So I met a woman a few weeks ago. We get chatting and she asks what I do.
“Oh, a journalist.” She thinks about it. “And you live in Sydney?”
I nod. She thinks about it some more.
“Don’t you need stories to be a journalist?” she asks with a truly bewildered look on her face.
Seeing as I just met this woman, I fought the urge to shout in exasperation. I politely explained that there’s lots going on in Cape Breton.
This week in particular everyone—from restaurants to cab drivers—is gearing up for the East Coast Music Awards. The four-day conference and awards festival bounces between the four Atlantic Provinces. Sydney last hosted to the thousands of people who converge for the event five years ago.
Sydney—often perceived as a ghost town by some—has changed lots since 2005.
Let’s start on Charlotte Street, the thru-fare many will be using to get from venue to venue on the weekend. Not one, not even two, but five new candy stores are available to quench sugar needs. From the fudge to old-fashioned treats (Laffy Taffy, anyone) to candy bouquets, you’ll find it.
In need of further sustenance than sweets? Flavour is another new addition to downtown. Chef and owner Scott Morrison says they anticipate crowds of business during the festival. “People around me keep saying how busy it’ll be,” says Morrison. “I wasn’t around myself five years ago, but I’m expecting a crazy, intense, non-stop rush all day; all weekend.” He’s hired an extra staff person and says all staff will be putting in extra hours as they run five shifts a day to accommodate their extended hours.
Cape Breton’s Center for Craft and Design has built a new home since five years ago. Their bright, spacious new facility showcases the best of Cape Breton’s artistic community. From paintings to pottery to quilting to jewelry, this inspiring location will tantalize and soothe—adding to the overall experience of Sydney. In particular for this week, the Center will feature an exhibit on the making of wooden instruments.
Maxwell’s, also on Charlotte Street, is a new bar in Sydney which is hosting the Loud Stage during the ECMAs. It’s not a huge space, so be prepared and bring your ear plugs.
If a shopping pang hits between, there are some new choices in that arena. In addition to the several clothing stores, there’s now a new bath and body shop called, Sweet Biscuit. The fella in the window display projects what happens after a very successful kitchen party. Down a few doors, European Shoes offer a unique array of footware, pizzazz well received.
The Cape Breton Curiosity Shop jumped a few spaces down the street, offering an expanded great selection of local artists music, books and other items of curiosity. Allegro restaurant re-invented itself with more tables and space—eager to greet all hungry, thirsty, and tired music lovers. And the YMCA is in the midst of an extensive renovation, including a new pool, fitness room and walking track.
The bar formerly known as Bunkers still stands down on the Esplanade, but its insides are brand new. Now called Governor’s Pub, it’s decked out in the symbols and sayings of the Irish—with even the servers donning wee kilts of Nova Scotia tartan. The installation of beer on tap is the best part of the renovations making meal-pints of Guinness, among other light and dark ales, available for the first time in the area.
During this spring-like weather, visitors to the area can stretch their legs between music gigs walking around the renovated loops of Wentworth Park.
And then, since you’re in the neighbourhood, head to Wentworth Perk for a caffeine kick to keep your toes tapping and hands clapping. Sydney’s newest coffee shop has been hosting songwriters’ sessions twice a week for a few months now.
“The performers and audience enjoy it because it’s not as loud as a bar scene,” says owner John Doucette. During the ECMA extravaganza, they have a slate of fantastic performers set to run during the days, including Ruth Minnikin, Share and Steve Fifield.
“We’re looking forward to the music coming through and it sounds like it’s going to be a busy week,” says Doucette. You might even spot a member of the Tom Fun Orchestra sprinkling cinnamon on your latte—perhaps the best evidence that an arts scene is growing up is when members of local bands take day jobs in places like coffee shops.
And that’s just a slice of downtown. Then there’s Sydney River, the new farmer’s market, CBU expansions, the resurrection of this publication…
ECMA 2010 will be a show and tell of Sydney. Not just of the music, but of the growth, of the burgeoning potential. 2010. Say it out loud—twenty-ten. Sounds like a space odyssey—which for some, a trip to Sydney might represent (like the woman I met a few weeks ago). However, experience it for yourself. Witness the change as it manifests. Enjoy the adventure as you weave yourself into the narrative.