PORT HAWKESBURY: After spending several days promoting the town and the entirety of Cape Breton Island to municipal leaders in Vietnam, Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton now has a greater appreciation for her homeland as well as the Asian nation that welcomed her in June.

Chisholm-Beaton joined Victoria County Warden Bruce Morrison, county councillor Perla MacLeod and the chief operating officer of the Cape Breton Partnership (CBP), Carla Arsenault, as guests of the Association of Cities of Vietnam (ACVN) from June 22-28. The visit was coordinated by the CBP in conjunction with a federally-funded initiative of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) known as Partnerships for Municipal Innovation: Local Economic Development (PMI-LED).

“At the heart of the matter, they want what’s best for their communities, just the same as we want here in Cape Breton,” Chisholm-Beaton told The Reporter Friday morning at her Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre office.

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“It wasn’t so much us telling them ‘you should do it this way,’ it was more like, ‘here are some options that you can strengthen your relationship with your local municipalities’ and sharing some of our experiences from here in Canada.”

While Chisholm-Beaton and her Cape Breton colleagues anticipated some culture shock as they arrived in Hanoi, the first-term Port Hawkesbury mayor smiled as she recalled the surprised looks on the faces of their Vietnamese welcoming party.

“We must have walked by them, because they were anticipating an older delegation…We finally kind of met up, and they were like, ‘Oh, you’re so young,’” Chisholm-Beaton chuckled. “It was nice to see that they were so excited about having such a young delegation from Cape Breton.”

Contributed photo
Thu Luu (left) was one of several members of the Association of Cities of Vietnam that welcomed Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton and her fellow delegates from the Cape Breton Partnership’s June visit to the Asian nation. The two-week visit was funded by the federal government under the Partnerships for Municipal Innovation: Local Economic Development (PMI-LED) initiative launched by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), and will include a follow-up visit to Cape Breton by Vietnamese municipal leaders over the coming year.

Intrigued by such sights as the prevalence of motorcycles and scooters on Vietnamese city streets, as well as a “floating market” conducted from several small boats in their host cities’ harbours, Chisholm-Beaton was also inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit that exists throughout the country’s urban centres.

“In Can Tho and in Hanoi, they had commerce on every block, all around the city,” she marveled.

“So how do we work towards building more of a natural entrepreneurial tendency and spirit in our town, and across the island in Cape Breton?…There is definitely a reciprocation in the learning happening – we’re probably learning as much from them as they are from us.”

Conversely, as Chisholm-Beaton and her fellow PMI-LED delegates prepare to welcome a delegation from Vietnam to Cape Breton within the coming year, the Port Hawkesbury mayor is stressing the importance of bringing Cape Breton to the world via initiatives such as the June trip to Vietnam.

“We [should] start sharing our good news stories and start focusing on positives. I feel like that’s the recipe that we need to grow our island – we all need to be ambassadors,” Chisholm-Beaton enthused.

“Over the next couple of years, we’re going to try to share the best narrative we can of Cape Breton with our Vietnamese delegates… For an island, we have a lot going on, and now more so than in the past, we really are on the international stage and in the global eye.”

Contributed photo
The many unique sights encountered by the Cape Breton Partnership delegation’s June visit to Vietnam included this floating market, which sees customers visiting vendors on boats located throughout the harbours of such cities as Hanoi and Can Tho. Vendors often attach their wares to the masts of their boats in order to attract potential consumers.