Port Hawkesbury mayor urging Cape Breton gateways strategy

The mayor of Port Hawkesbury, N.S., is urging Cape Breton municipalities and First Nations to develop a joint gateways strategy to help boost tourism.

Brenda Chisholm-Beaton said the island's seaports, airports and highways need to work in concert, and for that to happen, local governments are going to have to start talking to each other.

"I really do feel like there is an opportunity to collaborate together on one big project and do something meaningful that will move the needle, or position our island for incredible growth and prosperity," she said.

The strategy may be tricky to develop, given competing container terminal proposals in Sydney and Melford, Chisholm-Beaton said.

The mayor was also caught in a dispute earlier this year over fears that a proposed airport for Inverness County would take business away from the existing one near Port Hawkesbury.

Submitted by Glen Fry/Department of Fisheries and Oceans

However, discussions on the gateways idea started before the Inverness airport project became public, she said.

"There will be some competing interests, I mean that's a given, but I think it's still important that we have the kind of conversations about what are some things that can unite us?" Chisholm-Beaton said.

"What are some things we can work on together?"

Local governments can work on projects that unite the island, she said.

For example, there is some suggestion the province will be redesigning the highway rotary in Port Hastings, on the island side of the Canso causeway, over the next few years.

That makes it an ideal time to get input from municipalities and First Nations across Cape Breton to find out whether a new visitor centre or some other facilities should greet travellers who come from off-island, Chisholm-Beaton said.

There may be ways to direct tourists to attractions around the region and keep them on the island longer, she said.

"We really need to have those discussions now and kind of start a collaborative process," Chisholm-Beaton said.

Tom Ayers/CBC

Victoria County endorsed the gateways proposal earlier this week.

Warden Bruce Morrison said the idea can work.

"There's currently a great spirit of co-operation on the island with the five municipalities and the five First Nations, so I think this project could be mutually beneficial to all," he said.

Victoria County's main gateway is the community wharf on the Bras d'Or Lake in Baddeck.

Small port development

Morrison said that's not the only reason to join an islandwide strategy, but it is a good one.

"Absolutely, I think it'd fit in quite nicely, particularly with the discussions around port development," he said.

"We are a small port. We're getting small cruise ships in now."

Chisholm-Beaton said she intends to seek support from other governments around Cape Breton in the coming year.