SYDNEY — No weather is too extreme, no climb is too steep, and no location is too remote for Wally Bernard.
The outdoor adventure enthusiast and new band councillor for We'koqma'q First Nation has photographed some of the best sights in Cape Breton and across the province, including waterfalls, caves, and mountaintop views.
His stunning photos have been featured in promotional material by the provincial government and some private companies, and his active social media accounts attracted the attention of Destination Cape Breton, who recruited him as one of their Cape Breton Outdoor Adventure Ambassadors.
Terry Smith is the CEO of Destination Cape Breton and says the organization started out in 2018 working with 25 avid hikers on the island that were already active on social media and provided them with training in photography and content creation.
"The great thing for us is that we were able to have all of these folks engaged and going out and documenting their various adventures, and that ended up creating more awareness out there of what we have on the island, so for us it was a great way to support passionate people who were involved in outdoor adventure, but also provide them with a method so that the destination benefits from everything they're doing as well," he said.
Smith says there are some ambassadors, including Wally Bernard, that Destination Cape Breton now pays to go to specific spots and create content for them.
"(Bernard)'s been really prolific in going to different places and capturing waterfalls and sharing them so, oftentimes, people are finding out about waterfalls that they didn't know existed from Wally, and that's definitely a particular specialty of his," Smith said.
Bernard's favourite waterfall in Cape Breton is Hume's River Falls in Wagmatcook, an 11-kilometre return trip.
He has always loved being outdoors, but says he's been serious about hiking for the past six years or so, which is right around the time he started his job as the Mi'kmaw physical activity coordinator in We'koqma'q. In that role, he brings opportunities for outdoor adventure and physical fitness to the youth in his community.
"I like to look for things that I never had growing up," he said.
In the past few years he has organized a learn-to-surf program at Point Michaud, a snowboarding program at Ski Ben Eoin, and a learn-to-skate program in Baddeck, and has made the fitness centre in his home community of We'koqma'q, Johnny's Gym, free to youth as long as they commit to a drug and alcohol-free livestyle.
His passion for adventure and for the beauty of Cape Breton and mainland Nova Scotia has become popular online, with over 2500 Instagram followers and 5,700 members of his Facebook Nova Scotia hiking adventures group.
He even has sponsorships from companies sending him products and gear to try out and feature in photos, including his current favourite, a Halifax granola bar company.
But for Bernard, who is in his mid-30s, it's all about getting outside in the open air.
"Adventure is the best cure for almost anything. It energizes your soul, you feel amazing when you’re done. It clears your head and keeps you healthy," he said.
Bernard uses social media to let people know when he's going for a hike, which is every chance he gets, and he said he'll often have people join him. His hope is that he inspires other people to catch the hiking bug and explore the hidden gems of the island.
"They're missing out. You don't have to go far, it's in our back yards and it's free to do, and some of these (spots) need to be seen to be believed."
Ardelle Reynolds, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cape Breton Post