A place to call home

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, is the birthplace of Canada. Not just a welcoming place with a burgeoning population, Charlottetown is P.E.I.’s capital city—and there are 32,000 residents who would be more than happy to rave about it.

The lifeblood of Charlottetown is its people. Visiting the city’s website, Mayor Clifford Lee appears on the homepage as a small, audible icon actually welcoming you to the website, and, like its Mayor, the city’s people will do the same thing—open their doors and invite you to call Charlottetown home.

Charlottetown has a special historic appeal about it. As the home of the Confederation, the city is nestled on the south shore of Prince Edward Island, and has a warm, small-town feel. Unlike its east coast sister provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland), P.E.I. can be travelled in a day—remarkably, Charlottetown is located within a 60-minute drive of all major points of access to and from the Island.
After Confederation was signed in 1864, Charlottetown was affectionately known as a “meeting place” for all Canadians and newcomers.  Mayor Clifford Lee is just as welcoming as the people he represents, and perpetuates the feeling of the city. He tells CBJ that as mayor for the last seven years, he has seen the community grow and change in ways he never imagined.  

Looking for a great Canadian vacation? Try Charlottetown

Though we originally assumed that the biggest industry in Charlottetown is tourism, there are other areas where the city’s financial strength is concentrated—although according to Mayor Lee, tourism was certainly the sector most affected by last year’s economic downturn. “The downturn in the economy, from a tourism perspective, was probably the biggest thing that had a negative impact here in Charlottetown. Lot of people just couldn’t afford to take vacations to visit, and some of the conventions we host had to be scaled back,” he recalls.
Charlottetown, we discovered, not only is a great tourist destination in the summer (although that’s the only time I’ve ever visited), the city also hosts an abundance of sporting events and conventions, that draw huge numbers in. “Last year, we hosted the 2009 Canada Summer Games. There were good numbers, but still, the expectation was that those numbers would be even higher—so the economy definitely did have a negative impact on the Games.”

As we suspected, the types of businesses that were most noticeably affected were restaurants or hotels, but also agriculture.  The lobster industry suffered, for instance. “If our agriculture industry has a bad year, it tends to be felt through the whole province. If lobster fishermen aren’t making good money in a given year, they are not as likely to buy new vehicles, and not as likely to go to urban areas to go to restaurants.”

Despite this crunch, however, the city pressed on. Though the situation in some sectors were bad, overall, Charlottetown fared well. “By coincidence, in 2009, we had a lot of conventions booked, so they more or less countered. However, even more surprisingly was that tourism was up in 2009 from 2008. This is a good sign. Provincially, the economy was down, but overall, it was good here,” Lee continues.

With strong IT and financial services sectors, business was okay in Charlottetown. “Business was probably slower, but don’t think it impacted staffing levels,” he adds.
Mayor Lee even went so far to say that Charlottetown has been fortunate during Canada’s recession. “We’re really fortunate for the amount of growth we’ve experienced here in Charlottetown. The government stimulus has really been a benefit to P.E.I. For instance, our college is going through a major expansion, and private business is booming—we’re going to see a new hotel, and a new office building,” he says. “In fact, in the next two to four weeks, expect a major announcement about a new convention centre downtown,” Lee says.

“From a development perspective, we haven’t missed a beat in 2009. We don’t have the big boom and bust when things go bad, like in other cities. Businesses are relocating from other parts of North America to Charlottetown—a lot of businesses can be virtual. This city really does enjoy a fantastic way of life. People really enjoy Charlottetown, and therefore have transferred here from other places,” Lee beams, adding that Charlottetown is a hotspot for retirees. “We really came through the downturn extremely well.”

Looking towards a big anniversary in a big-hearted community

As for this next year, Charlottetown continues to deal with infrastructure needs in the city in 2010. In addition, the city is working closely with provincial and federal governments to plan for the 2014 Anniversary Celebrations, commemorating the first meeting that resulted in the signing of Confederation.

Mayor Lee couldn’t be more proud to draw in crowds for the event. “This is a tremendous opportunity to get across to Canada what Charlottetown really has to offer. If you look at the role that Charlottetown had in Confederation, it really is an opportunity for us to get out there and promote ourselves to Canada,” tells the Mayor.

“We have a unique city, starting from our built environment, which was constructed back in the 1800s and is still with us. We have some of the strongest legislation to protect these historic buildings in Charlottetown, and we are fortunate to still have them.”

Developing an integrated community

Charlottetown recently went through an integrated community plan for sustainability, which is placed on four pillars: economic, cultural, social, and environmental. “We’ve decided that the first priority under this sustainability plan is to protect water courses. Over time, they’ve become filled in by erosion, whereas 50 years ago, they were used as passive recreational areas where families would jump in the canoe and go out. One of the key things we’re looking to work on is to bring them back to what they were 40 to 50 years ago. We’ll be dredging ponds and lakes, putting in systems to prevent erosion into these bodies,” Lee explains.

A key unique element to Charlottetown truly is its small-town, integrated feel, though it’s a booming city—and residents really have a say in decisions made by the city. “One of the unique things about Charlottetown is that people that live here really take an interest in what’s happening in the city. Not many decisions are made that aren’t, at some point, talked about on the streets.  Sometimes residents are critical; other times they’re supportive. Either way, it is vitally important that citizens feel that they’re significant. They are always letting me and members of city council know what they’d like to see happen,” Lee says. “In a city of only 32,000, it is not tremendously challenging to stay connected to your community.”

Aspirations of growth

Over the next five to 10 years, the city of Charlottetown plans to concentrate its efforts in attracting companies in the biotech and financial service sectors and IT. “The cost of doing business is not as much here, and it’s also a great place to move if you’re a new Canadian. Immigration is huge right now, because once people see what we have to offer they want to stay.”

So why choose Charlottetown? (This is a redundant question for me, as I simply adore the city, but I had to ask Mayor Lee what he thought.) “Because Charlottetown offers a truly unique experience, and is active 12 months a year,” he beams. “We continue to grow our off-season activities, and there is always something to do that families can enjoy.”

Mayor Lee continues proudly, “We’re one of the friendliest places ever, and we like to share our community with visitors. We like them to come and experience the island way of life.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.