Eskasoni receives nearly $100K as First Nation hopes to grow tourism

Eskasoni First Nation has been awarded almost $100,000 to grow the Eskasoni Cultural Journeys experience, an interpretive trail on Goat Island.

Eskasoni Cultural Journeys is a 2-kilometre interpretive trail that will benefit from the funding

Eskasoni Cultural Journeys has stations where animators sing, dance and make baskets. (Submitted by the Eskasoni Band Council)

Eskasoni First Nation has been awarded almost $100,000 for an interpretive program the band hopes is another step toward making tourism an important part of its economy. 

The funding will go toward Eskasoni Cultural Journeys, a two-kilometre trail circling Goat Island at the entrance to the community on Bras d'Or Lake.

The trail includes interpretive panels and stations where people sing, dance and make baskets. The money will be used to add canoes, a performance space and more interpretive materials to the program. 

Thousands of visitors

The funding is an investment through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency's communities fund.

The majority, $87,827, comes from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, with additional contributions from the Trans Canada Trail, Eskasoni First Nation and the Nova Scotia government. 

Part of the funding will go toward more interpretive materials. (Submitted by Eskasoni Band Council)

Tourism co-ordinator Sandra MacDonald said Cultural Journeys is already attracting many visitors to the community, which is located about 50 kilometres from Sydney.

"We had in excess of 3,000 visitors last year including 26 cruise ship tours, a group of 75 international cadet students, local people and people from all over the world," she said. 

9 staff members

Economic development officer Tracy Menge says tourism in Eskasoni, which has a population of almost 4,000, is so new the band hasn't been measuring its impact.

But jobs are already being created. Goat Island employs nine people with spin-offs in the craft sector, Menge said.

"Sometimes we can't keep enough product in the visitors' centre so we're trying to reach out to local crafters to help us keep stock in the store," she said.

"People love to see the dream catchers, the jewelry, the basketry."

Menge said visitors come from the Atlantic provinces, New England and as far away as Australia. 

About 3,000 people visited Goat Island in 2016. (Submitted by Eskasoni Band Council)

"But it's also wonderful to get people from Cape Breton that have never been to our community," she said.

Sharing culture, history

Menge said in addition to cruise ship visitors, Eskasoni is also trying to increase the number of group tours, school visits and conferences. 

Traditional foods are also being showcased with full meals or dishes such as moose meat, eel or luskinikn, a bread similar to bannock.

As for the future, Menge said she hopes tourism "continues to grow and we can continue sharing our culture and our story."

Germain Doucette along Eskasoni Cultural Journeys, a two-kilometre trail circling Goat Island. (Submitted by George Paul/Eskasoni Band Council)

With files from Mainstreet Cape Breton