Nova Scotia

Ingonish gondola, tree walk project given $2.5M federal loan

A private group of Czech businessmen want to transform the Cape Smokey ski hill into a four-season destination.

Construction is underway on the gondola, but the tree walk has been delayed by COVID for a year, say officials

Cape Smokey partners are working on the construction of a gondola to transport skiers and tree walk visitors. (Submitted by Cape Smokey Holding Ltd. )

A private proposal to bring a four-season resort to Ingonish, N.S., has received a financial boost from Ottawa.

Private partners working to redevelop the Cape Smokey ski hill received a $2.5-million loan Tuesday to be used in the construction of a gondola and a seven-storey observation tower known as a tree walk.

"Our project is moving forward despite all these immense obstacles that COVID-19 is creating for us," said Joseph Balaz, president of Cape Smokey Holding Ltd.

Balaz said the provincial lockdown in Nova Scotia means some key personnel are currently tied up at the New Brunswick border, which has meant delays and rising costs.

The summer opening of the tree walk is postponed, as they've been unable to get construction materials to Ingonish on time.

However, Balaz said the hill has about 70 per cent of the equipment and other components needed for the towers to shuttle what's described as Atlantic Canada's first gondola.

"We are building towers for the gondola and we are absolutely excited about the project," he said.

An artist's rendering of what a possible tree walk could look like at the Cape Smokey ski hill. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

Balaz said the federal loan may seem insignificant when compared to the overall project's $130-million budget. But he said the funding is a meaningful show of support for the project.

"It is very, very important — even for psychological sort of reasons," he said. "Imagine when you have a group of investors from far, far, far away. They need to sort of sense that the ... project is welcome by the province, by the local community."

Property purchased in 2019

Balaz is among a group of Czech businessmen who purchased the property from the province for $370,000 in 2019.

The construction of the tree walk is the crowning jewel of their proposal.

"We discovered that in Europe there's several of these tree walk facilities ... that creates this year-round opportunity for activities, for employment, for tourists and especially for local communities," said Balaz.

Balaz said the first phase of the project includes the gondola, tree walk and some hill improvements expected to cost $26 million. 

A brewery at the property is slated to open in 2022.

Balaz said $20 million has been invested so far by project partners. They are holding out hope the gondola will be operational later this summer.

Work underway

Patrick Austin, Cape Smokey operations manager, said the hill will be offering a gift shop, bar and restaurant to tourists this summer. 

Construction is underway on a depot to store the gondola's lift baskets and the facility's parking lot is also being reconfigured.

The construction phase of the project will add 85 jobs to the area, said Jaime Battiste, the MP for Sydney-Victoria.

Battiste said the government investment ensures Cape Breton Island will be ready to welcome back tourists when leisure travel resumes in Canada.

When asked about providing money to established tourism operators in Ingonish that have struggled throughout the pandemic, Battiste said Destination Cape Smokey will create economic spinoffs that will benefit them, as well.

"A lot of small businesses in Cape Breton ... are just so excited about what this project is about and what it means to their small business to have more tourists coming," he said.