Nova Scotia

From screen to tourist attraction: Nova Scotia wants fans to visit film locations

The Nova Scotia government has formed a working group with Screen Nova Scotia and the tourism sector to come up with a strategy to entice fans of films and TV shows shot in the province to visit the venues used in the production.

Working group is developing a strategy to lure film, TV fans to the province

A behind-the-scenes look at the making of The Lighthouse. The black-and-white film was shot in Yarmouth, N.S. (Submitted by Christopher Ball)

The Nova Scotia government is hoping fans of The Sinner or the yet to be released Washington Black will want to walk in the footsteps of their favourite characters and visit the places where those TV series were shot.

Season four of The Sinner, starring Bill Pullman, was shot primarily in Lunenburg, but also featured scenes in Mahone Bay, Chester and the nearby Ovens Natural Park. Washington Black, based on Esi Edugyan's novel, also used Lunenburg as a locale, as well as the Fortress of Louisbourg. 

Film tourism consultant Stefan Roesch said film and TV fans are drawn to the places they see on their screens, even if those real locales are part of a completely make-believe world. In an interview from his home in New Zealand, Roesch noted the success his country has had marketing the locations for the three Lord of the Rings movies.

"If we would not have had the trilogy, we would have not had around $1.2 [to] 1.5 billion of additional revenue coming from tourists," said Roesch. "Pre-COVID, in 2019, still 12 to 15 per cent of international travellers came to partake in a film tourism experience, mostly to see the film set of Hobbiton.

"It's a no-brainer that film tourism can have massive impacts on the economy."

Headshot of a smiling man
Film tourism consultant Stefan Roesch says 'it's a no-brainer that film tourism can have massive impacts on the economy.' (Submitted by Stefan Roesch)

And he said the impact could be as long lasting as the enduring popularity of the film classic The Sound of Music, released in 1965. 

"Pre-COVID we still had 250,000 to 300,000 international visitors coming into Salzburg, the [film's] main location, to partake in a film tourism experience," he said.

Although Nova Scotia has not hosted a blockbuster production, Roesch said the province could still benefit from working with filmmakers and TV crews to promote itself as a destination for movie buffs.

"You have a location that is not on the tourist map and suddenly it has massive exposure, and people want to see the location, so often it's rural communities that profit from it the most," he said. 

Roesch was a keynote speaker at the 2022 Tourism summit hosted by the Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia last November. He also offered his insight to staff at the Department of Tourism.

Growing interest in N.S. film sites

Chris Shore, executive director of Culture and Heritage Development with the Nova Scotia government, said it's clear there are already people coming to the province to visit production sites, including the History Channel's popular series The Curse of Oak Island.

"There is growing interest, and in fact a significant number of people that specifically come to Nova Scotia with the aim of finding out more, and visiting the island itself, so there's a growing tourism business around that," said Shore. "We're looking at trying to identify other projects where we can enhance that type of activity."

Shore said the province has set up a working group made up of officials from his department and representatives from TIANS and Screen Nova Scotia, the organization that speaks for the film industry.

A film crew works with the stone buildings of the Fortress of Louisbourg in the background.
A film crew works on a set at the Fortress of Louisbourg in Cape Breton. (Rob Doublett/CBC)

Screen Nova Scotia's executive director Laura Mackenzie said there's potential for greater collaboration and cross promotion.

"Are we going to have a Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones in Nova Scotia any time soon? Probably not, but you can scale film tourism and that's what we'll be looking to do here," said Mackenzie.

Roesch said the province needs to start talks with a production company as soon as it shows interest in using Nova Scotia as a shooting location. He said those negotiations should focus on the potential for cross-promotion, access to the set and actors for behind-the-scenes footage and interviews, as well as the use of props or even production notes, after filming wraps up.

"Guided location tours with fans can show them some of those assets such as call sheets," said Roesch. "They get really excited about it because it's something original, an original piece from the show or the film."

The province hopes its film tourism strategy will be ready to launch pilot projects by next year.


Jean Laroche


Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter since 1987. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.

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