Nova Scotia

COVID pandemic sparks business boom in Cape Breton village

A small community in rural Cape Breton is seeing an uptick in visitors as a result of new businesses in the area.

Gabarus now hosts new restaurant and art gallery, leading to influx of visitors

Locals say working together is how Gabarus has survived for more than three centuries. (Brent Kelloway/CBC)

A rural community in Cape Breton, N.S., is seeing an uptick in visitors as a result of new businesses in the area.

Gabarus is a village of fewer than 100 people located on the east coast of Cape Breton, about 40 kilometres south of Sydney.

During the pandemic two businesses opened their doors in the community: a restaurant called Neck of the Woods and an art gallery called La Shed.

David and Jennifer Kyte own of Neck of the Woods. David Kyte said most people think they are crazy not only opening a business up during a pandemic, but also opening it up in the location they are in.

"We opened in a very rural area where there hasn't been any restaurants, businesses, or other retail places in quite a while, as far as I'm aware," he said.

Growing the pie for everyone

Currently the restaurant is opened for take-out only, but they do have a dining room that they plan to open up in the future.

To get the word out, the restaurant has been collaborating with other local restaurants such as the Mermaid Food Truck and Selkie's Neighbourhood Diner. They also hosted socially distanced outdoor music performances.

Neck of the Woods offers take-out now and hopes to open its dining room too. (Brent Kelloway/CBC)

Kyte said so far they have received a lot of support from the community.

"It might be the best part of living here, we just love the locals. We've got great support from the local community," said Kyte. "We feel pretty lucky and blessed to be here with them."

Turning a shed into La Shed

Another business that recently opened up in the community is an art gallery known as La Shed.

Andre Laroche is the co-owner of La Shed alongside his partner Louis Joncas. They have owned an art gallery in Montreal since 2005 called Galerie Laroche/Joncas. 

Laroche said one of their artists moved to Chéticamp in recent years and when they came to visit Cape Breton they fell in love and started looking for property and settled on a spot in Gabarus.

La Shed, Gabarus's new art gallery, lives up to expectations. (Brent Kelloway/CBC)

"We just came to see the house last year right after Dorian and the second we saw it, it was like, OK, this is amazing," said Laroche.

Laroche said at the start of the pandemic they decided to come east to their Gabarus property when things started to shut down in Montreal.

This led them to start turning a shed on their property into an art gallery using pieces of work from all of their current artists. Laroche said the current exhibit in La Shed is called From There to Here.

"It's about the story of what happened to us, so we're, in a way, telling a story with the voices of the artists that we represent," said Laroche.

He said La Shed has already gained a lot of interest from outside of Nova Scotia through their gallery's Facebook page and expects next summer a lot of people from other provinces will be visiting Gabarus.

About 2,000 hikers have moved the rocks to record their visit to the trail. (Brent Kelloway/CBC)

Tim Menk is a resident in Gabarus and is thrilled to see the new businesses opening. He said the small community rallies together keep themselves alive.

He said the community has come together in the past to restore the seawall and even move their lighthouse

Menk said the community also rallied to save the Gull Cove Hiking Trail and that, along with the new businesses, is going to help keep Gabarus going.

"It's a sign of a community on the rise and I think that's very exciting," said Menk.

Menk said all three of the new additions to the area have brought more people to the small community. He said they can actually roughly count how many people visit the community through a rock counting system set up on Gull Cove trail. 

Whenever someone walks the trail they are asked to take a rock from one bucket and place in another.

"We've had probably somewhere in the area of 2,000 people who have come out here to this trail at the end of the dead-end road," said Menk.

Menk said other small communities surrounding Gabarus are slowly fading so it is good to see commercial activity begin to pop up in the area. 

Laroche said if something ever happens that they have to admit defeat with their gallery in Montreal they will live full-time in Cape Breton.

"We might have to resort to Gabarus, the most amazing place I've ever been to," said Laroche.