“People are the new fish.” This has become something of a maxim for actor/comedian Shaun Majumder.
The famous Newfoundlander is devoted to rural revitalization in his home province—and he has a grand idea to help spark new economic opportunities in a place where codfishing once ruled. Tourism—hiking, kayaking, whale watching—plays a huge part in this strategy. He’s starting with his hometown of Burlington, and hopes the idea will spread throughout The Rock.
Here is the timeline:
“The driving fire is sharing this place with as many people as possible,” says Majumder. His original idea to attract tourism and create jobs was simple: “I’m going to build a lodge [in Burlington]. People are going to stay there. The money they spend goes back into the town. One lodge, one project—we’re done.”
It didn’t fly.
“We didn’t get the money for the lodge—why would anyone invest if there’s no proven track record?”
So he built a greenhouse—Hummock View Greens—which generated local jobs. But when Majumder and his wife, actress Shelby Fenner, wanted to throw a harvest party at the first season’s end, they realized there was nowhere for guests to stay. If tourists were ever going to visit Burlington, or other rural areas, they’d first need accommodation.
“Glamping Tents” were erected in Burlington, and Majumder began planning a new Eco-Pod—a sustainable cabin with a panoramic ocean view.
The harvest party concept soon evolved into The Gathering, a three-day celebration of “fire, food and music,” now in its fourth year. Alan Doyle (from Great Big Sea) is one of the performers at this year’s event; past performers have included Sam Roberts and Jim Cuddy. (August 27 to 30; thegatheringburlington.com)
BSM Manor—Majumder’s not-for-profit organization—receives funds from The Gathering, Hummock View Greens, a food truck (‘Ome Fries) and other projects, which are then directed toward local improvement projects. “We then wean the communities off government assistance. Then this idea spreads through Newfoundland. We redefine ‘rural’ through social enterprise,” he says.
The Chef Hike is a popular outing at The Gathering—a short, guided hike complemented by a gourmet catered picnic and live music. Last year, it hinted at the possibility for further outdoorsy tourism by leading participants along an old fisherman’s trail to a secluded bay. Similar trail networks exist throughout the area.
Plans have met with some opposition. “You’re just doing this Gathering to make money and you’re keeping all the money for yourself… You’re just building this Eco-Pod so you can have parties with your Hollywood friends,” Majumder paraphrases some local gossip. “There is support in the town, but they’re still a little skeptical—and I don’t blame them. You can’t try to convince people. Keep leading by example. The proof is in the pudding.”
“Tourism and hospitality comes naturally to Newfoundlanders… they’re so kind and giving,” says Majumder. “It lifts you up as a people and it lifts you up as a community when you’re growing your food, when you have your own [businesses].”
His message: come here, spend your money and have an incredible experience.
Burlington is a 1.5-hour drive north of Deer Lake—the jumping off point for Gros Morne National Park. Near Burlington, and around the Baie Verte Peninsula, visitors can hike (the Alexander Murray Trail in King’s Point is stunning), sea kayak (June is iceberg season) and immerse in authentic cultural experiences (stop by the Outport Museum & Tea Room in La Scie).
“If you’re thinking about coming here, the universe is telling you not to listen to Air Canada’s ticket prices—just do it. Just splurge," adds Majumder. "You can’t know what it’s like until you come… leap and the net will appear.”
This article originally appeared in our Summer 2015 issue.