged as recently as 1992 — and to be a progenitor of the roots phenomenon in Nova Scotia.

Government sponsorship came in the form of support for the Nova Scotia Tourist Association (NSTA). Premier Armstrong announced its establishment in an address to the quarterly meeting of the Halifax Board of Trade in May 1923. At the NSTA's organizational meeting two weeks later, the province's eighteen counties were divided into five regions, each with its own representative. There were also delegates from the major railways — long-time promoters of the tourist trade — and the Halifax daily newspapers. Cabinet had authorized payment of the $10,000 recommended by the Tourist Investigation Committee, and appointed John O'Connell chair and Alistair J. Campbell secretary and publicity director.

O'Connell (1877-1930) was a prominent theatre manager and impresario, then managing the Majestic in downtown Halifax. Campbell (1885-1960) was a former civil servant who had begun his career in 1908 at Industries and Immigration, and had served as deputy registrar general. Coiner of the slogan, "Canada's Ocean Playground," which still adorns Nova Scotia licence plates, Campbell was to become Nova Scotia's foremost tourism bureaucrat. The effective head of the NSTA, he would serve government for over twenty years as director or assistant director of information.

The NSTA was a type of semi-public body previously unknown in the province, a quasi-autonomous non-governmental organization (quango), with financial support from and senior appointments made by government. Opening offices in Province House, it tried to raise operating funds privately in order to supplement its one-time government grant. Its first and only biannual report, covering the first six months of operation (June to December 1923), was published as an appendix to the journals of the legislature, under the authority of the minister of public works and mines, Premier Armstrong.

It was a busy half-year, at the beginning of which Chairman O'Connell uttered these prophetic words: "Nova Scotia has yet fully to realize what the tourist industry will ultimately mean to this province if developed to its fullest extent." In 1922, the first year for which statistics were kept, Nova Scotia had 49,000 visitors. The highly successful Hector 150th anniversary celebration at Pictou in July 1923 demonstrated the tourism potential of historic anniversaries and historic vessel recreation. Also in 1923, the NSTA published a 284-page tour book, Nova Scotia, Canada: The Country and its People and the Opportunity it Offers to Other People, in which it fully acknowledged the contribution of government to its work. It featured full-page photographs of Premier Armstrong, W.B. MacCoy (secretary of industries and immigration) and J.J. Kinley, chair of the Tourist Investigation Committee. The ground had been broken, and government support procured.

It soon became clear, however, that the NSTA was structurally and financially weak. A new body on a firmer financial and organizational footing was needed. As a result, the Halifax Board of Trade spearheaded the founding of the Nova Scotia Publicity Bureau. Incorporated in February 1924, the bureau was capitalized at $50,000. It operated under special provisions of the Companies Act which precluded the paying out of dividends and reinvested all profits in the company. The government committed $10,000 to the bureau's publicity campaign, on condition the bureau raise a comparable amount. In March 1924 the Nova Scotia Publicity Bureau absorbed the NSTA. O'Connell was replaced by Alexander Montgomerie, president of the Halifax Board of Trade. A.J. Campbell stayed on as secretary-treasurer and director of publicity. In April an act was passed authorizing municipal units to make an annual appropriation in aid of the bureau's work. Premier Armstrong was a member of the bureau's executive committee. From January 1925 the large and representative directorate also included two other cabinet ministers. Montgomerie, manager of Furness Withy and Company (steamship owners and agents), remained president for the two years of the bureau's existence.

"Tell the world about Nova Scotia" was the mandate given by the government to the business interests who established the Nova Scotia Publicity Bureau. Old Home Summer went ahead in 1924 and its success was a spur to the bureau's activities; the number of tourists increased by 58 per cent over the 1923 season. Also in 1924, the province's first tourist information bureau opened at Amherst. By the end of the year, A.J. Campbell could boast that the tourist trade had brought in more than $7,500,000. Thanks to Old Home Summer, so many tourists — over 102,000 — had visited Nova Scotia that the industry was rapidly assuming the proportions of big business. Yet the publicity bureau was soon facing the same problem as the NSTA, a lack of operating capital.

