- Christopher McGarry is a journalist, freelance writer, magazine editor and author living in Belfast, PEI. McGarry is a graduate of Holland College as well as Nova Scotia Community College.
It’s a perennial debate that has weighed on the minds of city council and Haligonians alike since the early 1980s when the ill-fated Atlantic Schooners came close to playing professional football in the city. The idea of building a 20,000-seat stadium somewhere in the Halifax Regional Municipality has been embraced by some and loathed by others. Over the past few years, Halifax mayor Mike Savage, enthused by the Touchdown Atlantic CFL games in Moncton, has come out in favor of it.
The opponents of building a stadium (which would be used not only by Halifax residents but the entire Maritime region) fear that such a venue would become a proverbial “white elephant,” where potentially hundreds of millions of dollars would be wasted with little or no gain coming from it.
Back in March, the Globe and Mail printed an in-depth article about how the Maritimes more or less became the economic backwater of Canada. Nova Scotia, as well as Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, have an aging demographic, high unemployment rates and consistent outmigration of young workers.
It’s no secret that in this region, old ideas, cronyism and traditions die hard. As Maritimers, we are often reluctant to embrace change and spurn progressive concepts such as a modern stadium that would put us on par with cities across Canada.
It’s this unwillingness to move forward that is severally hindering progress in the Maritime region. As a former Halifax resident, I enjoyed the charm and laid-back lifestyle of the city. The largest municipality in Atlantic Canada has an abundance of potential and building a stadium that would be used by people from all around the region would make Halifax a truly national city.
As mayor Savage has stated, a stadium would not only be a “CFL stadium.” A Canadian Football League franchise, the venue’s anchor tenant, would play 10 home games per season as well as one or two playoff games. A 20-25,000-seat stadium could host Huskies and Tigers playoff games, concerts, visits by figures such as Pope Francis and the Dali Lama, international sporting events such as the Commonwealth Games, the Vanier Cup and lacrosse. Soccer is growing and one day Halifax could have a minor professional soccer franchise.
Having a CFL team would greatly enhance the profile of Halifax and the Maritime region from a national perspective. Each week, fans from Saskatchewan, Calgary and other CFL cities would make the trip to Halifax to watch their teams face off against the Atlantic one.
This, in turn, could very well give a much-needed boost to the region’s tourism industry.
Like any major project, a multipurpose stadium for the Maritimes would cost money to build, but that cost would be more than made up over a few short years (one Grey Cup weekend alone can bring in as much as $150 million into the local economy). While the critics may state that we can’t afford to do this, in my opinion, if the Maritime region is to progress and modernize we can’t afford not to do it.