From coast to coast, Canada's leadership in ocean industries like aquaculture, offshore resources exploration, marine renewables, bioresources and fisheries is unparalleled. The country's vast and diverse coastline has given rise to a growing ocean science innovation ecosystem supported by government, industry and academia. It's no wonder so many business event planners are intrigued by Victoria, Québec City, Halifax, Charlottetown and St. John's as potential host cities for their international conferences.
On both the east and west coasts, Canada's ocean engineering and technology community is larger, stronger and more sustainably minded than it has ever been, aiming to give protected status to a quarter of its oceans by 2025. The country's deep resources, top-notch venues and research facilities have catapulted this region to the top of the list for organizations seeking the perfect destination for their group events.
Here's how Canada's ocean industry expertise and powerhouse talent are attracting global organizations like IEEE and the World Aquaculture Society to meet when in-person events resume.
Victoria's innovations in ocean observation make it ideal for groups
Located steps from the Pacific Ocean, British Columbia's capital city of Victoria counts more than 100 sector-related organizations, offering easy access to thought leaders for conferences. For example, the Institute of Ocean Sciences — one of Canada's largest marine research centers — employs more than 250 scientists and technicians who can enhance speaker programs for events.
Ocean-oriented activities — including ocean recreation, ocean transport and seafood — make up about 8 percent of the provincial economy.
The University of Victoria is renowned for its Earth and Ocean Sciences program and for Ocean Networks Canada, a global leader in ocean science research and technology. ONC's cabled observatories monitor Canada's east and west coasts and the Arctic, providing vital data about marine environments. ONC's Innovation Centre also created the Underwater Listening Station.
Major business players operating in Victoria include Babcock, a global marine, aviation, nuclear and land systems company; MarineLabs, which provides data-as-a-service marine condition information from fleets of compact, cloud-connected buoys; Open Ocean Robotics, which produces sensor- and camera-equipped energy-harvesting autonomous boats that instantly relay oceanic observations; and DSA, an ocean engineering consultancy that offers software solutions for marine service providers, naval architects and oceanographers.
The city recently launched The Ocean Futures Hub & Cluster, which will help solve challenges faced by the marine industry while assisting area companies to pursue exciting opportunities within the global ocean and marine industry.
Notable oceans-related conferences include 2017's International Pacific Halibut Commission annual meeting, 2019's Annual Northwest Fish Culture Conference and Aquaculture Canada.
Planners saw a boost in exhibitors when the Rockville, Md.-based Oceanography Society held its 2016 Ocean Optics Conference in Victoria, says Jennifer Ramarui, the organization's executive director.
"I know this increase was due to the concentration of organizations and companies involved in oceanographic research in Victoria and other areas of British Columbia," says Ramarui, citing local sponsors and exhibitors including Ocean Networks Canada, AML Oceanographic and ASL Environmental Services. "The proximity of the Victoria Conference Centre to the University of Victoria was also an important factor in selecting Victoria as the conference location. Faculty and students from that institution are quite active in the study of optical oceanography; many supported the conference by serving on the planning committee, as presenters, and as volunteers."
Halifax: A smart city that's home to Canada's Ocean Supercluster
Canada's original ocean city has always made its fortunes from the sea. Even as the technology fueling this industry continues to evolve, what has not changed is the destination's commitment to remain on the forefront of what's possible. More than 300 companies, 80-plus innovators, and 35,000 people drive innovation in numerous ocean-related sectors: underwater acoustics, sensors and instrumentation, fisheries and aquaculture, deep-water battery tech, communications and navigation, marine geomatics, marine biotechnology, robotics and autonomous vehicles, informatics and artificial intelligence as well as naval architecture. The result? Halifax is a globally recognized powerhouse with a $4.5 billion ocean economy.
Halifax's science-based workforce's depth includes experts in pioneering tech, research and academia who can round out content for conferences. The city boasts one of the highest concentrations of ocean-related PhDs in the world. Halifax's Dalhousie University — home to the Aquatron Laboratory, Canada's largest university aquatic research facility — receives more than a quarter of all oceans research grants from Canada's National Sciences and Engineering Council.
