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St. John's

St. John’s has always been a fun place. Who hasn’t heard of bar-lined George Street? But with the oil boom, there’s a new energy here, driven by pride, ideas, and passion.

February 23, 2012

Canada’s eastern-most capital city is ground zero for the new Newfoundland. By Allan Lynch

St. John's is ground zero for the new Newfoundland.

St. John's is ground zero for the new Newfoundland.

“Newfoundland is always on the wrong side of the economic conditions,” smiles Mark McCarthy, president of Newfoundland’s largest DMC, McCarthy’s Party and Conference Services. “Now we’re in the boom!”

That’s the thing about Canada’s eastern-most capital city: good or bad times, people here smile constantly. It’s as if they know something the rest of the country doesn’t. And there’s a lot to smile about. While the subtext of Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism’s award-winning ad campaign, showing running children and flapping sheets, portraying a happy place full of the simple and wondrous joys of life and nature, is authentic and true, Destination St. John’s wants planners to know there is a modern historic city here with all the technological and professional support needed to do business in the 21st century.

St. John’s has always been a fun place. Who hasn’t heard of bar-lined George Street? But with the oil boom, there’s a new energy here, driven by pride, ideas, and passion. Get over any lingering ideas that this is confederation’s poor cousin. St. John’s is hopping and happening.

Airline seat capacity at St. John’s International Airport has risen by 40 per cent in a decade. To keep up with passenger traffic growth, which is more than double the national average, the airport is launching a $150-million expansion.

Downtown, the St. John’s Convention Centre has received approval—and $45-million—to double in size, by 2016. The new centre will have a 19,300-sq.-ft. ballroom, 7,100-sq.-ft. junior ballroom, 15,000 sq. ft. of crush lobby and 10 additional breakout rooms.

Keeping pace with the rapid growth are the city’s hoteliers. St. John’s has 16 hotels and seven more proposed on the books. Properties include Atlantic Canada’s largest hotel, the 403-room Delta St. John’s, which is connected to the 6,000-seat Mile One Centre and St. John’s Convention Centre. The 301-room Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland underwent a massive renovation when it rebranded from Fairmont, and has 17,200 sq. ft. of meeting space, including a 7,300-sq.-ft divisible ballroom. Bridging big and small, the city has a variety of upscale boutique properties, from the 67-room waterside Murray Premises to 12-room properties like Blue on Water and new Duckworth Hotel that are ideal for groups challenged for small meeting space.

The pillows are needed because delegate numbers show Newfoundland is on everybody’s “bucket list”. Not only do meetings attendance figures rise, 48 per cent of delegates stay longer and 30 per cent tour outside the city. This means more delegates bring their spouses and families.

Size makes St. John’s an efficient place to do business. Not only can delegates walk to most places downtown, it’s a small enough society that partners know who to call to get immediate action.

Its one weakness, modesty, is a parenting hangover. East Coast parents raise their children not to be boastful. So it’s forgivable that many of us don’t realize St. John’s is Canada’s new culinary capital.

Raymond’s Restaurant, which has four group options from their bar, private dining room, main restaurant and rooftop deck, was named Canada’s Best New Restaurant for 2011 by enRoute magazine. Atlantica, enRoute’s 2007 best new Canadian restaurant, still offers stunning watery sunsets 20 minutes from downtown. In 2013, Top Chef Canada participant Todd Perrin will open a new restaurant in one of North America’s oldest homes, Mallard Cottage, in Quidi Vidi Village.

The Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland’s executive chef Roary MacPherson won a bronze medal at the 2008 Culinary Olympics in Germany, cooking on a hotel-room hot plate, and won best vegan dish at the 2010 Canadian Chefs Conference. Five times he’s led a culinary team to the James Beard House, in New York. Four-room Bacalao restaurant features a hyperlocal, eco-friendly menu promoting nouvelle Newfoundland cuisine. Blue on Water has three chefs on staff who smoke their own cheeses and make their own prosciutto. The Gypsy Tearoom and Wine House is on Wine Spectator’s top 100 list.

F&B-wise, St. John’s is exciting because it is a totally self-sufficient destination where chefs know their producers and everything, right down to wines, beers, spirits made from iceberg water, is local.

Food and beverage is so important, so sophisticated, that the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation has sommeliers in some stores! St. John’s is way beyond cod tongues and Screech.

It’s ground zero for the new Newfoundland.

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