Why Canada Is Attracting World-Renowned Oceans Events and Conferences

Destinations across the country lead the way in building innovative oceans technologies and processes, and the world is taking note.

(Photo credit: Destination Canada)

(Photo credit: Destination Canada)

From coast to coast to coast, Canada's leadership in ocean industries such as 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. 

With all this knowledge capital to tap into, it’s no wonder that so many business events planners are drawn to Canada’s knowledge hubs, including Victoria, Québec City, Halifax, Charlottetown and St. John's, as potential host cities for their next major meeting or conference.

The country's extensive resources, excellent meeting venues and research facilities have catapulted it to the top of the list for organisations seeking the perfect destination for their group events.

Here’s how Canadian destinations, with their ocean industry expertise and specialised talent pools, are attracting global organisations such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the World Aquaculture Society, as well as influential events including IMPAC5, the 5th International Marine Protected Areas Congress.

Victoria: Innovating ocean observation

Victoria, British Columbia boasts a wealth of ocean-oriented research organisations and institutions. (Photo Credit: Destination Greater Victoria)

Victoria, British Columbia boasts a wealth of ocean-oriented research organisations and institutions. (Photo Credit: Destination Greater Victoria)

Located steps away from the Pacific Ocean on Vancouver Island, Victoria, the capital of the Canadian province of British Columbia, is making waves in the oceans sector. The province is home to more than 1,000 companies specialising in ocean and marine industries, with 70 per cent of these on Vancouver Island itself. This means that events in this sector have easy access to thought leaders to supplement their event agenda. For example, the Institute of Ocean Sciences — one of Canada's largest marine research centres — employs more than 250 scientists and technicians who can potentially be used to enhance speaker programmes for events. 

Ocean-oriented activities — including ocean recreation, ocean transport and seafood — make up about 8 per cent of the provincial economy. 

The University of Victoria is renowned for its Earth and Ocean Sciences programme and for Ocean Networks Canada (ONC), a global leader in ocean science research and technology. ONC's cabled observatories (platforms on the seabed that monitor Canada's east and west coasts and the Arctic) supply vital data about marine environments. ONC's Innovation Centre also created the Underwater Listening Station, which can monitor sounds produced by ships, whales or fish. 

Major business players operating in Greater Victoria include Cascadia Seaweed, one of the largest providers of ocean cultivated seaweed; MarineLabs, which provides data-as-a-service marine condition information from fleets of compact, cloud-connected buoys; Open Ocean Robotics, which produces energy-harvesting autonomous boats equipped with cameras and sensors that instantly relay oceanic observations; and Rockland Scientific, an oceans tech company dedicated to the measurement of turbulence in marine environments. Their systems are used worldwide in a variety of disciplines, ranging from climate research to coastal management and fisheries research.

The city has also partnered with the Association of BC Marine Industries and many private businesses to launch the Centre for Ocean Applied Sustainable Technologies (COAST). This initiative brings together numerous organisations, experts and resources to explore opportunities and innovations around the ‘blue economy’.

  
"Faculty and students from the University of Victoria are quite active in the study of optical oceanography; many supported the conference by serving on the planning committee, as presenters and volunteers."

- Jennifer Ramarui, Executive Director, Oceanography Society

Notable oceans-related conferences that have been held recently in Victoria include the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography, Summer Meeting 2018; Canadian Institute of Marine Engineering MARI-TECH 2018; North Pacific Marine Science Organization PICES Annual Meeting 2019; and Aquaculture Canada 2019.

Jennifer Damarui, Executive Director of the Rockville, MD.-based Oceanography Society, which held its Ocean Optics Conference in Victoria, cited local sponsors and exhibitors including Ocean Networks Canada, AML Oceanographic and ASL Environmental Services as attractions for holding events in the region.

"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 volunteers."

Halifax: Canada’s original ocean city

Nova Scotia's capital city employs nearly 35,000 people in the oceans industries. (Photo Credit: Discover Halifax)

Nova Scotia's capital city employs nearly 35,000 people in the oceans industries. (Photo Credit: Discover Halifax)

Halifax’s close-knit and collaborative community has made its fortunes from the sea for generations. Even as the technology fuelling this sector evolves, the city’s commitment to stay at the cutting-edge of industry innovation remains steadfast.

Halifax is the capital city of the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, a province in which more than 300 ocean-oriented companies operate. The city itself employs nearly 35,000 people in the sector, and is at the heart of driving oceans innovation in Canada. These include developments in underwater acoustics, sensors and instrumentation, fisheries and aquaculture, marine biotechnology, robotics and autonomous vehicles, informatics and artificial intelligence, as well as naval architecture. The result? Nova Scotia is a globally recognised powerhouse with a CAD$4.5 billion ocean economy.

Halifax’s sector specific workforce includes experts in technology, as well as an array of authorities in research and academia – Halifax is home to one of the highest concentrations of oceans-related PhDs in the world – who can make a meaningful addition to any event. This includes experts from Halifax’s Dalhousie University, which is home to the Aquatron Laboratory, Canada's largest university aquatic research facility.

"Halifax's thriving ocean technology community makes it a natural fit to bring our flagship conference here."

- Christopher Whitt, General Chair for OCEANS 2024 Halifax

The country's largest ocean research centre, 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. The 13-acre waterfront facility in Canada’s deepest harbour provides “the best space in the world to turn ideas into commercial solutions.”

