HALIFAX _ At first, the story of the cheeky Canadian website that encouraged Americans to move to Cape Breton to avoid the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency seemed like a typical viral craze that would quickly flame out and fade away.
Now, almost nine months later, the man who created the online sensation says that on the eve of one of the most anticipated elections in U.S. history, the "Cape Breton if Donald Trump Wins'' website is still generating debate, discussion and genuine inquiries from Americans curious about moving to Nova Scotia's rugged northern island.
Rob Calabrese, a radio announcer in Sydney, N.S., who describes himself as a political nerd, said the website has generated more than two million visits and about 6,000 contacts, including the following inquiry Friday from Massachusetts: "We're interested in buying a house or vacation place near the coast in Cape Breton. Can you recommend an area? ... Looks like a beautiful place, with or without Trump.''
The homepage of "Cape Breton If Donald Trump Wins". (Screenshot)
And in recent months, a growing number of questions and comments have been coming from farther afield: Africa, Central America, the Netherlands and Germany, to name a few.
"When the story hits a certain country, we get a lot from that country,'' Calabrese said in an interview. "It's really worldwide now.''
Consulting a spreadsheet he compiled from the website's data, Calabrese said he's received questions about specific industries, like the IT sector, and inquiries about job prospects.
More importantly, he said he has learned that, regardless of the political upheaval in the United States, the people reaching out to Cape Breton seem to have one thing in common.
"There's very little difference between Canadians and Americans, Germans, Guatemalans or the Vietnamese,'' he said. "Everyone is just looking for a safe place with opportunities for their children. It's like that everywhere ... I've learned that Cape Breton is a place that people want to come to.''
Mary Tulle, CEO of Destination Cape Breton, says the so-called Trump Bump has kept tourism rolling along, with overnight accommodations jumping 14 per cent between January and August when compared with the same period last year. On mainland Nova Scotia, the rate increased by only three per cent.
At the Maison Fiset House inn in Cheticamp, N.S., the owners recorded their best year ever, Tulle said. The Keltic Lodge and Resort in Ingonish Beach, N.S., reported that an American visitor and his parents booked a $5,000 stay, having never heard of Cape Breton before.
"You could pretty much talk to anyone in Cape Breton and they would be able to give you a similar story,'' Tulle said. "This is for real.''
"There's very little difference between Canadians and Americans, Germans, Guatemalans or the Vietnamese ... Everyone is just looking for a safe place with opportunities for their children."
Unfortunately, visiting has proven to be much easier than staying for some Americans.
Calabrese cited the example of a woman from Arizona — a retired writer and photographer — who moved to Cape Breton in May, but had to leave last week when her visa expired.
"There is no path to immigration for her,'' Calabrese said, adding that the woman was self-sufficient and a busy volunteer working to alleviate child poverty.
"We have such a population problem and someone who just loves it here and is working to make it a better place, has to leave. There's no way someone like that is eligible unless they go through a new path as an investor or starting a new business or having family or getting married ... It's the way the law is.''
Behold: Cape Breton. (Photo: Getty)
Real estate agent Valarie Sampson said she has been too busy to calculate how many Americans have purchased homes on the island.
"There's been an increase in sales from the U.S.,'' said Sampson, who has been interviewed by CNN, a Japanese TV crew and the Washington Post. "But we don't look at the numbers until the dust settles.''
Meanwhile, Calabrese says the blast of hate mail he received during the first few months has dwindled to almost nothing.
"Donald Trump has a lot of very enthusiastic supporters,'' he said about the Republican candidate, pausing to chose his words carefully.
"I never talk about my personal feelings toward Trump, but the fact is that he makes people afraid. That's why I made the website.''
Still, Calabrese said there were more than a few Americans who asked about moving to the island because they were afraid of what would happen if Hillary Clinton won the White House for the Democrats.