Art, culture and nods to the East Coast are highlights of Halifax’s Muir hotel
A hotel? Making me feel proud to be Nova Scotian?
Just hours into my stay at Muir, I feel a strange, but welcome, sensation of pride. It washes over me as I start to understand the story the artists are telling.
Muir — the province’s first Autograph Collection property — opened on the Halifax waterfront in December 2021. From the handcrafted tapestry by Allison Pinsent Baker in the lobby to the striking ship hull ceiling in Drift (the excellent in-house restaurant), the hotel is studded with local undertones.
“Muir is intended to be an experience born of this place,” says developer Scott Armour McCrea, Armour Group CEO, adding there’s no better reflection of who we are than incorporating art and culture. “People want to feel they are part of a place when they visit. They want to immerse themselves in that experience. When people go to Paris, they want that Parisian feeling.”
The same goes for Nova Scotia. And the hospitality industry is leaning into this belief more and more. Muir did.
Each of Muir’s 109 rooms has an original, unique landscape painting. Move through hallways and you see photography by Maritime artists. The hotel’s art gallery, True Colours (which is exclusive to guests) features rotating work by Maritime artists. Pivotable pieces by Pinsent Baker, Peter Powning and John Greer fill the lobby.
Each room has a bespoke tartan blanket (Muir — the name is Scottish Gaelic for “sea” — even has its own tartan). There’s a modernized hooked rug under each bed. The rooms, designed by Studio Munge, feature customized furniture and lighting that is designed and crafted in Canada, and inspired by a modern East Coast aesthetic. The walls are a bleached white oak, and the corners are rounded, creating the feeling of being in a grand stateroom on an ocean liner. McCrea says he couldn’t be prouder to have Nova Scotian Brian MacKay-Lyons as lead architect.
“Until it’s experienced, it’s difficult to fully appreciate,” says McCrea. “It’s kind of like a complex movie. You have to watch it a few times to understand all the details … and to understand all the elements.”
As a lifelong Nova Scotian, McCrea says it’s important to represent the area and what is possible. “It’s where my family lives and where I hope my grandchildren will live. I have a deep and resounding pride and appreciation for this place.”
PRODUCTS TELL STORIES
“It just means so much to me,” says Leigh McFarlane, founder and CEO of the Sherbrooke, N.S.-based The Soap Company of Nova Scotia. McFarlane worked with Muir to develop signature in-room bath salts. She was struck with how aligned her business values were with that of the hotel’s, both wishing to incorporate local producers in meaningful ways.
“When you work to get the exact perfect solution and you’re willing to put in the time and patience, it’s just such a delight,” says McFarlane. “That was the experience of developing this. It was just a great big honour.”
McFarlane says she loved creating something special that told a story about the province.
“We have so much to offer in Nova Scotia. It’s wonderful to see a business like this looking locally to enhance their guest experience.”
After a back and forth process, they opted for a single portion bath salt in an amber jar with a dark lid. McFarlane created a signature scent: a combination of her honey soak with honey from Cornect Family Farm in Guysborough County. She dehydrated the honey and ground it up into little flecks of gold, which offered a wonderful visual display when the jar was opened. Pine essential oil gives it a woodsy forest smell.
“It’s important to note that every single one of those jars is filled by hand,” says McFarlane. “The soak is made and stirred by hand, and the cap and label are installed by hand.” That’s special, she says, as it enables an energetic connection with people who will use the product. “They will enjoy a tiny piece of something made here on the Eastern Shore. I think that’s magical.”
SHOWING CHARACTER THROUGH ARTISANS
Sheri White of Urn Song Pottery in Halifax appreciates how Muir is showcasing the character of the province by working with local artists. White made 120 ceramic vases for the rooms at Muir.
In collaboratively crafting the “Muir Vase,” she suggested they use her “Bay of Fundy” pattern, a motif she developed after whale watching around Digby. Looking back at Brier Island, she says the scene’s contrast and colours struck her.
“I felt really honoured to be selected,” says White, who noted not only was it a large project, but it was inspiring to know her work was going into a room where someone might be visiting Halifax or Nova Scotia for the first time. “I really felt pleased Muir was so supportive of so many artisans and shining a light on many arts and crafts in Nova Scotia. It’s pretty important.”
“I feel incredible pride being able to display my work in a venue that’s trying to capture the uniqueness of Nova Scotia,” says artist Sharon Wadsworth-Smith, who completed 32 acrylic paintings that now hang in individual rooms and suites. Each features a sandy ocean theme inspired by Nova Scotia landscapes.
“To see original artwork by the local people, it’s so much more powerful. It’s impactful,” says Wadsworth-Smith, an artist who lives by a lake on the South Shore.
For her, the project began in 2020 and to find inspiration she started visiting Nova Scotia beaches, taking photos, collecting information and returning to her studio to paint.
Design firm GZ Art — contracted by Muir to find local artisans — connected with her for the project, which she says at first felt almost too good to be true. “For somebody to ask you to do 20 paintings, which was the initial number, it’s hard to believe.
“It was a big process, but a lot of fun.”
CULTURE RIGHT IN THE ROOMS
Richard Thomas Davis, a Canadian high realist painter based in LaHave, N.S., has four pieces in True Colours.
“People want to see local culture. It’s nice the hotel is adding to that,” he says. “To have the culture brought into the hotel — right into the rooms — that’s fantastic.”
Davis, a self-taught artist who is into detail and work that is “grounded in reality,” says he appreciates the respect for art shown at Muir. “You really feel like the art belongs there. It looks like it is very thoughtfully done.
“It’s nice to be presented in such a thoughtful way, and it’s nice to know it’s being seen by a new audience. The hotel brings in a whole new group of people.”