Tides rise, eagles soar at N. S. rafting resort

Steve and Licia Elder

Steve and Licia Elder

URBANIA, N.S. — In summer, the main attraction at Tidal Bore Rafting Resort is indeed the experience of rafting on the world's highest recorded tides, but it's events at the riverfront restaurant and the 13 cottages that provide revenue year round.

Steve Elder, whose background is advanced technology leadership, and his wife, Licia, who works for the provincial government, bought the assets of Tidal Bore Rafting Park out of receivership in 2015. 

“[We] acquired the Tidal Bore Rafting Park on the Shubenacadie River,” said Steve Elder on his LinkedIn profile. “[We] changed the last word to “Resort” to focus on four season operations and special events like company off site meetings, retreats, workshops, weddings, reunions and the like, in addition to supplying over 5,000 rafting trips per year in the spring and summer months.”

The facility was started in 1985 by Hibbert Knoll, who invented the idea of using a light, motorized boat to take passengers back upstream once they had ridden downstream on the tides. Later, another owner, Jack Robinson, fell in love with beautiful red pine log homes in Russia, and arranged for four of them to be deconstructed, shipped to Canada, and reassembled on the site by Russian labourers. 

Today, Tidal Bore Rafting Resort, located just an hour northeast of Halifax, has 13 cottages including three country-elegant chalets, a five bedroom special events chalet (the only such facility in the province), a riverfront restaurant, an above-ground swimming pool, a meeting lodge and several miles of groomed hiking trails, many of which follow along the river bank.

The resort is open all year round and offers rafting tours from May 1 to Oct. 31 each year.

“There is too much vacancy in the off-season, given the beauty of the facility,” Elder told CLN in an interview last week. After the Elders bought the 180-acre property, they made capital improvements to the lodging, facilities, and restaurant. Steve Elder lives onsite, while Licia works for the provincial government during the week, and joins him in the evenings and on weekends.

When they bought the complex, the restaurant was a traditional operation with regular hours that was losing $5,000 per year. They changed it into a special purpose dining room available for special events, corporate retreats and conferences, weddings, family reunions, bachelor parties and gatherings for 12 or more people. Last year, they served 6,000 meals and the restaurant is back in the black. It's become a favourite for a couple of culinary clubs, and in the summer, there's a large deck overlooking the river that can accommodate up to 250 people.

Group business has included sports teams, family reunions, corporate and spiritual events, workshops for the local Micmac First Nations, PTSD workshops and accommodation for displaced families. Elder added that right now, two thirds of the revenue comes from rafters, while one third is generated by the hotel, restaurant and special events.

With its stone fireplace and iron servery, Tidal Bore Rafting Resort lives up to its ad in the Chamber of Commerce Magazine, which states, “It's not your average board room.” Steve Elder once sat in on a medical technology presentation held at the resort. The presenter was distracted by eagles passing by. The participants decided to suspend the meeting, while Elder talked to them about bald eagles. “They wrote a nice thank-you note,” said Elder. “They'll be back.”

Guests talk about magical moments, like bonfires in the lodge and impromptu guitar sing-along sessions. 

“It doesn't just happen,” said Elder. “My wife and I are committed to putting in more than we get out of it. If it feels right, we offer the lodge up in the evenings and have a bonfire. I have three guitars and a professional sound system, ping-pong and complimentary hot chocolate. “We have fun with the guests on a Saturday night. Why not? The guests benefit too. And I've learned two to three new songs in the past year.”

Plans for the future include continuing to build the business and make sure it is a viable part of the Nova Scotia tourism infrastructure. “We enjoy working in the business. At some point in the future, we may sell — another 10 years at least — but for now we are fully engaged.”