Town of Antigonish

The gem of the Northumberland shore

The Highland Heart of Nova Scotia, Antigonish is known to its residents as the best kept secret of the province. Its coastal beauty and sylvan landscape has long offered a source of inspiration for poets and artists and is home to a thriving arts community and “the warmest ocean waters north of Virginia,” as its harbours and beautiful beaches will attest to.

Incorporated in 1889, the town’s origins lay in being a picturesque university town, home to the prestigious St. Francis Xavier University. The relationships between St. FX and the town are inextricably entwined. Every year, Antigonish’s 4,000 residents welcome a student population that doubles the town’s size, making Antigonish the biggest little town in Nova Scotia. With an intellectual resource base, the town is unique in that it boasts the amenities of a bigger city centre—shops, restaurants, festivals, a sophisticated theatre—situated in the quaintness of a small Maritime community.

Mayor Carl Chisholm is proud to show off his home. “We are very proud of our quaint little town,” he says. “We have one of the most vibrant downtown main streets in our province of Nova Scotia, and businesses are staying up.” Main Street has never been busier, he says, pointing to the new $5.2 million Pictou-Antigonish Regional Library thatrecently opened and welcomes a staggering 800 visitors a day. “It is quite phenomenal.”

Attracting visitors

Chisholm wants to welcome more visitors to Antigonish, many of whom drive past the town daily on the highway. Situated between the province’s two major cities, Sydney and Halifax, Antigonish benefits from the travel on the Trans-Canada Highway. One of the only stops with an actual stop light, directions to the town from as far as New Brunswick are always “Go straight on the TCH, then make a left at the light.”

Because of growing populations and greater highway use, the Department of Transportation is planning on taking out that famous red light and reroute traffic further outside of the town’s periphery, allowing for greater transit and highway capacity.

According to Chisholm, there is some concern that the rerouting will eliminate the opportunity for passersby to stop, see Antigonish and pay a visit. “Where we used to have people sitting at red lights looking at opportunities to visit our community, we will now have cars whizzing by.”

Enter the Gateway Master Plan. The idea behind it is to guide development potential of the new highway and interchanges “ensuring visitors have a good impression of the community and to create a welcoming entry point to the community for visitors and residents,” says Sean Day, Town Planner.

“It’s a great step in ensuring that future development follows the vision the community has in mind for Antigonish,” says Gerry Grant, Executive Director, Antigonish Regional Development Authority (ARDA). “There are so many options; everything from soft landscaping to iconic and artistic structures.”

“Our job is to get people to get off of the highway,” says Chisholm. “We are going to have three entrances to our town and we are working with the ARDA to get the architecture, landscaping and proper signage out there. We want travellers to get off the highway and be able to find their way to our downtown, tourist bureau and other areas we think are going to be key for tourists coming into our town. The second of three exits will lead visitors right by the university, and we are working with St. FX with regards to developing how their entrance is going to look up there.”

“When you approach on the highway currently, you drive by the typical highway commercial development, missing this incredible town,” says Day. “Antigonish isn’t about smoke stacks, rather, it is a knowledge and service centre. We offer to anyone seeking to relocate a highly educated workforce, excellent quality of life in combination with the benefits of living in a smaller community.”

The ARDA’s job is to put out the welcome mat for visitors; Antigonish provides the rest. For a beautiful town with first-class amenities, the secret’s out.