Friends from Membertou and Eskasoni First Nations are turning a Cape Breton, N.S., campsite into an Indigenous-owned camping and RV park.
The former Englishtown Ridge Campground, which sits near the entrance to the Cabot Trail, is now known as the Kluskap Ridge RV and Campground.
Six friends are behind the move: Rosemarie and Austin Christmas, Darrell and Sharon Bernard, and Tim and Amanda Jesty. They bought the campground with a personal investment and funding from Ulnooweg Development Group, which provides loans to Indigenous entrepreneurs in Atlantic Canada.
The group says it started with a picnic-table conversation about how hard it was to find campsites where they could all park their trailers beside each other. Amanda Jesty jokingly suggested their build their own campground and the idea took off.
"The house we purchased for $250,000 and the campground we purchased for $280,000," said Rosemarie Christmas. "This year, we plan to have 49 hook-up sites, 30 tent sites, two teepees, a cabin and two vacation rentals."
The park will add RVs next year.
'Realistic, natural habitat'
Christmas said the teepees will fit up to six people and are designed to create a "realistic, natural habitat."
"The experience is whatever they want to make it. We're going to have the fire set up inside, they're going to be very traditional. We're going to have them up on a platform so you're really not going to be sleeping on the ground."
Darrell Bernard, who's also a member of the singing drum group Sons of Membertou, said it's another way to explore Mi'kmaq culture.
"We're able to reach the Mi'kmaq communities and bring them to the front door of the Cabot Trail, where tourism is the greatest in Cape Breton," he said.
"We can showcase things from the Membertou Heritage Park, Eskasoni Goat Island, Wagmatcook Cultural Centre, or Potlotek. We can feature [them] in our shop and we can bring the traditional music to more people that are coming through."
Gateway to the Cabot Trail
Austin Christmas said it's an opportunity to take part in the growing tourism industry on Cape Breton.
"We like to think of it as the doorway to the Cabot Trail. A lot of trailers these days are pretty big rigs and a lot of people don't feel safe hauling them up to Cape Smokey. Our idea is camp with us, leave your trailer with us, and then you can safely travel around the Cabot Trail, come back in the evening [and] enjoy your campsite," he said.
The campground will open May 6 and close Nov. 13.