The country's largest ocean research center, the Bedford Institute of Oceanography, houses more than 600 researchers, engineers, technicians, as well as natural resource and environmental managers. Other notable ocean-related establishments include the National Research Council of Canada's Institute of Marine Biosciences, the Ocean Tracking Network, and the Halifax Marine Research Institute. Halifax's Centre for Ocean Ventures & Entrepreneurship (COVE) is specifically designed to support applied innovation in the oceans sector. It offers 49 feet of water depth for harbor-floor testing, 50,000 square feet of collaborative space, and access to some of the industry's leading minds.
Halifax is home to countless ocean innovators, such as Ocean Sonics, working to improve the quality of underwater sound measurements; Turbulent Research, experts in underwater acoustics, real-time processing and low power embedded circuit design for long-term and autonomous deployments; Nature's Way, producers of Omega-3 supplements, made from sustainably sourced fish ingredients; and Irving Shipbuilding, a global leader in building/fabricating/converting/servicing vessels and platforms — currently undertaking a $60 billion shipbuilding contract for the Canadian Government.
"Halifax's thriving ocean technology community makes it a natural fit to bring our flagship conference here," says Christopher Whitt, general chair for OCEANS 2024 Halifax, one of the sector's most prominent global conferences. "Discover Halifax connected us to convention center information and hotels. Facilities like COVE bring together organizations that will support an event like ours."
St. John's offers trailblazing ocean tech innovations on "the rock"
Perched on the most easterly point in North America with its own time zone, Newfoundland and Labrador is a hub for ocean sciences, off-shore energy production, mining and harsh environment testing. A world leader in the growing global ocean economy, the region represents more than half of Canada's ocean industry. The province produces 80 percent of the country's offshore petroleum.
The harborfront capital city of St. John's is the epicenter of the Canada's ocean innovation ecosystem, exporting to more than 50 countries, contributing more than $16 billion annually to the economies of Newfoundland and Labrador and Canada. More than 90 companies, institutions and organizations are dedicated to R&D, training, education and smart solutions for sustainable exploration, development, monitoring and use of ocean resources.
With an oceans sector workforce numbering 37,000, St. John's boasts some of Canada's most advanced ocean technology research facilities, including the world's largest flume tank and one of the longest ice tanks. Memorial University dedicates half its research budget to oceans.
The city is ideal for ocean-related events, according to Cathy Hogan, executive director for OceansAdvance Inc, who helped bring MTS IEEE OCEANS 2014 to the city.
"We have a thriving cross-sectoral oceans industry community — ocean tech, capture fisheries, aquaculture, oil and gas — with firms competing with and surpassing global competitors," says Hogan.
The region's diverse ocean economy includes the fisheries and aquaculture, petroleum, ocean technology and sciences, marine maintenance and shipbuilding, seaport services and shipping. Innovations include Virtual Marine's at-sea safety training simulators, SubC Imaging's video equipment used in offshore markets, Kraken Robotics' underwater robotics and sensors and Pelagic Research Service's deep-water ROV system.
St. John's has hosted many successful conferences, including the annual Maritime & Arctic Security & Safety Conference and will welcome the World Aquaculture Society North America 2021 and Destination Canada-Business Events' signature event, Innovate Canada 2022.
Hogan adds that the city is especially proud of the partnerships and collaboration it provides to conference planners, along with its wide variety of research facilities and leading ocean tech companies that showcase the strength of its talent pipeline.
"With our history and heritage — 500-plus years of making a living from the sea — first-class hotels, shops, superb food and friendly people who will buy you a drink in a pub because you're are a CFA (come from away), St. John's is not a hard sell," says Hogan.
Québec City: A port city serving as the gateway to maritime and logistics innovation
Québec City's strategic location on the banks of the St. Lawrence River provides the perfect vantage point from which to welcome leading-edge ocean-related companies — including Canada's largest shipbuilder — and world-class research centers. The Port of Québec, one of the top five in Canada, sees 28 million tons of merchandise shipped through its commercial zone annually. The city is also known for its maritime tourism sector, with more than 1,300 ships ferrying 236,715 visitors into the area.
