Calgary native Mark Schaay, General Manager of Alt Hotels Halifax Airport and St. John's, now lives in Nova Scotia. We asked him a few questions about his life here.
You moved to Halifax from Calgary a few years ago to open Alt Hotel Halifax Airport. What are the main differences (ocean aside) between the rockies and the Atlantic provinces? In terms of culture? People?
For me it was the pace. It really got to me when I first moved there. I’m an antsy guy, always on the move even when I didn’t have to be. The first year was really tough in that way. I would find my self annoyed and worked up. However, you get used to it and start to appreciate it. Now, I’m the guy having a conversation with the girl at Tim’s while I wait for my coffee. Everyone is friendly, I remember bumping into someone at a bar one night, we both turned around and said “sorry” at the same time. Everyone is out to have a great time. Totally open to conversation and you can become best friends with people you don’t even know.
Also, we have the most beautiful fall in Nova Scotia. Out west it seemed to go right to winter. However, the spring is not great here. You’re still wearing a heaving jacket in May/June, May especially. Winter goes right to summer. Out west spring was my favorite time.
What are the preconceptions you had about the East that were, in the end, untrue?
That is what less expensive. I always heard that it was cheaper to live on the East Coast, that is simply not true. Now, building/buying a house may be slightly lower, but other cost such as power and groceries certainly make up for that.
As funny as this sounds, during my first trip to Nova Scotia I was surprised by all the tree’s. It is like BC, but flat, haha. I was picturing a rocky baron land. I remember my father-in-law laughing at me about that one. He was also proud during my first visit quite a few years ago that they now had Sunday shopping.
Living out west you would hear people saying how lazy people are on the East Coast. Now, the pace is certainly slower but I have some of the hardest working, dedicated team members I’ve had anywhere. Very loyal as well. This has also proven to be simply untrue.
What travelling trends are you noticing in the East? Are you seeing more tourism from Canadians? From international travellers?
I’ve been surprised by the amount of International travellers. We have cocktail events at the hotel where we invite our guests down. On certain nights every guests is international, during peak months (July to September). A lot of Germans and Dutch come to drive an RV across the Maritime. The last couple of summers a lot of visitors from the United States as well, many of whom own summer homes or property.
What is there in the Nova Scotia that you can’t find anywhere else?
Fall in Cabot Trail. Absolutely amazing. It is so gorgeous.
What would be an ideal long weekend in Nova Scotia, for you?
We have some amazing beaches in Nova Scotia, both ocean and lakes. They call Halifax the City of Lakes. Where I live, I’m 5 – 10 minutes away from a beautiful ocean beach and 5 minutes away from a fantastic lake. My long weekend is on the beach watching my kids go crazy in the sand and the water. We have a lot of fun playing in the waves together and just running around like idiots. Growing up in Alberta as a kid, we used to go to a man made lake every weekend which was about 1 ½ hour away. These are some of my best memories growing up. I love that my kids can enjoy this right in there back yard. Beach for the day and BBQ at night. Oh, of course a couple of whiskey sours with my amazing and beautiful wife after the little ones go down.