The directors were understandably reluctant to invest in a company designed to build an industry in which neither they nor the company had a direct financial stake or business interest. Full-page newspaper advertisements appealing to patriotism and corporate philanthropy ("Why is the Nova Scotia Publicity Bureau asking for your money?") fell on deaf ears. It was clear that the attempt to raise operating capital by voluntary subscription was doomed to failure. A resolution calling for grants from both the province and municipalities was passed unanimously at the bureau's first and only annual general meeting in January 1925. The province met its commitment of $10,000 in matching funds, but the municipalities apparently did not contribute. The bureau could not function without a significant expenditure of public money, and that would mean government control.

Within weeks of E.N. Rhodes's Conservative Party coming to power in July 1925, attempts were made to integrate the Nova Scotia Publicity Bureau into the public service. Bureau president Montgomerie (newly elected MLA for Halifax) was a prominent and influential Conservative. He had little difficulty in persuading the government to begin financing the bureau's work, with a view to taking it over. In November 1925 the minister of the new Department of Natural Resources, which had absorbed Industries and Immigration, was appointed to the bureau's board. On 1 February 1926 the department took the bureau over completely. Eight days later the speech from the throne declared, "The Nova Scotia Publicity Bureau has been largely instrumental in spreading abroad knowledge of the scenic and other attractions of this Province, and as a result, large numbers of tourists have come here during the summer season. The Government recognizes the value of such service and will take necessary measures to carry on this work." Tourism would never again be outside the circle of government.

The Nova Scotia Publicity Bureau became the information branch of the Department of Natural Resources. O'Connell and Montgomerie had come and gone, but A.J. Campbell remained — essential continuity in tourism industry development. Campbell became assistant to agriculturalist Robie Leonard, who served as director of information until after the next change of government in September 1933. Campbell then replaced him as director. The branch was known outside government as the Bureau of Information. It looked after advertising, promotional photography, creating and disseminating tourist literature, attracting conventions, responding to enquiries, gathering tourist visitation statistics, and participating in major exhibitions like the CNE in Toronto. In October 1928 the Department of Highways took over the information branch. The following month responsibility for information and publicity was formally transferred, and in 1929 the branch was renamed Information and Tourism.

In 1930 Where to Stay in Nova Scotia appeared. It was followed in 1931 by the 320-page first edition of the official Nova Scotia Tour Book, progenitor of today's Doers & Dreamers Travel Guide. In 1932 the Cabot Trail opened. In May 1934 Acting Premier A.S. MacMillan, in his capacity as minister responsible for tourism, submitted a brief to the Senate of Canada's special committee on tourism. MacMillan attributed Nova Scotia's potential to become "one of the outstanding holiday resorts" in North America to eight factors: its situation, climate, scenery, historic associations, outdoor sports, improved highways, modern hotel accommodation, and transportation facilities. By then the government had two tourist information bureaus, at Amherst and Yarmouth, and offered five travel publications.

In November 1934 Minister MacMillan announced the government's ambitious 28-point plan for developing the tourism industry. It covered advertising, transportation, visitor accommodation, sports facilities, a provincial tourist advisory council, local tourist associations, special public events, beautification of public property, visitor courtesy, and retail marketing to tourists. In February 1935 the department retained the Mandeville Press Bureau of New York to publicize Nova Scotia through newspapers, magazines, newsreels and radio. May 1935 brought the passage of the province's first and only tourism legislation, the Tourist Traffic Act. The act set forth the government's role in developing and improving the tourist trade and provided for the establishment of the Tourist Traffic Advisory Council to assist the minister. The act remained in force until 1967 and was not replaced.

By 1936 tourism, largely unaffected by the Great Depression, had assumed such prominence that the director of information began to issue an annual report. In January of that year cabinet authorized the purchase of the Nova Scotia Relief Map and Directory Limited of Amherst to design and produce travel literature. In the spring the director of information revived Champlain's L'Ordre du bon temps (Order of Good Cheer) to help focus attention on the federal government's plan for historic recreation of the Habitation at Port-Royal. Membership in the order was open to any tourist who had spent a certain number of days in Nova Scotia.

