Nfld. & Labrador

Corner Brook welcomes largest-ever cruise ship to sail to N.L. with a party

The city filled West Street with attractions to mark the biggest and last cruise ship of the season, as it promises to ramp up tourism efforts in 2020.

Colour of Corner Brook Festival a push to expand city's tourism offerings

The MSC Meraviglia is the last, and largest, ship to sail into Corner Brook for the 2019 season. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

Corner Brook's downtown filled with tourists and trinkets Friday, as the city threw a festival to mark the last cruise ship of the 2019, the largest one to ever visit the province.

The festival, Colours of Corner Brook, shut down a section of West Street to entertain the 4,500 passengers and 1,500 crew from the MSC Meraviglia, one of the largest cruise ships in the world, and to send a message to cruise lines that the city wants to cater to future business.

Entertain they did: mummers danced to accordions in the square outside city hall below banners of handmade mittens for hundreds of people, while rows of vendors hawked jewelry and snacks.

"I think it's very important that every single person who steps off those ships, or steps into our community in any way, is welcomed and invited back, so we do build our tourism industry," said Glenda Simms, the City of Corner Brook's tourism co-ordinator.

Simms, a recent hire with the city, came to the job after nearly a decade working aboard cruise ships. She'd been on West Street since 5 a.m. preparing for what she said was a festival that came together in a last-minute push to cap off a cruise ship season that saw 19 ships sail in, the most on record.

Anna Coori of Sydney, Australia, poses with a mummer, which she said was a 'scary' experience — sounds about right. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

It's a marked change from years past, when cruise ships would sometimes sail into Corner Brook with little fanfare. 

"We weren't maybe at the level a few years back to handle a lot of the bigger ships," she said, citing logistics like bus transportation as playing a role.

"I think that what's happening here is that people are finally getting together and recognizing and finding ways to work together to grow what we have, right in our backyard."

Hundreds of cruise ship passengers checked out the numerous vendors lining West Street and the square at Corner Brook City Hall. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

Sharing culture

Vendors often set up in smaller numbers for cruise ship visits, and regular seller Marilyn Matthews welcomed Friday's expansion.

While the MSC Meraviglia sailed into the city with more than double the number of people of the next largest ship this season, Matthews said at the end of the day that might not translate into more sales.

These types of passengers will repeat and come back here.- Glenda Simms

"Even though you have a 2,000 passenger cruise ship, they may not be the type to want to buy a lot," she said.

"You may have a large number of people, but they're mostly wanting to take in nature activities and things like this."

However, Matthews, who is also a member of the Corner Brook Aboriginal Women's Association, which drummed and sang at the festival, said getting to share Mi'kmaq culture with tourists from around the world was just as important as any economic gain.

"I had one man from a cruise ship, and he said to me, 'This is what we're looking for. We want to know what the city is about,'" she said.

"When you interact with people. we feel, as vendors in the square, we're not just selling. We're representing. We're ambassadors for the city, and we all take that very seriously."

Glenda Simms, who worked on cruise ships for years, says passengers often repeat cruises if they enjoyed their initial experiences. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

Looking to 2020

While the peak fall colours and blazing October sunshine no doubt played a role in the festival's inaugural success, Matthews hopes Colours of Corner Brook will return in 2020, and Simms said that's definitely on the city's radar.

"We're hoping to make it on a way larger scale for next season, and continue to grow it," Simms said, adding she also wants it to appeal to locals, of which there were already many in the crowds.

The carnival-like atmosphere — complete with pony rides —  impressed Anna and Ray Coori of Sydney, Australia, who wandered West Street snapping selfies with the mummers in their first, and only, Newfoundland stop on their cruise.

"I'm going to cherish this moment for a very long time. It's beautiful," said Anna Coori.

"Put it on your bucket list," Ray Coori added.

Getting to share her Mi'kmaq culture with people all over the globe is just as important as selling jewelry, says vendor Marilyn Matthews. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

Being able to provide such a welcome is key, said Simms, because not all passengers opt for organized bus tours of the Bay of Islands.

"To ensure that passengers who don't go on tours are able to come into our town and still experience our culture and our welcoming persona, it is essential, because these types of passengers will repeat and come back here."

The Cooris seemed to already be planning a second Corner Brook trip, saying it was "absolutely" on their itinerary for next year. And they might bring friends.

"All the Aussies that are out there, you gotta come here. You're missing out," said Anna Coori.

Twenty cruise ships were expected to sail into Corner Brook for 2019, but one skipped the port due to the remnants of Hurricane Dorian. A little less than 30,000 passengers and 12,000 crew members from the other 19 ships visited the port, according to the Port of Corner Brook.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Troy Turner