Coastal Adventures, maintaining an in-tents love of the outdoors for 42 years and still paddling

Posted on March 24, 2023 | By Alexander Chafe | 0 Comments


A day on the water in an aluminum canoe at Wolfes Island on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore in 1986 (photo credit: Coastal Adventures)


Helping adventure-seekers explore the beauty of Atlantic Canada’s shores, Coastal Adventures prepares for its 43rd season on the water. What started as a passion project in the ‘80s has grown into a seasonal sea kayaking operation offering half-day and full-day tours, as well as three to eight-day wilderness excursions throughout Canada’s east coast.


Sea-king passion

In 1981, Scott Cunningham took a leave of absence from his Ph.D. in science to travel around Nova Scotia’s shores by canoe. The three-month-long trip changed his life. Having discovered his passion for the outdoors, Cunningham left science, purchased a home on the Eastern Shore and established a business. This marked the beginning of Coastal Adventures.

Offering three-day canoe tours along Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore, growth was initially slow. Coastal Adventures had one customer for its inaugural season and doubled business the following year. Cunningham observed two primary challenges: The Eastern Shore wasn’t an established tourist destination and canoeing at sea was considered dangerous. So, he made a pivot. Canoes were swapped with kayaks and Scott’s partner Gayle Wilson joined the business in the late ‘80s.


A tour in 1988 at Carryover Cove on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore using a mix of canoes and kayaks (photo credit: Coastal Adventures)


New Waters

It soon became clear that solely offering three-day tours wasn’t a sustainable way to grow. Gayle commented: “In business, it’s smart to step back and look at what’s working and what’s not. Coastal Adventures needed to find its bread and butter, so day trips were established.” Day trips helped scale the business in a big way by introducing beginners to the sport with a day on the water.

After noticing that a number of tourists from across Canada and the U.S. were booking tours, Scott and Gayle began offering lunch options. In 1996, they also opened a bed and breakfast, since accommodations were limited on the Eastern Shore. The popularity of full-day tours eventually led to half-day tours to accommodate tourists’ busy schedules.

Since the Eastern Shore still wasn’t a tourist destination, Scott and Gayle took the show on the road with three and five-day tours of popular areas like Cape Breton and the Bay of Fundy. Coastal Adventures also offered its first eight-day tour in Newfoundland in the late ‘90s, which became an important part of the business that many repeat clients like to revisit.


Owners of Coastal Adventures Scott Cunningham (left) and Gayle Wilson (right) on the water (photo credit: Coastal Adventures)


Sharing knowledge

In the 2000s, Cunningham and Wilson further expanded their services with one, two and five-day sea kayaking courses taught by their Paddle Canada certified instructors.

Their team also strives to educate clients about the outdoors. Wilson commented: “It’s a huge asset that our guides can interpret an area. We teach clients about plants, wildlife and the geology of an area, which sets us apart.”


A tour taking a break on Outer Baltee Island during a sea kayaking excursion among the 100 Wild Islands (photo credit: Coastal Adventures)


Paddling strong

Today, Coastal Adventures continues to offer full and half-day tours, along with their longer overnight wilderness retreats. The Eastern shore itself has even become a tourist destination after the Nova Scotia Nature Trust launched a campaign renaming the area the 100 Wild Islands.

42 years later and still paddling strong.


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