In 1939 Nova Scotia was the only Canadian province to mount an exhibit at the New York World's Fair. In 1940 it had the distinction of being the first Canadian province to receive television publicity in the United States. In May a substantial and lavishly-illustrated feature on Nova Scotia appeared in National Geographic. In July Thomas Chandler Haliburton's house at Windsor, which had been purchased by the province, opened as Nova Scotia's first historic house museum. The final tourism highlight of 1940 was the department's construction of the Keltic Lodge cottage hotel at Ingonish Beach, within Cape Breton Highlands National Park. In January 1941 a monthly departmental newsletter, Hospitality, appeared for the first time.

In February 1941 the new Department of Industry and Publicity was established, and the public information and tourism branch was transferred to it from Highways and Public Works. The new department came about in large measure because of the personal interest and involvement of the premier. As minister responsible for tourism from 1933 onwards, A.S. MacMillan had done much to promote and foster A.J. Campbell's work. The first minister of the new department, Harold Connolly, was a journalist by profession and new to cabinet. Elevation of the information and tourism branch to the status of one-half of a department was recognition that, as a trade and an industry, tourism had well and truly arrived. Not only was it established, it was also seen to be of equal importance to the traditional resource extraction and primary manufacturing industries.

The new department got off to a fast start. A new hotel inspectorate took charge of the hotel short course which had been offered annually for operators and managers since 1938. In 1942 influential American travel writer Dorothy Duncan (married to Hugh MacLennan) declared Nova Scotia's Bureau of Information to be "one of the finest tourist bureaus on the continent" ( Bluenose: A Portrait of Nova Scotia ). In 1944 the International Tuna Cup Match began at Wedgeport; a decade later it had become the province's single largest tourist promotion. In May 1945 a film officer was appointed, in July a press bureau was opened, and in February 1946 a still photographic branch was established. Also in 1946, a loan fund for hotels was established by legislation. Government began to guarantee (on the security of mortgages) long-term bank loans to hotel and tourist-resort operators to assist them with upgrading facilities. The policy was discontinued the following year pending a review of facilities, and another act was passed limiting eligibility for financial assistance to hotel construction. Thanks to the burgeoning automobile manufacturing industry, the term motel (motor hotel) entered the language.

Creation of the Department of Industry and Publicity loomed large in government's planning for the anticipated post-war expansion of tourism. The most important wartime event in tourism industry development was the federal-provincial conference convened in Québec, 29 November-1 December 1943, under the chairmanship of the federal minister of national war services. Harold Connolly presented Nova Scotia's perspective on the best means of addressing problems posed by wartime conditions, as well as the potential for post-war development. The conference discussed tourist accommodation, the importance of recreation to national health, the management of fish and game resources, the relationship of food service delivery to enhancing the tourist trade, national and provincial parks, advertising, and highway transportation. The conference adopted ten resolutions to guide post-war development. Its findings were reflected in the 1944 report of the Nova Scotia Royal Commission on Provincial Development and Rehabilitation (Dawson Commission). The Dawson report devoted an entire chapter to tourism, with special emphasis on government's responsibility for developing the industry.

In June 1945 A.J. Campbell retired from his position as director of information. His successor, Thomas Courtney, was not appointed until April 1947. Courtney, the Maritime Provinces supervisor for Odeon Theatres, was an award-winning documentary film-maker and ardent wildlife conservationist. During his tenure, year-round tourist bureaus were established first in New York and then in Boston. In April 1948 the Department of Industry and Publicity was renamed Trade and Industry. Tourism retained its status as a division. In September 1950 the Department of Trade and Industry was completely reorganized, and the Bureau of Information became a stand-alone agency reporting to the new minister of public health, Harold Connolly. Director Courtney died suddenly in February 1953. He was replaced by George Herman, who had been with the bureau since 1945 as assistant or acting director. Herman, a journalist by profession, was already 65 but stayed on for another five years. In September 1954 the Nova Scotia Bureau of Information was reabsorbed by Trade and Industry and renamed Tourist and Information Bureau.

