CANADIAN CULMINATION: Juno Awards are coming to Halifax, home of Scotiabank Centre, above. (Courtesy venue)

Q&A with Suzanne Fougere, executive vice-president, strategy and business development at Events East

Halifax, Nova Scotia, with a population of 423,000, hosts Juno Week, March 20-24, culminating in the marquee Juno Awards, Canada’s version of the Grammys, presented by the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences.

It is only the second time in the Junos’ 53-year history that the festivities will be held in the Maritime city, among tourist attractions like the historic Citadel Hill, the colorful buildings of Jellybean Row, and the perfect late-night snack, the famous Halifax donair with its signature sweet sauce.

“There’s a vibe and an energy here that is hard to describe,” said Suzanne Fougere, executive vice-president, strategy and business development at Events East, which operates the 10,500-capacity Scotiabank Centre and the Halifax Convention Centre. Those are the respective venues for the broadcast awards on March 24 and streamed Opening Night Awards on March 23. Fougere is vice-chair of the Halifax Host Committee. The broadcast partner is crown corporation CBC.

In 2006, Pamela Anderson hosted the Junos at Scotiabank Centre, then called Halifax Metro Centre. In 2015, Scotiabank bought the naming rights and a series of renovations started the following year.  Events East operates the venues on behalf of the Halifax Regional Municipality and the Province of Nova Scotia, who have a 50/50 ownership structure of the convention centre lease.

The venue, which opened in 1978,  has seen countless acts pass through its doors, from Rush in 1978 to Paul Simon, Gordon Lightfoot, Van Halen, John Denver, Tina Turner, Garth Brooks, Celine Dion, Alanis Morissette, The Tragically Hip, Neil Young, Backstreet Boys and Leonard Cohen.

Last year, Scotiabank Centre hosted hockey’s 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship, and the opening ceremony for the North American Indigenous Games, the largest sporting event to date for Nova Scotia. In addition to hockey and lacrosse games, they had a Broadway run of Come From Away, and shows by Shania Twain, Megadeth and the Doobie Brothers.

Nelly Furtado has headlined there too. The Canadian pop singer is the 2024 Juno host, returning for the second time after her debut in 2007 at Saskatoon’s Credit Union Centre. 

Fougere spoke with VenuesNow about the return of the Junos, why acts should put Halifax on their tour itinerary and arena upgrades.

Suzanne Fougere, executive vice-president, strategy and business development for Events East.

It’s always fun when the Junos are on the East coast. The community is very excited and welcoming. The city is quaint.

Scotiabank Centre is located in the heart of our downtown core. The thing that makes our venue so amazing is that we’re surrounded by hundreds of bars and restaurants. For an event like hosting the Junos, that kind of extension of the venue out into the community is something that you feel in every corner of the city. You feel the East Coast Maritime hospitality. Halifax is a growing, vibrant city with an increasingly diverse population, but at the same time it has East Coast charm and those traditional port city hospitality elements..

You hosted the World Junior Ice Hockey Championships last year, which was televised. Did you have to do anything to the venue to accommodate that type of  TV event?

There’s a build-out that happens around the broadcast components for the international broadcast on TSN. For an event like the Juniors, we need to accommodate dressing room needs and the volume of people that move through the building. It’s not the same as a typical hockey game or a concert when you have a major event in your building for 10 days to two weeks. They need a lot of square footage. Some of needs are different. 

Scotiabank acquired naming rights to the venue in 2014. It was previously known as Halifax Metro Centre.

What will capacity be for the Junos after production setup?

It’s a little over 8,000 for the show for the broadcast show. Their move in and rehearsal timeframe is over a 10-day window prior to the event on the 24th. 

What will it be like outside the venue where there’s the red carpet and fans gathering to see the nominees and performers and other arrivals?

Scotiabank Centre is located at one end of Grafton Street and at the other end is the Halifax Convention Centre, site of the Opening Night Gala Awards on Saturday evening. The red carpet happens on Argyle Street in through the convention centre and back down one of our pedestrian friendly streets back down to Scotiabank Centre. We’re taking up two full city blocks over those couple of days with all of the components of the Junos.

There’s another 51 weeks of the year. How do you convince artists to play Halifax?

One of the things we hear all the time from the live performers is they love what our fans have to offer when they come here. We operate a venue that would punches way above its weight. We have a team of professionals who can make just about anything happen. There’s a vibe and an energy that is hard to describe. It’s a bit of a hidden gem that way. But those who come here know it and they love coming back. 

Who do you have coming this year?

Before the Junos, we have City and Colour coming up (Feb. 27) and Queens of the Stone Age (April 17). We have the Harlem Globetrotters (May 2); Styx (May 19), and Cirque du Soleil (June 6-9). 

Do people typically travel from adjacent provinces?

Absolutely, for the big shows, 100%. We draw from the entire Atlantic provinces. It is the largest venue in the region. We offer a great experience from a hospitality perspective. People love visiting Halifax and performers love being here. We’re a bit further on in terms of the East Coast, which sometimes is impacted by tour decisions. We do well with the acts that we’re able to attract and we’re focused on making sure we can continue to do that.

What upgrades came with the naming rights in 2014?

When we secured the naming rights partnership with Scotiabank, which was 10 years ago now, that came with a variety of enhancements, front of house in the venue that were focused on enhancing the fan experience. At the time, the key investments were the replacement of all the seating in the venue. We also did an expansion to our concourse — our largest club area on the main concourse level was expanded. We did a washroom expansion as well. In 2019, we replaced our center-hung videoboard. We have another series of enhancements that will be upcoming over the next couple of years that are similar in vein, things like a digital advertising ring, those types of things that you see in modern venues.