Paula Davis credited with helping put Port Hawkesbury on the map

PORT HAWKESBURY: To honour the upcoming retirement of Port Hawkesbury’s Director of Marketing, Recreation, Tourism, and Culture, the town organized a tribute at her last town council meeting.

At the virtual meeting on May 4, friends, fellow volunteers, former co-workers, and town councillors paid tribute to Paula Davis, who is retiring from her position after 43 years.

During the meeting, Mayor Brenda Chisholm addressed Davis directly, noting how Davis has made the town a better place to live.

“We have worked closely together since I became a councillor in 2012, the mayor in 2016,” she noted. “I can say in those years, I am in absolute awe for all that you do for the town and how much more our town is enriched because of your hard work and dedication.”

Paula Davis’ body Davis’ includes the new bridge and pocket parks associated with the Destination Reeves Street project.

Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Terry Doyle provided a glimpse at Davis’ body of work, including the new bridge and pocket parks associated with Destination Reeves Street, Grant’s Pond fountain, the Active Transportation trail, and the community garden.

“Paula Davis is one of the most respected administrators that I’ve come to know and work with over many years,” he told council. “She can be seen working seven days a week with the town. Her job is not a job, it’s more of something that’s driven and something that she truly believes in.”

In talking about her work with the community garden, Doyle said that showed her commitment to environmental issues.

“Paula is very much an environmentalist,” he said. “There’s no one I’ve met that loves trees as much as Paula. She feeds them, and waters them, and I’m sure, talks to them but the secret is she makes them grow. She’s passed that on to her children, and now her grandchildren. The town is a much better place for that.”

Neil MacNeil (left) and Dave Cluett had their hiking boots ready for the official opening of the Grant’s Pond-Hemlock Trail.

On the Active Transportation file, Doyle said Davis was a “big part” of this infrastructure.

“Paula has taken us from zero to a pretty good speed right now as we’ve accomplished a great deal on the Active Transportation side, not only on what you see on the ground now, but on planning and how we’re going to move forward in the next year, in the next five years,” he noted. “Moving forward on Active Transportation is really because of Paula’s vision, and drive, and hard work.”

Trail volunteer and local businessman Larry MacKeigan thanked Davis for her efforts in making the new trail system a reality.

The town’s new branding efforts were also completed due to Davis’ work, according to Doyle.

“This new brand is Paula,” Doyle said. “We see it now on our banners, we see it on our welcoming sign, signage and branding. That’s here now, it’s just improving, and it will continue to improve.”

The Meghan Trainor concert brought thousands of people to Port Hawkesbury.

Noting her deep connection with the entertainment world, Doyle said those events are perhaps what she is most well-known such as the Meghan Trainor concert, Celtic Colours, the Grand Slam of Curling, the training camp for the NHL’s Florida Panthers, visits from the Tall Ships, hosting games with the Under 17 World Championship, and the town’s Canada Day celebrations.

“Really this has put Port Hawkesbury in the spotlight and shown we can host world-class events,” Doyle stated. “Paula is so much a part of the Canada Day celebration and I know loves that event maybe more than most things that happen. She, and John, and her whole family; Logan and Emma, and I’m sure grandchildren, when they get a chance to come as well, participate in this event.”

As for the Granville Green Outdoor Concert Series, Doyle said that is Davis’ baby.

“Granville Green has Paula written all over it,” the CAO said. “You want to find Paula on a Sunday in the summertime, you go to Granville Green, it doesn’t matter if it’s in the morning because she’s getting ready for it, or during the concert. Granville Green has been a part of life for many years and Port Hawkesbury is known from many, many people because of Granville Green.”

Carmen Townsend rocks the stage at a Granville Green concert.

Another local volunteer and businessman, Bob MacEachern said he’s been fortunate to work with Davis for many years.

“What I love about Paula is that she’s never satisfied, in that she always thought we can do better as a community, and do better for the people,” he noted. “She had a great focus on recreation at the start of her career in Port Hawkesbury. Her big push around culture and heritage is probably the thing that will define her time in the Town of Port Hawkesbury. If you give her a task or ask her for advice, she’s there for you and takes it beyond the goal post each and every time.”

