What started less than two years ago with a single Instagram post — a picture of an African Nova Scotian visitor to Africville Park — is now a profitable local Black-owned tourism company. Now, the company’s founder said she’s using funding she received to help her company grow.

René Boudreau is the founder of Elevate and Explore Black Nova Scotia, a tourism company geared towards Black travelers within the Atlantic region. The company’s tours highlight Black Nova Scotian history and culture to potential Black tourists from around the world.

“The goal and the vision of Elevate and Explore is to encourage more Black travelers to visit the province, but also to inspire people from all backgrounds to explore the province as well,” she said.

A photo of René Boudreau smiling for the camera. She's wearing a black suit and has large square golden earrings. Her hair is slicked back with a side part and she has on red lipstick.
René Boudreau, founder of Elevate and Explore Black Nova Scotia onboard the Black Excellence Boat Cruise in Halifax. Photo: Instagram / @elevateandexploreblackns

“I thought that if more [Black] people could see themselves traveling around the province, then we would probably feel more comfortable to go to different paces or more inclined to want to visit.”

Boudreau is from the Black community in Truro and has family roots in East Preston. She works for the Association of Black Social Workers. Recently, she was one of a hundred business owners accepted into a mentorship program through American Express called Blueprint: Backing BIPOC Businesses. The program is geared towards business owners who are Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour .

Each participant received a $10,000 grant to put towards their business. Boudreau said the 15-week program also includes a lineup of weekly guest speakers and opportunities to network with other BIPOC entrepreneurs throughout Canada.

‘I just started posting pictures of Black people exploring the province’

“When I started it, I wasn’t registered as a business or anything, I was kind of just starting it with the goal to create a business out of it,” said Boudreau.

“I just started posting pictures of Black people exploring the province. It would be pictures that I took, or pictures that I would ask people to send me, and I would just post them. From that I was able to form partnerships with different businesses and organizations.”

One of the first partnerships was through Tourism Nova Scotia. Last summer, Boudreau was contracted to take a group of friends, and a photographer on an excursion in Mahone Bay where they were paid to document their experience in order to help promote a “Sail and Sea” package.

“When I started, my focus was really to try to attract more Black travelers to the province, but when COVID happened and travel wasn’t really a thing anymore, I had to kind of shift my focus to encouraging people within the province to explore, which kind of fit perfectly because everyone was doing that anyway,” she said.

She was able to put profit from the influencer opportunities towards her business and then worked to expand her business by holding events and experiences.

Left photo: Black woman sits on rock on top a mountain with trees and a lake in the background at Gypsum Mine Trail. Right Photo: Black man overlooks waterfalls at Victoria Park in Truro,
Photos: @ElevateAndExploreBlackNS / Instagram

Black History bike tour

The first was a sold-out Black History Bike tour in Halifax last summer. Boudreau partnered with I Heart Bikes on the Halifax waterfront, and sold tickets to participants from all backgrounds, though the majority, she said, were predominately white people.

The group started at the Halifax waterfront and travelled to:

• Citadel Hill, where they heard a presentation about the Jamaican Maroons and their involvement in building the fortress in the early 1800s.
• Uniake Square where they learned about the history of the community and the North Branch Library.
• Mulgrave Park, where they viewed artwork murals and current MLA Suzy Hansen spoke to them about the community.
• And Africville where Eddie Carvery talked to them about his experience and advocacy for the former Black community.

Four photos of Black history Bike Tour, top left to bottom right: Citadel Hill, Mulgrave Park, Africville, waterfront biketrail near MacDonald Bridge
Black History Bike Tour. Photos: Instagram / @elevateandexploreblackns

From there the group biked back to the waterfront and made additional stops to take in various statues and plaques along the boardwalk that highlight the Black experience and history in Halifax and Nova Scotia.

‘We don’t always see ourselves on a boat’

This past Summer, Elevate and Explore Black Nova Scotia partnered with Change is Brewing Collective, a group of Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour who make craft beer, for a Black Excellence Boat Cruise that started from the Halifax Harbour. They worked with Ambassatours to commission the boat The Harbour Queen.

“It was open to anyone, but our target audience was Black people,” said Boudreau.

That event also sold out.

Black Excellence Boat Cruise, four photos, top left to Blottom right: African Drummers, Black married couple smiles for the camera, women laugh onboard, man posed with glass of beer
Black Excellence Boat Cruise. Photos: Instagram / @elevateandexploreblackns

Participants were welcomed onto the boat by a group of African drummers and were treated to entertainment in the form of musical performances by various Black performers and a live DJ while onboard.

“The goal with that is creating experiences for people that highlights Black excellence, Black history, Black everything. It’s something that’s needed here and often when it comes to experiences here, we don’t always see ourselves on a boat. Or we don’t always see ourselves on bikes.”

“[I was] just kind of trying to get creative and come up with different ideas of engaging people and creating a space where people feel comfortable trying new things or just getting together.

Black Girls ski trip

Boudreau said that part of the application process for the mentorship program was identifying milestones participants have for their business. Other than a business laptop, Boudreau said she wants to put the rest toward future events to help earn a profit and grow her company.

“I am in the process of planning a Black Girls Ski Trip, which hopefully take place in March,” she said.

This past October, she hosted a retreat she said was well received.

“That was really successful and everybody that attended were like ‘Ok, when’s the next one? You should do one for every season.’”

Additionally, Boudreau said she has plans to launch an official website for Elevate and Explore Black Nova Scotia in December, which she said will promote her business and other Black-owned businesses and experiences throughout the province.

“It will be a good resource for people from away to go on this website and just browse through. And if they do decide that they want to visit Nova Scotia, then here are some different Black-owned businesses that you can support; here are some Black-owned Airbnbs you can stay at; here are some cites and attractions; here [is an “about” section] for Elevate and Explore; there will be pictures [from my] social media.”

Through social media, Boudreau said people from the US, Montreal, and Ontario have reached out expressing both an interest in the Black history and communities of Nova Scotia, and in potentially travelling here someday.

“When you get into the actual history, people are just fascinated, like ‘Wow!’”

Right photo: Black couple pose in front of red phone booth in Luckett Vineyards, Right photo: man on mountain overlooks scenic coast line in Cape Breton.
Photos: @ElevateAndExploreBlacNS / Instagram

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Matthew Byard writes news, profiles, and stories of the Black Nova Scotia community. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

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