Tourism and culture in the Port City


On cruise ship days, Saint John comes alive.

On any given day during the cruise season, you could see one, two, even three ships docked in the harbour. Gangways connect the ships to two state of the art terminals and connect their passengers to the historic port city.

Saint John, Canada’s first incorporated city is fourth in the country by cruise traffic. This year, Cruise Saint John is celebrating 25 years of cruise and welcoming their two millionth passengers ashore.

Still, even an average cruise day feels like a celebration.

Passengers are greeted by a committee of volunteers who hand out roses, pins and miniature Canadian flags. Everyone is excited to welcome them.

From there, passengers embark on bubblegum pink double-deck buses that allow them to hop on and off across town, each ticket supporting the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. Tour operators wait with excursions to landmarks and landscapes. Passengers also venture out on foot, blazing their own path through Saint John’s cultural core.

“Tourism has a positive impact on Saint John because the growth of entrepreneurial spirit and opening of small shops, galleries and eateries which are here both during the tourism season and all year long for locals to enjoy,” Port Saint John president and CEO Jim Quinn said.

Quinn grew up in Saint John, later moving away. During his time away, the city underwent a transformation. Saint John was named a cultural capital in 2010 and one of the world’s Top 7 Intelligent Communities in 2012.

“There have been many changes. Uptown Saint John today is alive with activity with a variety of galleries, shops and eateries now located in the blocks surrounding the Port,” he said.

Cruise tourism has played a major role in Saint John’s cultural boom. Uptown streets are lined with boutiques, restaurants and galleries, loved by tourists and locals alike.

At Exchange on Germain, the city’s newest high-end fashion boutique, many of the clothes travel the same distance as cruise visitors. Owner Lisa Oland brings in upscale brands like Chanel, Coach and Ralph Lauren from places like New York, Boston, Toronto and abroad.

Oland lived uptown for 13 years and knew she wanted her boutique stationed there.

“I love the architecture. I love the history. I love the vibe of uptown, so it’s where I wanted to be, personally,” she said.

When Oland put together her business plan, she wanted to make Exchange on Germain a sustainable business year round – not just during the summer. The boutique opened its doors last October, near the tail end of the cruise season.

Oland’s business sits near the middle of iconic Germain Street, a side street famed for red brick homes, colourful doors and the historic Trinity Church. When visitors turn away after photographing the church, their eyes land on Oland’s vibrant window displays.

“It wasn’t just browsing. They were shopping,” she said. Word of the boutique spread by mouth from passenger to passenger as they ventured into the city core.

Five years ago, Oland said she didn’t think Saint John was ready for a high-end consignment shop. Uptown Saint John’s cultural boom and influx of creative business owners changed her mind.

Mayor Mel Norton was elected in 2012. He started building dialogue in social media around the idea of Saint John as a “renaissance city.” Along with an increase in cultural hotspots, the city’s population also grew three per cent between 2006 and 2011.

Norton said the cruise ship industry in Saint John is a visible and tangible sign of the importance of the Port to the city. He called port “the heartbeat of the community.”

“Conferences that come to Saint John are now focusing their events around the port. They’re accessing the cruise facilities as meeting spaces to have those conferences. They’re set in a very meaningful way right on the waterfront. It’s really neat to see,” he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Hilary Paige Smith is an award-winning writer living in Saint John, N.B. She’s currently working in communications at Port Saint John. She can be reached at