Halifax is home to countless ocean innovators, such as Sustainable Blue, an organisation on a mission to create the world’s most responsible salmon fishery; Welaptega Marine, a world leader in underwater inspection technologies; MetOcean Telematics, which helps customers with integrating hardware into autonomous underwater vehicles, buoys and more. Finally, there's Irving Shipbuilding, a global leader in building, fabricating, converting and servicing vessels and platforms.

"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 centre information and hotels. Facilities like COVE bring together organisations that will support an event like ours." 

St. John’s: Blazing the trail in ocean tech

The harbourfront city of St. John’s is the epicentre of Canada’s ocean innovation ecosystem. (Photo Credit: Destination Canada)

The harbourfront city of St. John’s is the epicentre of Canada’s ocean innovation ecosystem. (Photo Credit: Destination Canada)

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 has Canada’s largest ocean economy.

The harbourfront capital city of St. John’s is at the epicentre of Canada’s ocean innovation ecosystem. More than 450 companies operating in the oceans sector have their home in the city and the ocean industries in St. John’s have contributed over CAD $10 billion annually to the economies of the province and the country more broadly. The province employs more than 37,000 in the ocean economy, with over 16,000 employed in the seafood industry. Seafood from Newfoundland and Labrador is known around the world, as the province exports to over 40 countries. And, because of this expertise, business events in St. John’s have unparalleled access to industry leading minds and organisations, and can engage them to elevate their events.

St. John’s is also home to world-class oceans researchers, facilities and institutions. The city is home to the world’s largest flume tank and one of the longest ice tanks. Memorial University of Newfoundland, based in St. John's, is known around the world for its pioneering oceans research.

"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."

- Cathy Hogan, Executive Director for OceansAdvance Inc.

The city is ideal for ocean-related events, according to Cathy Hogan, Executive Director for OceansAdvance Inc
 
"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 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 and Kraken Robotics' underwater robotics and sensors. Other notable companies operating out of St. John’s include eDNAtec, specialists in environmental genomics who are dedicated to improving the environmental stewardship of the planet’s marine ecosystems.

St. John's has hosted many successful conferences, including the Maritime & Arctic Security & Safety Conference, which takes place in the city annually, and will welcome the World Aquaculture Society North America in August 2022 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 a CFA (come from away), St. John's is not a hard sell," says Hogan.

Québec City: Revolutionising oceans research 

More than 28 million tons of merchandise flows through the Port of Québec annually. (Photo Credit: Mario Faubert) | www.airphotomax.com, Destination Québec cité

More than 28 million tons of merchandise flows through the Port of Québec annually. (Photo Credit: Mario Faubert) | www.airphotomax.com, Destination Québec cité

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 centres. 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 more than 235,000 visitors into the area annually.

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 revitalising 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. Desgagnés, a leader in merchant marine operations, with subsidiaries at many major Canadian ports, is also headquartered in the city.

“We've hosted many ArcticNet Annual meetings and Arctic Change meetings over the years and the staff, service, size, facilities and location of the Québec City Convention Centre is amazing.”

- Martin Fortier, Executive Director of Sentinel North

Planners can tap into Québec City's wealth of expertise by augmenting their speaker programmes with experts voices from professionals at institutions such as Université Laval's Institut nordique du Québec, known as Canada's leader in Arctic research.

In recent years, the city has hosted the Arctic Change International Conference and ArcticNet’s annual meeting. At these 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 caché, 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 many ArcticNet Annual meetings and Arctic Change meetings over the years and the staff, service, size, facilities and location of the Québec City Convention Centre is amazing."

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 more than 30 universities across Canada, says Fortier.

Charlottetown: Ocean research and seafood specialisation

The Prince Edward Island Convention Centre is one of Charlottetown's premier meetings destinations and has played host to numerous ocean-oriented events. (Photo Credit: Meetings & Conventions PEI) 

The Prince Edward Island Convention Centre is one of Charlottetown's premier meetings destinations and has played host to numerous ocean-oriented events. (Photo Credit: Meetings & Conventions PEI) 

Prince Edward Island (PEI) was known by many names before its current one, and the Indigenous Mi’kmaq People aptly called it Abegweit — "the land cradled on the waves”. This maritime province, with its picture book 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. Another prime example of PEI’s innovation is Aspin Kemp & Associates, the company that developed the world’s first power system for tugboats. PEI also boasts a CAD$7 million partnership with ocean start-up 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. 


"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."

- AAC President Kim Gill

Some of Charlottetown's ocean sector business include Red Rock PowerAtlantic Advanced Power Technologies, MarineNav and NorCan Marine. 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 2024 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 organiser's first stop for tailoring the right package for their event, whatever the size. 

Canada is home to innovative individuals and organisations that can help deliver impactful events from coast to coast to coast. Meeting planners can reach out to industry experts, with the help of Destination Canada Business Events, to supplement their speaker schedule, organise site tours of world-class facilities or engage in knowledge exchanges with established industry leaders and disruptive start-ups alike. Tapping into the country’s innovation ecosystem is sure to elevate any event and create a lasting impact.

"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 organisations 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.

For assistance in bringing your oceans event to Canada, connect directly with expert in the sector Pamela Wilton, Business Development Manager, Economic Sectors - Natural Resources. 

Centres of excellence

Canada is an ideal destination for business events in numerous innovative sectors. Click here to learn about Canada's leadership in sectors including technology, agribusiness, life sciences and more, as well as the range of resources available to groups in these industries.