Captain Joe Van Schaick in 2003
Joseph Van Schaick, with a wife and 7 children, bought the property and a boat in the spring of 1972. They were surprised to discover on the day after moving in, that tourists were knocking on the door, looking for a boat tour! The boat, ‘Ciboux’, came with the property but no mention was made of tours! Immediately grasping the tour’s potential, a regular departure schedule was created, and reservations were taken. The property still had 2 cottages to rent, which proved to be a viable second income source. So, Joe built 2 more cottages in the following 3 years. The business grew steadily from about 200 boat passengers per season to over 5000 by 1991. Most of his children became involved in the business at least part time over the following summers. The phone number for Bird Island Tours has not changed since becoming a regular land-line in 1974, 902-674-2384
Captain Joe on the Eastwind III in 1989
The boats changed over the years, with a new boat purchased in 1975 called the ‘Marie Antoinette’, a 42 ft, 32-passenger Cape Islander style. After 2 summers, he returned it and purchased an older boat called the Sea Wolf, which was a 40 ft long narrow boat that was gradually converted to a tour boat. In 1982, he bought a 3 year old fishing boat, the Eastwind III, from a local fisherman. It had been built in 1979 by a boat-builder here in Big Bras d’Or. This was a beautiful sea boat and was gradually converted to a covered tour boat, which Joe then operated for 27 years.
Captain Vince, 2008
Vince, Joseph’s second youngest son, showed a strong interest in the boat tour while in his teens. One summer he rebuilt the hull of the old tour boat, Sea Wolf. He also took his turns as first mate on the boat with his father. When he was 18, he passed the exam to qualify as a tour boat captain, as his older brother had. In 1983, he enrolled in the Coast Guard College, with a love of all things boat-related. After graduating in 1986, he worked on a variety of Coast Guard ships as a Navigation Officer, then later landed an office job with their Ice Operations Section in Dartmouth. The best advantage of that job was that he was off for the summers and could run the boat tours with his father.
In 1988 a second boat, the ‘Second Wind’ was purchased, and converted from a houseboat to a tour boat. Unlike the ‘Eastwind III’, the ‘Second Wind’ was not a good sea boat. Joe captained it and Vince captained the old one, the ‘Eastwind III’. It was used as a second tour boat for about 5 years. At one time, they ran up to five tours a day, the earliest at 7am. The wharf was upgraded from a deteriorating concrete wall to a reinforced wooden wharf. The business continued to expand as advertising reached more visitors to Cape Breton.
Captain Vince on the Eastwind III in 1985
Vince bought the old boat from his father in the spring of 1989, and registered the name “Bird Island Tours” as a sole proprietorship. The two boats were used fairly constantly for the next 5 years. He married his wife, Sheila, the next year and they worked together to make improvements to the business, which they incorporated in 1994. They were able to buy the property from Vince’s parents in 1995 and move there permanently in 1997. Vince’s Dad was still on hand to captain one of the boats and aid Vince with the maintenance and marketing decisions.
Captain Ian, 2008
Vince and Sheila have 2 sons, Ian and Mark. Ian became interested in the business when he was quite young, especially the boat tour. By the time he was 12, he was helping out on the boat, in the office with ticket sales and assisting guests. When he was 16, he became our regular first mate on the tour boat every summer. At 18, he started taking the first of 4 courses needed to pass his Small Craft Masters. This certificate allows him to be a tour boat captain, which he completed when he was 20. Ian is involved in operational and advertising decisions and can now run the business when his parents are away.
Captain Ian helping fuel up the Eastwind III in 1995
His goal since grade 7 has been to find a career that allows him the summers off to take over from Dad and captain the tour boat. He graduated from Memorial University of Newfoundland with his B.A. in French. He is currently seeking a postion in electronic engineering.