Bea MacGregor, Executive Director of Alderney Landing, works just a few blocks away from where she grew up. The downtown Dartmouth MacGregor knew as a child is very different than the vibrant community she knows now. When she attended Hawthorne School in the 1970s, she recalls that many of her classmates’ families were struggling.
“In downtown Dartmouth at that time, there were a lot of rough areas and I saw a lot of different ways of life.”
These experiences had a profound impact on MacGregor and instilled in her a strong desire to improve the community around her. She was also concerned about the environment, so she pursued a degree in Environmental Planning at NSCAD. One of her student jobs allowed her to combine these passions in a decidedly unglamourous way - working for the former City of Dartmouth conducting fecal counts of all the lakes.
“I became the first woman draftsperson to work for the engineering department. It was a different day,” says MacGregor.
While finishing up her degree, MacGregor started working for the Downtown Dartmouth Development Corporation. She was tasked with writing a grant proposal for a community-wide recycling program. MacGregor not only got the money, but she also went on to establish the first comprehensive recycling program in Canada.
“The Treasury Board of Canada invited me to come speak to them on how to implement this across the country!”
Bea MacGregor in 1989 when she started with the Downtown Dartmouth Development Corporation.
On the heels of this success, MacGregor began taking on increasing responsibilities with the DDDC. When the position of Executive Director came up, she applied and was successful. MacGregor was 25 years old, with her work cut out for her.
“Things were rough with prostitution, strip clubs and Hell’s Angels lining the street. There were still many brilliant businesses like Woolworths, Fisher’s Stationery and Janet’s Flowers, but the negatives were deterring people from the downtown, hurting businesses.”
MacGregor, on behalf of the DDDC Board of Directors, with Board President Darrell Dexter, recruited an army of like-minded powerful people who were prepared to fight for a safer downtown Dartmouth. Some of the leaders were former MLA Roland Thornhill, former City of Dartmouth Mayor Gloria McClusky, and former Supreme Court Justice Susan Hood. Together, with the residents, they convinced the powers that be to eliminate the licenses of the strip clubs.
“We shut them down! To successfully accomplish something together as a team, for the benefit of all. It was the beginning of a new era.”
Next, MacGregor worked with other passionate supporters such as former Senator Tom McInnis, as then President of the Downtown, and the community, to draw up a new municipal plan to bring people back into downtown Dartmouth. They decided to create a strategy that played to Dartmouth’s strengths: a track record of hosting popular community events and a beautiful waterfront.
“The events plaza went in first, then the outdoor stage, theatre, an enhanced farmer’s market and a gallery. Plus, an expansion of the marina and a playground to re-animate the Dartmouth waterfront.”
The Alderney Landing facility was opened in 1999 and MacGregor was hired as its first Executive Director. In the twenty-plus years since, Alderney Landing has become an essential hub of cultural and economic activity. The site has incubated more than thirty local businesses that are now thriving across HRM, including several in downtown Dartmouth.
“There’s been a rebirth of businesses, of young entrepreneurs that has transformed the streets. When I started, families didn’t feel safe coming down. You didn’t want to walk alone at night. Now, you can. It’s a joy!”
MacGregor says as downtown Dartmouth rises, so does the demand for Alderney Landing’s resources. The theatre is booked into next year, the farmers’ market is at capacity for vendors, and they must turn people away who are looking for permanent retail space. MacGregor says more than 1100 people in the community were asked what they’d like to see in Alderney Landing’s future and their number one priority is expansion. It’s a goal her board is currently working toward.
“When you have the right leaders at the table who have a vision and work like a team, you can make great things happen. Downtown Dartmouth has been so fortunate to have many committed community leaders that have contributed significantly. And with our future, we have such a board now.”