National Connections, Local Ownership
National Connections, Local Ownership

Jane Clark On the Road – November 2017

I had been eagerly anticipating my November trip for a few months.  Normally, I don’t have trips planned so far in advance, but this time I had arranged my journey to coincide with our Canadian Leadership Summit, which was taking place in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I was looking forward to this trip for a few reasons:  1) I had never been to Nova Scotia and I love visiting new places; 2) I had been told by several people that Halifax is a really fun city; and most significantly 3) I had been promised as much fresh lobster as I could eat.

Halifax has a rich history dating back to its establishment in 1749. Its location on the Atlantic coast of Canada made it a convenient port for both commercial and military ships. In December of 1917, one of the greatest disasters in Canadian history occurred in Halifax when a French cargo ship carrying munitions collided with a Belgian vessel in Halifax Harbour. The resulting explosion was the largest artificial explosion prior to the development of nuclear weapons. One hundred years later, Halifax is a bustling city and home to several universities, which not only makes it a major center for education in eastern Canada, but also gives the city a young, vibrant energy.

I began my visit to Halifax with a stop at Nova Truck Leasing NationaLease, which is a Freightliner and Western Star dealer. Peter Macgillivray gave me a tour of their brand new facility and introduced me to the staff. Their new building was constructed with every detail in mind, from the heating system to the height of the ceilings. Even the color of the office walls was selected very intentionally and provides the perfect backdrop for several large, colorful paintings by Peter’s father. It is an impressive facility to house both their leasing company and their Freightliner dealership. Nova’s growth over the past year has been remarkable, and it is easy to see the reasons for that growth between their state-of-the-art new facility and their enthusiastic staff.

Despite unseasonably mild weather in Halifax, Peter had instructed me to bring along a coat and mentioned something about going to see the ocean. I fortuitously threw my running shoes in my bag before I left the hotel that morning. What Peter had in mind was a drive out to Peggy’s Cove. Despite a distinct increase in tourism over the last few decades, Peggy’s Cove remains an active fishing village. Inhabitants still make a living fishing for lobster, as you can easily observe from the lobster traps outside nearly every home. The lighthouse at Peggy’s Cove is a requisite backdrop for a selfie for any tourist visiting Halifax, so I put on my running shoes and we climbed up the jagged granite to get the obligatory photo, as well as a spectacular view of the ocean, the rustic fishing cottages, and the waves crashing against the rocks. On the way out, we stopped at the hilltop café for a special treat of warm gingerbread with fresh whipped cream.

I had some free time the next day before the Canadian Leadership Summit began, so I left the hotel to accomplish two things: take a walk along the Halifax Harbourwalk, a two mile boardwalk popular amongst tourists and locals alike; and track down the mysterious food called the donair. The Harbourwalk was a lovely way to get some exercise, and although it was relatively deserted on a November weekday morning, there was plenty to see just watching the wide variety of ships and boats moving about the harbor. Next, I searched for a pizza shop where I was told I would find the city’s official snack: the Halifax donair. The sloppy sandwich is a pita filled with spit roasted shaved beef, served with tomatoes and onions, slathered in the signature sauce. Now, some of you may be thinking, “What’s the big deal?  That’s a gyro.” Not so fast. Legend has it that the Halifax donair was first invented in the 1970s by Peter Gamoulakos. The native Greek started selling gyros (a pita stuffed with grilled lamb and tzatziki), but the locals weren’t fond of it.  So, he created a special version using beef instead of lamb, and created the sweet “donair sauce”. This sandwich was a hit. So much so, that in 2015, the Halifax city council voted to make it the city’s official food. I found one at Tony’s, and doing my best to keep donair sauce from dripping down my elbows, devoured the sweet and spicy creation. It is definitely a snack worthy of an official designation.

The Canadian Leadership Summit, which I’ve already written about elsewhere, began that evening with a welcome reception. I won’t go into detail here about the meeting itself, although it was a great event, but my account of Halifax would be remiss if I didn’t mention two more highlights of my trip. First, let me tell you about the Lower Deck. On a recommendation from Peter, we had booked the welcome reception in one of the private spaces in this well-known tavern. It is located in a beautiful historic building right on the harbor, and was the perfect setting to welcome everyone to Halifax, to see old friends, make some new ones, and have some good conversation. But the real Lower Deck experience came later. After the reception, several of us went down to the Pub level, as we had heard there would be live music from a favorite local band, Signal Hill.  The Pub was empty when we arrived, which is typically not a good sign, but we sat down at a table and waited.  The crowd trickled in, then poured in, and by the time the band was on their second set, it was standing room only, and barely even any standing room. The place was quite literally packed with mostly twenty-somethings who surprisingly belted out every word to every 60s, 70s, and 80s cover the band performed. We found out that Signal Hill was going to be playing every night that week, so made sure to stop at the Lower Deck each of our remaining nights in Halifax.

Remember that I said the most significant reason for my excitement about Halifax was lobster? The promised lobster appeared the next evening, as the entire group left the hotel and boarded a bus that stopped first at Nova’s new building for a tour, then went on to VEL NationaLease’s nearby facility.  When we walked through the doors to the shop, I heard several people actually gasp in awe.  The team at VEL had transformed a standard truck shop into a traditional Atlantic Canada lobster boil.  Fishing nets adorned with twinkling lights were draped from the ceiling.  Tables were laid out with red and white tablecloths and place settings.  Some of the staff, dressed in red aprons, walked around handing out cups of “Fish and Chips,” which were actually Goldfish crackers and Veggie Straws.  But the sight no one could take their eyes off was the steaming kettles and the 350 pounds (yes, you read that right) of live lobsters waiting their turn to get into the boiling water. It was truly “all you can eat” and more. I think they served some side dishes, which I’m sure were delicious, too, but I only had eyes for those lobsters!

Visiting a new place: check. Fun in Halifax: check. An overabundance of lobster: check! I can now say I’ve been to the four (inhabited) corners of North America. More pointedly, I feel like I have family in all four corners of North America. As I travel around this continent, there is virtually no place I can go that I’m not a phone call away from someone who would meet me to share a meal or give me a ride if my car broke down. That sense of security lets me feel at home wherever my journeys take me. I imagine NationaLease’s customers feel the same, with over 900 locations throughout the US and Canada that they can access no matter what may come their way. As I reluctantly left Halifax, I felt as I often do after a great trip—a little sadness about leaving and an eagerness for the next trip. Where will I be going next? Someplace to visit family, of course.

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