MacEachern said Port Hawkesbury wasn’t well known as having a great musical culture before Granville Green and the Tuesday Night Ceilidhs at the Port Hawkesbury Creamery.

“Innovative, high profile artists coming to a town this size, and you don’t have to pay for it, it’s unheard in Nova Scotia, and unheard of in centres bigger than Port Hawkesbury across the country,” MacEachern noted.

Before Granville Green and the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre were constructed, Doyle said Davis organized a “phenomenal” concert series at the SAERC Auditorium. He said Davis always had a close relationship with administration at SAERC.

Pictured is one of the many exhibitions hosted by the J. Franklin Wright Art Gallery.

As for the Civic Centre, Doyle said Davis was instrumental in getting it constructed, financed and designed, along with many others. He pointed to the many concerts and events that have taken place over the years.

“Paula’s name is all over the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre,” he remarked. “Paula played a key part in the development of the Civic Centre.”

When the YMCA decided they would no longer operate the fitness centre, Doyle said Davis led the charge for the town to take it over and keep it running.

Doyle called the J. Franklin Wright Art Gallery a “huge success,” as well as the performances in Shannon Studio.

The Splash Pad at the new community playground, the pump track, and upgrades to the tennis court were also realized thanks to Davis, the CAO said.

When town staffing levels were reduced, Doyle said Davis took on the Strait Area Pool.

“Paul took on the pool, took it on with vigour, and made significant enhancements, and enabled us to keep running that wonderful facility that we call our own,” he said.

The transformation of the former Customs House building into an artist incubator was “very near and dear to Paula’s heart,” Doyle stated.

“The reason we have Customs House is no doubt because of Paula Davis,” he said. “That building was in very difficult shape, and because of her work, we’ve been able to create something that’s very unique and wonderful in our community.”

The craft incubator space at the former Customs House building in Port Hawkesbury – under the direction of the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design, in partnership with the Town of Port Hawkesbury – was officially opened.

Former town solicitor Larry Evans said his time with Davis goes back to her start with the town in 1977 when the town’s offices were at SAERC.

“Paula I certainly remember some humourous and some tense negotiations with people,” he recalled.

Town Councillor Hughie MacDougall said he first got to know Davis professionally in the late 1970s when booking practices and games on the ballfield. After first being elected in 1994, MacDougall said he got to know Davis even more.

“I remember all the hard work that Paula that used to do in a lot of things; Canada 150 celebrations, Paula always took the lead,” he said. “It was my pleasure to work with you over 30 years. I know you and consider you a friend.”

Another long-serving town councillor, Mark MacIver, said he’s known Davis and has been her neighbour for many years.

“We went through a lot and worked well together. Paula works very hard, very passionate for the town and I think a lot of people know that. She’s going to be missed by myself greatly,” he told council. “Paula, I wish you all the best and thank you very much for all your years of service to the town.”

Deputy Warden Blaine MacQuarrie wished Davis the best on her retirement, noting that she is well respected by provincial government officials.

“She has put her heart and soul into her job for all these many years in the town, and she’s been ultimately responsible for all of the positive improvements that we’ve seen throughout the town,” he stated. “Without her being in the position that she’s in, we wouldn’t have been able to get most of those things done.”

Although he is new to council, Town Councillor Jason Aucoin said he has lived in Port Hawkesbury his whole life, and in that time, has seen the fruits of her labour.

“The rec departments, the field, the beautiful pump track, the tennis courts, the basketball courts, we even had a failed attempt at an outdoor rink, but it was still fun,” he recalled.

For her part, Davis added her appreciation to those she’s worked and volunteered with over her 43 years.

“All of those things don’t happen unless you’ve got a great team, whether it’s works, maintenance, council, and mayor who have supported anything that was on the go, any idea, any concept, it’s been amazing,” she added. “I’ve had great CAOs, great finance directors, and I’ve had great co-workers.”

Book-ended by two members of The Barra MacNeils, Lucy MacNeil on bodhran and Boyd MacNeil on fiddle, Irish artist Nuala Kennedy wowed the crowd that packed the SAERC Auditorium for the Celtic Colours concert “Women Of Song.”