The city's thriving ocean industry hub currently has many innovative projects and initiatives. The Canadian research icebreaker, CCGS Amundsen, with its home port in Québec City, is revitalizing Canadian Arctic science by enabling local and international researchers unprecedented access to the Arctic Ocean. The city also houses XpertSea, an AI-driven data management platform that provides real-time insights to make aquaculture more efficient and sustainable, and Merinov, the country's largest integrated centre for applied research in fishing, aquaculture, and the processing and development of aquatic products.
Planners can tap Québec City's wealth of expertise to augment their speaker programs from institutions such as Université Laval Institut nordique du Québec, known as Canada's leader in Arctic research.
The city has hosted Arctic Change and the annual ArcticNet meetings every December, when delegates can experience a truly Nordic vibe aligned with the international conference's Arctic theme, says Martin Fortier, executive director of Sentinel North.
"The modern and centrally located Québec City Convention Centre is the perfect size for the 1,500-person conference," says Fortier. "The Québec City Convention Centre's close proximity to the historic Unesco World Heritage Site of Old Québec, with its French European cachet, gastronomy, and top hotels, and to the research icebreaker CCGS Amundsen, makes it a truly unique, world-class venue in North America. We've hosted the ArcticNet Annual meeting and Arctic Change meeting in various venues in Canada over the years and the staff, service, size, facilities and location of the Québec City Convention Centre is unmatched."
The conference partners with Université Laval, the host institution of the ArcticNet Network of Centres of Excellence, a large national Arctic research networks that involves over 30 universities across Canada, says Fortier.
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island: A seafood and ocean research powerhouse
Prince Edward Island was known by many names before its current one, and the Mi'kmaq Aboriginal people aptly called it Abegweit — "the land cradled on the waves." This maritime province, with its storybook white-sand beaches and lighthouses, and its capital city of Charlottetown are renowned for seafood — it's the largest grower and processor of live mussels in North America — and a vibrant ocean industry.
Some of PEI's advanced institutions and companies include The Centre for Aquaculture Technologies (CAT), a leader in aquaculture research and solutions and AquaBounty, a state-of-the-art R&D hatchery. PEI also boasts a $7 million partnership with ocean startup BioAlliance, a private sector-led non-profit dedicated to building the province's bioscience industry. The Canadian Centre for Climate Change and Adaptation, located at the University of PEI, supports world-class research and learning, and the Aquatic Virology Collaborating Centre consists of a multi-disciplinary group of researchers studying eukaryotic viruses of aquatic origin.
Some of Charlottetown's ocean sector business include Aspin Kemp and Associates, Red Rock Power, Frontier Power Systems, Atlantic Advanced Power Technologies, MarineNav and NorCan Marine. The Advanced Marine Technology sector — largely focused on marine, oil and gas and shipbuilding-related solutions — is growing on PEI, accounting for more than 200 jobs and over $80 million in export sales.
Notable conferences in PEI include 2018's International Symposium on Aquatic Animal Health, 2019's Atlantic International Chapter of American Fisheries Society and the upcoming 2022 Aquaculture Association of Canada's annual conference.
"Our delegates love coming to PEI; it's often our highest-attended event with over 300 delegates representing the aquaculture industry, government, academia and support service businesses," says AAC's president Kim Gill. "Attendees enjoy everything about Charlottetown: business and social networking at wonderful restaurants, seeing a show at the Confederation Centre of the Arts, Canadian history, and of course, the charming Island people. Everything can be accessed within a one-hour drive, including visits and tours with aquaculture and fishing companies, and seeing first-hand our industry hard at work producing world-class mussels, oysters, and salmon. While our delegates come for the conference, they often stay for all PEI has to offer."
In Canada, oceans-industry leaders will find support from federal, provincial and municipal governments, as well as academia and innovation investors and one of the world's easiest visa regimes. Further simplifying the business process is the pool of destination and sector experts provided by Destination Canada Business Events. The team's specific knowledge of this vast land and oceans makes Destination Canada Business Events team an organizer's first stop for tailoring the right package for their event, whatever the size.
"When you combine Canada's natural and cultural attributes with the unique opportunities to explore ground-breaking ideas in ocean sciences and technologies, it's easy to understand why organizations the world over are choosing Canadian locations to host events in the blue economy space," says Virginie De Visscher, senior director of business development, economic sectors, for Destination Canada Business Events.
To learn about assets and opportunities and (arrange future research trips and site inspections) go to businesseventscanada.ca.