In January 1956 the $5 million steel car-ferry steamship MV Bluenose, jointly owned by the federal and provincial governments, went into operation on the Yarmouth-Bar Harbor run. MV Bluenose remained in operation for over forty years. Also in 1956, the government retained Arthur D. Little Inc. of Cambridge, Massachusetts — the world's first management consulting firm — to undertake a study of Nova Scotia's tourism industry. The firm submitted its report, A Statistical Analysis of Tourists Visiting Nova Scotia in 1956, the following year. The report provided a reliable, detailed estimate and profile of tourists visiting Nova Scotia; suggested methods for increasing revenue by identifying potential sources of income; and recommended standards and practices to ensure that accurate, up-to-date statistics were maintained.

In January 1958 George Herman was succeeded as director by Daniel Wallace, and the Tourist and Information Bureau was renamed Nova Scotia Travel Bureau. Wallace, Nova Scotia Rhodes scholar for 1933, was chief-of-staff in Prime Minister John Diefenbaker's office at the time of his appointment. He remained in Nova Scotia until May 1961, when he was appointed assistant director of the Canadian Government Travel Bureau, of which he later became director-general. In 1960, responsibility for the province's three historic house museums was transferred from the Nova Scotia Travel Bureau to the Department of Education.

In June 1961, Information was detached from Tourism and reorganized as a separate division of Trade and Industry, the Nova Scotia Information Service. It included the press and publicity section, moving-image and still photography unit, advertising and distribution, and the newspaper clipping service. In July, Gerald Redmond, general manager of Halifax radio station CHNS, succeeded Wallace as director of the Nova Scotia Travel Bureau. In September 1969 Redmond was promoted to assistant deputy minister for tourism. He was succeeded by assistant director John Bugden, who had previously been director of the Halifax Tourist and Convention Bureau.

Through the 1960s the Nova Scotia Travel Bureau was responsible for preparing and distributing travel literature; distributing travel films; distributing tourism promotion kits to information officers and media representatives in Canada and abroad; maintaining visitor information centres at entry points to Nova Scotia, elsewhere in Canada (Montreal and Toronto), and in the United States (Boston and New York); inspecting and licensing accommodations under the Hotel Regulations Act; providing educational programs for hotel and restaurant staff to improve food preparation and service delivery; providing travel advice and conducting research; and consulting on construction and renovation of tourist facilities. The department was further reorganized in 1964, when the accommodation and facilities section was made a division separate from the travel bureau. In 1965 the province added a second resort hotel, the Pines Motor Hotel at Digby.

In April 1969 the Camping Establishments Regulation Act was passed, conferring responsibility for vacation campgrounds and trailer parks on Trade and Industry. That same month the government entered the historic restoration field, through a federal-provincial initiative focusing on Sherbrooke, Guysborough County. In August 1968 the Tourist Association of Nova Scotia had asked the federal and provincial governments to build a Nova Scotian version of Upper Canada Village. The Sherbrooke Restoration Commission originally included both the director of the Nova Scotia Museum and the director of tourism. The project eventually resulted in Sherbrooke Village, "a living history museum depicting rural life in Nova Scotia between 1860 and World War I."

In October 1970 the Liberals returned to power. During the election campaign, Gerald Regan, Liberal leader of the opposition, stated that an industry which in 1969 had earned $43 million should have its own department. In its first speech from the throne (December 1970), the new Liberal government announced that it would

establish a new department of Tourism and place greater emphasis on the economic contribution of tourism to the overall well-being of the Province. The department will co-ordinate the functions of Government in the development of the tourist industry and will introduce new programs designed to take full advantage of the potential of the tourist industry in this Province.

In 1971, the Liberal government established the Department of Tourism, with a mandate to develop, assist, and promote the industry. In fifty years, government promotion and high-level management of the tourism industry had gone from being a radical innovation to a core operation with its own department.