Lunenburg anticipates massive crowds for Tall Ships and Folk Harbour Fests

by Brittany Wentzell

  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>Rachel Bailey, Mayor of the Town of Lunenburg, speaks at the Tall Ships announcement last year. This August will mark the largest contingent of tall ships to ever come to the little town.</p>
  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>Halifax band Hillsburn performs at last year&#8217;s Folk Harbour Festival. The band will perform once again at the festival which takes place over the same weekend as the Tall Ships Festival.</p>
  • <p>FILE PHOTO</p><p>The Bluenose II will be on the waterfront along with 10 other vessels.</p>

The tall ships are coming to Lunenburg the same weekend as the town's signature festival - Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival - and all the extra people will make for a prosperous few days for businesses, but perhaps a trying weekend for volunteers.

The Town of Lunenburg's population is just under 2,300 and it could see quadruple that number (or more) on any given day of that weekend.

Robin Scott was the head of Lunenburg's recreation department for 25 years. Although he just retired, the town convinced him to stay on to help organize the tall ships event as he has helped with the event in the past.

Scott says this is the biggest contingent of tall ships the town has seen yet. Before this year the town generally numbered some five or six vessels participating in the event. This time it features 11. In order to accommodate that number, private companies on the waterfront have opened up their spaces.

"We're working in partnership with Adams and Knickle because we're going to use some of their wharves ... we have an arrangement for them so that the scallop draggers will be moved out, hopefully working, so that frees up their wharves so that allows us to pretty much have all 11 vessels on the wharves," he said.

Scott added that the vessels will line up from the Fisheries Museum all the way down to the Adams & Knickle Limited wharves and the Zwicker wharf.

To host the tall ships, it will take a small army of around 200 volunteers. Each vessel needs to have a coordinator who helps the crew with all of their needs, starting when they first arrive.

"They have to dispose of garbage, that's the first thing that comes off the boat, at some point over the weekend they'll want to be pumped out, so we'll have to arrange for that," said Scott.

Crews of the ships will also need help finding and procuring groceries, getting laundry done, and going off the vessels to take in the local sights and events.

The tall ships also requires ambassadors who monitor the waterfront, and ensure garbage and portable toilets are looked after.

The Tall Ships Core Committee has been the heart of the organizing of the festival and representatives from the Fisheries Museum, the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival, the Waterfront Development Corporation, the town, Adams and Knickle Ltd., and tall ships, have all been a part of the team.

Combining the festivals a big visitor draw

Deborah Watring-Ellis, president of the Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival and the representative of the festival on the Tall Ships Core Committee, says the idea of having the two festivals together was daunting, noting she heard an audible gasp on the waterfront the day it was announced that the tall ships would take place on the same day as Folk Harbour Fest.

According to her, Folk Harbour Fest brings in around 3,000 additional visitors to the area on top of the tourist volume the town already hosts in the summer. The tall ships are predicted to bring in between 7,000 to 8,000 visitors per day of the event.

If the weather cooperates, any given day could see 10,000 additional visitors to the UNESCO world heritage site.

Despite what has been a massive endeavour of planning, the schedules of the musicians and the ships meant it simply wasn't possible to separate the two festivals. However Watring-Ellis says, it is up to the festivals to make the best of things.

"It's our hope that once we get them in town to see the ships, they will visit at least one of the paid events of the festival because we know if that happens we'll bring a large percentage of them back year after year," she said at a recent Municipality of the District of Lunenburg meeting.

She added that 80 per cent of the people taking in the shows at Folk Harbour Fest have been found to be returning visitors.

Watring-Ellis also hopes the festival will draw some visitors away from the waterfront and to Folk Harbour events. She says that will not only benefit the festival but also will help free up the downtown core.

This year's festival features well known performers like Hillsburn, Amelia Curran, Heather Rankin, Ashley MacIsaac, Lennie Gallant and David Myles.

Folk Harbour Fest normally requires around 250 volunteers and tall ships will also require around 200. Because volunteers tend to help with multiple events, the two festivals are often drawing from the same pool and may need more new volunteers to account for that.

Keeping Lunenburg accessible

Lunenburg was founded as a township in 1753. Its streets and the general planning of the town were not built to accommodate high volumes of traffic because of that.

"There's simply not enough parking in Lunenburg," said Scott.

To deal with traffic and parking issues, the committee and the town has planned for shuttles and five parking lots outside of town limits to accommodate the many visitors.

Shuttles are also being provided to help people make it around the downtown core as some people with mobility issues may find it difficult to navigate the hills.

The town and the committee has also had to commit more washroom facilities. Over 30 portable toilets will be set up around the township as well as some located at the designated parking lots and shuttle stops.

Eleven ships from many different countries will dock along the waterfront from August 10 to 12 and the folk festival runs from August 10 to 13.

Folk Harbour Fest will provide their usual level of security at their venues and the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic has also hired security details. The RCMP is also involved in extra security for the town.

Besides that however, the tall ships will require border services guards to be in place for the crews and security will be required on the waterfront to check visitors going on board ships, which the public is free to do.

Everyone welcome

Although local businesses are going to be filled to capacity, surrounding businesses are also getting some spill-over from the events.

Some local restaurants are setting up extra booths down on the waterfront where Bluenose Drive will be blocked to traffic. Food trucks and vendors from all over will also set up down there.

Jeffrey MacNeil, owner of Rime Restaurant on King Street, says his restaurant doesn't often get a lot of spin-off business from Folk Harbour Fest, but he's hoping the Tall Ships change that.

"We're hoping it's so congested it forces people to spend more time up here on King Street," he said.

Because Rime isn't on the waterfront, it doesn't always get the same type of traffic, but MacNeil says they see an influx of patrons during big events at the opera house and he thinks the weekend may prove similar in those numbers or better.

And while traffic is a worry for some, Basil Oickle, owner of Trot In Time Buggy Rides, a company that provides horse-drawn wagon tours of the town, says the busy streets will be no problem for his business.

"Every level of volunteer is incredible and the people that helped organize this event, it's just amazing, it should all be no problem," he said.

Accommodations are completely full in the township and Watring-Ellis says some visitors are booking spots all along the South Shore, estimating that they're likely booking from Chester right down to Liverpool and area.

Local homeowners are also taking advantage of the situation. LighthouseNOW found 38 homes listed in the township and only two homes remained unbooked for the weekend.

Even performers in Folk Harbour Fest are bringing family, eager to take in both the music and the spectacles.

But the mayor of Lunenburg has a message for those looking to come in and see the Tall Ships and Folk Harbour Festival.

"I don't want anyone to be deterred from coming because they think they may not be welcome and we may not be able to accommodate them because we are making a concerted effort to make sure we can," said Rachel Bailey, mayor of the town of Lunenburg.

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