Nfld. & Labrador

Berg boom in Bonavista means big business

Visitors are willing to brave chilly May weather to get up close, and that's good news for entrepreneurs capitalizing on the growing tourism business those icebergs bring.

Visitors are willing to brave chilly May weather to get up close

Mory Kapustianyk picks up a piece of an iceberg during a boat tour just off Bonavista. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Three years ago no one was offering boat tours in Bonavista. Bob Currie saw an opportunity.

For years Currie had to fly out to Alberta to work operating heavy equipment, but tourism presented an opportunity to start his own business and earn a living at home.

"Everybody depended on fishery at one time and now it's tourism," said Currie. "Tourism's a growing thing here." 

So is Currie's business. This year he did his first tour at the end of April, a month earlier than last year, thanks to to the bevy of bergs that have shown up off the coast.

Part of an iceberg breaks off near the lighthouse in Bonavista, causing it to rotate and shift.

"Icebergs is very important here now," said Currie with a laugh. "Especially this time of year before the whales and stuff get here."

It was icebergs that lured the Kapustianyk family to Bonavsita, all the way from British Columbia.

Bob Currie started up his own tour company, Discovery Sea Adventure Tours, three years ago when no one was offering boat tours in Bonavista. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

They zipped up immersion suits and went out to in Currie's inflatable zodiac, bobbing among more than a dozen icebergs floating just off shore.

"Often in pictures you don't really get that same sense of just how inspiring and big they are," said Grace Kapustianyk 

"It's really cool to be up very close and get that sense for ourselves."

Tourists can't take enough pictures of the colourful icebergs along the Bonavista peninsula. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Currie is no longer the only tour boat operator; there are now three companies offering to take visitors out to see icebergs, whales and puffins.

More icebergs than normal this year

This year has been a big year for bergs. The international ice survey has spotted double the number of icebergs floating  past Bonavista, heading further south.

The northerly winds have kept the icebergs close to shore, making for spectacular views.

Locals and tourists have been visiting the lighthouse in Bonavista to see the two giant icebergs grounded just off the point. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

People in town are used to earning a living from the fishery or working at the fish plant. But now more and more they're leveraging the ocean in a different way. The number of visitors is growing by 20 per cent a year. 

"Without the tourism, people is going to have to be moving away to look for work here, but a lot of people work in the tourism business now," said Currie.

"The fishery and that is not like it was at one time; there's big cutbacks in that."

The business boost of icebergs isn't limited to tour operators.

Roger Dewling mixes up a batch of shampoo at his store in Bonavista. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Iceberg products in demand

At East Coast Glow, Roger Dewling uses a hand blender to mix up a fresh batch of shampoo.

It's one of the dozens of products made with iceberg water.

When he was growing up in Clarenville, he said, he took icebergs for granted; they were just part of spring in Newfoundland, even a nuisance. But now people are realizing the potential for tourism, and for products.

He insists the iceberg water isn't a gimmick, claiming its purity makes better soap.

"It was a resource that was literally melting away," said Dewling.

"Customers enjoy it. They like the idea that they know where the product is coming from."

Dewling can't keep up with demand. He's looking at adding new machinery to help produce the volumes of soap he needs.

East Coast Glow uses iceberg water to make about 80 per cent of its products. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Locals and tourists get it right away, but when he travels elsewhere it takes some convincing that icebergs are really just floating off the shores of his town. 

"I don't think they really grasp the idea of what is happening here. So sometimes it's hard to believe that," said Dewling.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Peter Cowan

CBC News

Peter Cowan is a St. John's-based reporter with CBC News.

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