Sunday, July 1, 2012

TRAVELS OF A SALESMAN PART TWO MARITIMES

My daughter Heather decided she wanted to go to Kings College in Halifax and we were not able to dissuade her. Nobody in our combined families had ever been to the Maritimes.   It was decided that I would take furniture in my car while my wife and daughter flew to the Halifax Airport.

One of my bosses agreed to share some of the expenses if I was able to sell in the Maritimes.   We had only a token reach through existing wholesalers, so my first trip was pioneering.  I did some research and eventually got a new wholesaler in the Maritimes and in the meantime one of our Ontario wholesalers expanded in a big way to the Maritimes,  Eventually we got more distribution channels to the east coast.

On my first trip to the Maritimes I studied a map very closely trying to pick the shortest route between logical sales calls.  I wanted to make a call in Windsor, Nova Scotia at a tack store.  I chose a short cut off of the Trans Canada Highway.  The road brought back memories of where I learned to drive in Haliburton county in Ontario with its hilly and curvy roads.  An irony was that Windsor was a long time residence of Thomas Chandler Haliburton, an early Canadian humourist who was the inspiration for the name of Haliburton County.

Over a five year period making two trips a year dropping off stuff and picking up other stuff, sometimes including my daughter.   I took different routes and covered most of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. I found Maritimers on the whole more welcoming than elsewhere. Many of the people I called were not inundated with sales reps and looked at my visits as a source of information. As I was further from home, I stayed at more motels and ate at more restaurants and got to know things.

One prospect at a tack store near Fredericton I spotted at a equine trade show in Ontario over a few years.  I questioned him why they always made an effort to make the trade show.  I was told "we want to tell our customers about new things, instead of them telling us."   The desire for information was evident in most of my calls.

As I like to do with all new places ahead of time I read up and try to soak in some of the culture.  At one point I read a history of Halifax by Thomas Raddall, expecting to be numbed by a lot of boring details.  I was surprised by the number of interesting things that had happened in Nova Scotia and was even more impressed with his style of writing.  It turned out that he was really a novelist who decided to write some local history.  I ended up buying a lot of his novels, finding them easy to read and full of unexpected history.

Music is also an important part of my enjoyment.  I discovered Gordie Sampson (even saw him in Hamilton) and Natalie McMaster.  I discovered Rawlin's Cross, a band with a bagpiper and greatly enjoyed "MacPherson's Lament."  My daughter made me aware of the Great Big Sea.  Made being in the Maritimes more pleasurable and helped remind me when I was elsewhere.

Halifax is one of my favorite cities. One story I tell a lot is when you are walking down one side of a busy street and just thinking about crossing cars will stop in both directions to make it easier. I spent time on both sides of the harbour and visited many restaurants. Heather introduced me to Donairs (which I recently re-discovered in Burlington).  I will admit that I also bought a McLobster.

Halifax was a base for much of my sales travels while my wife enjoyed her vacation and helping our daughter get settled.  Loads of restaurants.  My first trip to Jack Astor's was engineered by Heather and a few years later I learned it is managed by the son of one of my Ontario contacts.   We saw Shakespeare outdoors.

I went around the coasts of Nova Scotia and found a lot of enjoyable scenery. I was able to drag my wife around to some of it. Mahone Bay with the three churches, Lunenberg, designated a UNESCO heritage site, Liverpool (former residence of Thomas Raddall), Yarmouth, Digby and Wolfeville.

One trip I remember coming back with my daughter when a lens popped out from my glasses. With a long trip we couldn't wait to see a local optician who weren't open just yet so I let my daughter drive to the town of Truro where I got my glasses fixed. At that point I decided I would rather navigate and prepare for my sales calls. Heather was not too pleased about the stops for sales calls, but she liked driving and we shared radio stations. I made my last sales call in Edmundston and decided I would do the driving to my sister's in Brossard. It was late and Heather had been driving all day.

The next morning I decided to let my daughter drive and she got stuck with the Montreal rush hour starting with the Champlain Bridge. I made a few calls in Quebec, but mostly in Ontario. When we got to Toronto she again got rush hour traffic. A little later to get her licence the tester asked if she had any highway driving and she explained she had driven from Halifax to Hamilton and without much further testing she got her licence at a time when passing was not so easy.

Another trip with Heather I took her to see Grand Falls in New Brunswick which had been of some interest to me, but this time there was hardly any flowing water.  The impression I had hoped to make on my daughter was not quite what I had expected.  I learned later that water had been diverted for irrigation.  I took her over the longest covered bridge in  Canada in Hartland, New Brunswick.              .
I read about Oak Island in my efforts to learn more about the Maritimes.  A  fascinating mystery.  There is something buried there with all sorts of booby traps that have centuries later prevented unwelcome visitors from solving the mystery.  My favorite theory was that treasure was proof that Shakespeare's plays were really written by Roger Bacon.  The Templar Knights were said to have secrets.  Another interesting theory was that it contained the booty from a raid on Havana, Cuba.  Now it is behind a no trespass sign.  I stayed at a nearby Motel (within view) twice. On one occasion I got a luxury room at a discounted price as it was off season.

I only visited Prince Edward Island once and covered it all in one day.  I took  the ferry boat and left by the Confederation bridge.  The roads were mostly two lane and pretty much rural.  Red soil was very prominent.  I remember two other things.  The ice cream was exceptionally good and the people were the friendliest anywhere on any of my travels.

My favourite drive anywhere is Cape Breton.  The first time I decided to do a big loop taking the old highway to Sydney and coming back on the new modern highway.  Both were very scenic.  At one time the ocean was on one side and Lake Bras d'Or on the other.  I have to say Sydney did not impress me very much, but I had a very pleasant encounter.  Years before I had sold over the phone some advertising specialities to a local radio station and they were so glad of my unannounced visit they gave me a special diary book.  On the way back I had to stop at Baddeck knowing it was where Alexander Graham Bell had flown the first airplane in Canada.  Looking at the Lake Bras d"Or I can appreciate why he chose to live there.

My second favorite drive was through an area of Quebec called Matapadia that started in Mont-Joli and continued to Campbellton, New Brunswick.  On one trip I stayed overnight after being told not to drive late at night for danger of moose.  I had never thought about them before, but have paid much more attention in Quebec and northern Ontario without seeing a moose except once.

When you look on a map or listen to news what you get is all along the coast.  The big question became what is in the middle of Nova Scotia?  One of my sales calls  was to Caledonia right in the middle and funnily enough there was a lumbering museum right near where I made my call.  The answer is trees.

My daughter made the decision to go to King's College.  In some ways it was a problem, but I am so glad for the opportunities to see a part of Canada previously unknown to me.  The whole family eventually became more aware of Nova Scotia.

I regret I didn't even know about digital cameras for most of my Maritime visits.  There is so much beautiful scenery.

Next post in this series is my experience on my travels in Quebec.  An area where I made almost no sales calls, especially to francophones until I realized I was missing a relatively huge market and a critical part of Canada.  You can read about my travels in Ontario at http://bit.ly/MkcHOT  You can read about my travel adventures to Quebec at http://bit.ly/NwJqhA

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