Sheet Harbour & Area Chamber of Commerce
Reinventing, and reinvigorating, rural N.S.
Don’t let the picturesque scenery and peaceful solitude fool you. The quiet seaside community of Sheet Harbour, on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore, is a busy place. There, hardworking people are coming together to discuss what their community needs, and then rolling up their sleeves to make those things happen. New industries are budding alongside improvements to infrastructure. Innovative approaches to old challenges are reviving the area, economically, environmentally, and socially. At the centre of all this activity is the Sheet Harbour Chamber of Commerce.
While representing local business is – and has been since 1935 - the primary function of the Chamber, the organization has evolved in order to tackle larger community issues, like reducing unemployment, increasing recreational opportunities, and replacing aging infrastructure. As a result of the Chamber’s expanded scope and community involvement, its membership has grown considerably in recent years. “We’ve worked hard to build the membership,” says SHCOC president Tom McInnis, noting that with 80 members and upwards of 200 people in attendance at the annual Town Hall meetings, the SHCOC is one of the largest and most influential organizations in the area.
Sandy Moser is a director on the board of the SHCOC, as well as an entrepreneur and artist. “The Chamber has been very good for the community,” she says, “not only in the sense that it is for businesses, but we also do a lot of work with different organizations.” She says that the active role the Chamber plays in supporting community-generated ideas and initiatives has had a positive impact.
Thanks to the partnerships the SHCOC has formed with a variety of other organizations, the people of Sheet Harbour are seeing very tangible results for their efforts. As part of a multi-phase community development plan, a much-needed and much-anticipated construction project is about to be undertaken: the creation of a 2.7-kilometre long main street streetscape, complete with the community’s first sidewalk, benches, shrubs, ambient lighting, and the replacement of a dilapidated storm sewer system. McInnis is confident that the sidewalk project will help reshape the area.
“We’re building, not a dream, but an atmosphere,” he says. “If we can pull off the construction of these sidewalks, to borrow Obama’s statement, ‘It gives people a reason to believe.’ And that’s what I think we’ve been able to do.”
But that is just the beginning.
Future phases of the plan include railings, reconstruction, and lighting around Sheet Harbour Falls, as well as a concert venue, a marina, and other elements that will enhance Sheet Harbour as a place to visit, live, and do business.
By harnessing the power of the area’s biggest assets, the SHCOC is breathing new life into the community. The Chamber currently oversees a committee charged with the developing and marketing of Sheet Harbour’s ice-free, deep water port – a feature that stands to attract many industries regionally, nationally, and globally.
McInnis points out that the port is essential to the reinvention of Sheet Harbour. “In addition to that,” he says, “we have to take opportunities to develop our eco-tourism, and tourism, period. And I think that the infrastructure we’re putting in place for that will assist us greatly in building that industry.”
With an abundance of breathtaking scenery, and a host of eco-tourism initiatives ranging from wildlife watching and hiking along pristine beaches and woodland trails, to outdoor nature photography and painting workshops, Sheet Harbour has the makings of an ideal tourist destination. There is also great potential for the area to develop as a sport fishing mecca. Dozens of lakes and streams, and a resurgence of Atlantic salmon in the West River – the first site in North America to use a ph-balancing lime doser to revive a dying salmon population – add to Sheet Harbour’s appeal. These key features each have an important place in the SHCOC’s vision of the future.
The work of the SHCOC revolves around a common belief shared by its people: Sheet Harbour is a great place to live and work. It is a place where you can build a healthy business, and bask in the beauty of the land. It is a place that is preserving its local values, while developing its potential to welcome the world. But as Tom McInnis succinctly sums it up, “If you want it, then you’ve got to do something about it.” With a hearty dose of innovation and resourcefulness, and the determined efforts of a united community, the SHCOC is helping to reinvent life in its corner of rural Nova Scotia, and making Sheet Harbour an even better place to live, work, and enjoy.
Feature story written by Amy Spurway