Benoit Lalonde never set out to publish a book. All he wanted to do was explore the new province he was living in. However, after visiting all the provincial parks and completing all the hikes in the books he bought, he still wasn’t done.
This led him to waterfall hunting. “Waterfalls have always been one of my preferred hikes because not only is the hike in the forest or along the river beautiful, but you actually get a pretty sweet prize of the waterfall at the end,” says Lalonde.
Lalonde started posting pictures and waterfall trails during a time where little information on waterfall locations was available online; soon publisher Goose Lane Editions contacted him. They wanted him to write a Nova Scotia waterfalls guide. Lalonde had never considered writing a book, but the idea appealed to him.
“I like sharing information. Trailpeak.com is good and Facebook is good, the Twitters and Instagrams are all good but having a book is that one more extra line of information that’s out there,” says Lalonde.
In 2018, Lalonde published his book Waterfalls of Nova Scotia: A Guide, detailing some 160 waterfall trails. But the journey to knowing all these trails dates back farther. Lalonde’s passion and skill for finding waterfalls in Nova Scotia started in Cape Breton in 1999.
Born and raised in Quebec, and having finished his Masters in freshwater biology at the University of Ottawa, Lalonde moved because his future wife was studying at Dalhousie University’s Cape Breton teaching site.
When searching for waterfalls, at first Lalonde would just pick a stream, look at its physical characteristics and follow it in hopes of finding a waterfall. Then he found something while searching the Natural Resources Canada website that changed his approach.
“I don’t know which search term I used, but it just came up with a bunch of maps, and when I looked at the dates they were all these really old maps like 1870s, 1880s, 1890s,” he recalls. “When I opened the first one and all these waterfalls were mapped out on there, it was just: wow. I was just amazed.”
To find waterfalls, Lalonde uses two maps. The first map charts waterfalls he has already been to so he doesn’t repeat himself. The second map is potential waterfalls, combining the old maps he found online, with satellite imagery from Google Earth. “If you toggle that timeline, it will actually show you some winter, spring, fall imagery,” he explains. “So for the larger falls in let’s say Cape Breton, I can actually see them through the satellite imagery. I will have the old maps saying there is a fall there then I will have the satellite imagery saying yes there is a white spot there.”
Sometimes the white spot just ends up being snow, but despite that risk Lalonde will give it a dot on the map of potential waterfalls. Lalonde goes looking for waterfalls year-round, but prefers going in the fall because there are less bugs and he can avoid the ice that may linger in the spring.
In 2002, Lalonde and his wife moved to Dartmouth. He’s able to cover the ground that he does because his job as an ecologist risk evaluator for Environment and Climate Change Canada includes a lot of travel. Once he knows where he is going for work, he looks at the area and sees what potential waterfalls are close by. Then he looks at the topographical map, which is a map that has the contour lines of the land, and charts out the best routes down.
He’s learned that it’s better to go downstream and work his way up to the bottom of the waterfall, avoiding steep and often-difficult treks around and down the falls. He also takes care to ensure his explorations are completed before nightfall. When going out by himself, he leaves a note on his dashboard saying where he is going.
Lalonde says his favourite waterfall is always the next one, and for areas left to explore, the rest of the remote waterfalls of Cape Breton are on his list.