Waterfront Development: Making Kilts

Last week we looked at the unsuccessful proposal for the development of Sydney’s waterfront submitted by SHIP.ED, an alliance between Albert Barbusci’s Sydney Harbour Development Partners (SHIP) and EllisDon, the Ontario-based construction company.

To call the SHIP.ED proposal grandiose is to dabble in understatement: in addition to a hotel and casino, condos, apartments and office space, the plan included a convention center and an homage to Cape Breton’s First Nations in the form of a sweat lodge, ceremonial fire and wigwam light sculpture.

I had planned to focus this week on Bedford-based Doucet Developments’ winning proposal, but in the meantime I’ve received a copy of the mysterious third proposal—the one withdrawn from consideration before council made its decision.

Editor’s Note: I heard from Deana Lloy this week and she tells me she did not withdraw her proposal, rather, she was “not awarded the land.” I apologize for the error, I was simply going by what I had heard in council discussions.

There’s not a lot to this one, but I’m going to take a look at it this week because it raises some interesting questions about waterfront development.


Red Label

A photo of a woman in a plaid skirt and shawl.

Claire Fraser in her arm warmers

This third proposal came from Deana Lloy, owner of Red Label Kilts, Inc, a company located in the Eltuek Arts Centre with a retail outlet in the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion. The retail outlet is of relatively new vintage—it had just opened at the time of this 2021 Cape Breton Post profile.

Red Label’s website (which should really come with a strobe effect warning) explains that Lloy has been in the business of traditional premium kiltmaking, custom tartan design and “all things tartan” since 1995 (initially as Deana’s Sew Many Treasures). Her tartans are listed in The Scottish Register of Tartans and include “Absolute Darkness,” a blue, yellow, grey and black plaid that began life as a fundraiser for the Miner’s Museum and is “intended for use by those with a coal mining background, family and community friends.”

In addition to Lloy’s own creations, the cruise pavilion shop sells crafts by various members of her family, products from Scottish designers like Ness and official merch from the Outlander TV series, like tartan knee blankets and “Claire Fraser’s Arm Warmers.” (Outlander, based on the novels of Diana Gabaldon, tells the story of a woman—Claire Fraser, she of the arm-warmers—in 1940s Scotland who finds herself transported back to 1743, falls in love with a Jacobite, becomes embroiled in the Forty-five Rebellion and eventually emigrates to colonial America. The series has done so much to promote Scotland, Gabaldon has been given an award for her contribution to Scottish tourism.)

As noted, Red Label’s retail shop opened just two years ago, but Lloy already had bigger ambitions. That 2021 Post profile ends this way:

…although she’s just opened, Lloy is still thinking ahead to a time when she opens a second larger shop, where production and retail will be housed in one location.


Kilts and gin

Seven months after the article was published, Red Label Kilts submitted a waterfront development proposal that involved not the entire stretch between the cruise pavilion and the Holiday Inn, but one particular property—PID 15606882, pictured below:

Red Label Kilts proposed to build what Lloy described as a “multipurpose heritage retail/production center” including kilt manufacturing, tartan designing, a Scottish/Celtic retail store, a Scottish deli/gin bar with an outdoor patio called The Pickled Thistle, a kilt-making school, a conference room and an office for the Scotland Nova Scotia Business Association.

Estimated costs for the facility were not available at the time of the submission and the sole letter in support of the project came from the co-chair of said Scotland Nova Scotia Business Association, one J.D. MacCulloch, who describes himself as “an entrepreneur, business owner and economic development consultant with regional and international experience.” MacCulloch, who is founder as well as co-chair of the Scotland Nova Scotia Business Association or SCOTNSCONNECT, says he’s spent over 20 years “working with Scottish and Nova Scotia companies and organizations to build commercial and cultural partnership opportunities.”

I checked out the association’s website hoping to get a sense of the group and its purpose, only to discover a rather low-rent production that describes Nova Scotia this way:

Pretty and peaceful, Nova Scotia is Canada’s second smallest state, a peninsula on the eastern border of the Canadian mainland. However, its lengthy coastline is dotted with fishing harbors, sandy beaches, and plump islands.

The “blogs” section of the site is a bizarre collection of sponsored posts, some of which at least have a Nova Scotia connection—like “A Beginner’s Guide to Choosing the Perfect Yarn for Your Project” which links to Darn Yarn of Dartmouth—but most of which are beyond random—like “Getting Ahead of Your Rivals in Elder Law & Estate Planning Firm” which links to Bambiz, a Florida-based law firm; “Positive Attributes of a Property Manager,” which links to California Pacific Realty Berkeley Property Management; and “Getting the Perfect Smile: What Cosmetic Dentists Can Do for You,” which links to Foote Family Dental Care in Gonzales, Lousiana.

In short, the idea that the Red Label Kilt proposal would create, as MacCulloch puts it, “an ideal location” from which the Scotland Nova Scotia Business Association could “grow” its “international partnerships and trade opportunities” doesn’t make for a particularly compelling endorsement.


Working waterfront

The Red Label Kilt proposal included the following conceptual sketches:


Despite their rather rudimentary nature and the underwhelming testimonial from MacCulloch, I actually see a lot of positives in this proposal.

For one thing, I think asking for ideas for the various properties making up the waterfront might make more sense than looking for one, overarching plan for the entire expanse. The latter approach practically demands—and certainly inspires—architectural bombast whereas a waterfront made up of a variety of elements springing from a variety of minds sounds more like our actual community.

I also think working craftspeople would be a terrific waterfront attraction and the concept could easily be expanded beyond kilt-making to reflect the island’s other cultures and crafts. And yes, I realize there’s a fine line between culture and kitsch but it’s one you have no choice but to walk when you enter the realm of cultural tourism. (Don’t even get me started on the history of the kilt and the invention of so many aspects of Highland Scottish culture; I was raised by a man who loved his Highland heritage, especially the language, but would not have donned a kilt for all the tweed in Harris.)

Basically, I think Red Label’s proposal represents something more organic and grounded in reality than anything else I’ve seen reading through the responses to the CBRM’s RFP, and I’m sorry it was withdrawn (although I understand why it was, given the ask was for a development scheme for the entire waterfront). But as I said off the top, the concept raises some interesting questions about waterfront development and it would have been nice to have heard them discussed.

Although who am I kidding? Our council would have discussed them behind closed doors.