For years, traditional maritime charm and rugged beauty have drawn a bounty of visitors to Atlantic Canada's shores. But these days, an evolution in all things gastronomic is calling global food-minded travelers looking for new action (and brew!) a-brewing down home...
As North America's only mention in Lonely Planet's top 10 regions to visit in 2012, Canada's East Coast has officially been singled out for its unique appeal to gastronomes looking to experience everything from local potato vodka distilleries, organic farm wineries, and wharf-side oyster cafés, to mushroom foraging tours and farmstead cheese-making classes.
Good news for the region's food and beverage producers who, in the context of a $4 billion regional tourism industry, have been busy coordinating their efforts to turn their businesses - and communities - into key destinations for visitors looking for a unique "taste" of local life.
Take Bill and Mary Kendrick in Bedeque, Prince Edward Island, who in partnership with several local businesses run Experience PEI, a series of food-related excursions that see visitors doing everything from harvesting oysters, digging clams and fishing lobster, to sampling local craft brews, oysters and gourmet chocolate as part of a culinary walking tour of historic Charlottetown. This, in a province recently named one of the world's top foodie destinations by acclaimed restaurant guide ZAGAT.
Or cottage winery owners Edward and Linda Mantell, whose home-grown blueberry and rhubarb wine business in Waterside, New Brunswick, has become a key destination point in an interesting mix of local attractions: hiking at nearby Fundy National Park, bird-watching at Mary's Point Bird Sanctuary, not to mention trying one's hand at local glass-blowing and pottery-making.
Over in Nova Scotia, the challenge of growing grapes in a cold climate has given rise to a burgeoning wine industry and some very respectable offerings that harmonize well with local seafood - including L'Acadie Vineyards' 2007 Prestige Brut, the only North American sparkling wine to win a medal at France's Effervescents du Monde.
According to Janice Ruddock of the Winery Association of Nova Scotia, attracting visitors to an area through events like fall and winter wine festivals is an opportunity to expose local products to other markets - especially important when there isn't a ready-made market on one's doorstep. But a little creativity is required.
A new culinary experience
"Because we're not blessed with a New York or Toronto or Vancouver one hour's drive away, we have to find inventive ways of getting people to our wineries. We have to create events that will really engage our visitors."
It's a practice tourism organizers in Newfoundland and Labrador know well.
The out-of-the-way province is well-known by visitors for its icebergs, whale watching and rugged scenery - but food events built around these well-known scenic experiences are something new.
Take for example last year's three-day culinary festival on the Bonavista Peninsula - Roots, Rants and Roars - which saw visitors stopping by professionally-manned food stations with wild game, local produce and wine as they took in breathtaking scenery along a five-kilometer trek of national park.
It's an event that seizes on visitors' desire to experience local culture and food produced and prepared locally.
And it's an ever increasing one, according to Don Newman of the Atlantic Food and Beverage Processors Association.
The taste of local life
"There's a wide range of exciting food products in Atlantic Canada tempting both local residents and visitors alike," he says. "In many cases, the people who are working diligently every day to grow, harvest and process these products have benefitted in some way from critical and much appreciated support from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency."
Support that includes helping business owners grow their business, develop their skills, purchase needed equipment, or discover more innovative or cost-effective ways of operating.
Or, helping them showcase made-in-Atlantic-Canada food products to important markets abroad through participation in trade shows like the annual International Boston Seafood Show and the Americas Food & Beverage Show.
Not to mention the nearly $10 million ACOA has invested to help promote Atlantic Canada as a tourism destination, which promises to generate over $114 million in local revenue.
For locals in a region where both tourism and food business plays a big role in sustaining jobs, the effort to capitalize on the food factor when drawing visitors down home couldn't be more vital.
And for visitors busy adding new tastes to their menu of maritime experiences, they're guaranteed some new pairings that leave both a satisfying first impression and a rewarding finish.
View ACOA’s social media release on food tourism in Atlantic Canada.
Published June 29, 2012