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Untapped potential

Identifying "what's strong, not what's wrong" on the Northern Peninsula

By Melanie Callahan

Re-energizing life on the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula.

That was the goal of a number of representatives from municipal, provincial and federal governments, educational institutions, community groups and tourism operators who gathered together in St. Anthony recently.

Grenfell Campus representatives pose for a picture in St. Anthony, N.L.
Photo: Submitted

The Sustainable Northern Coastal Communities regional engagement sessions were a continuation of the The Way Forward session held in November 2016, which created a platform for discussion and to create a space for the growth and development of the Great Northern Peninsula.

The sessions were a project of Grenfell’s Office of Engagement and the Harris Centre in St. John’s campus.

“There is a vast array of assets on the Northern Peninsula, and past research has highlighted the inventory of what we have here,” said Ken Carter, director of Grenfell’s Office of Engagement. “That sense of place, low cost of living, regional pride — we are coming together to build on those strengths.”

Sheila Fitzgerald, mayor of Roddickton-Byde Arm and vice-president, Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador, echoes that sentiment. She says being a mom of two teenage boys is her top motivation.

“My kids think this place is paradise,” she said.

“I want this is to be my children’s children’s home. We look at predicted population decline and it’s scary. We have control of today and it is our responsibility to take initiative. This place is different than anywhere else. And if there’s one place in this province that could make it work, it’s this place.”

Identifying our assets

PhD student Brennan Lowery worked with the group to help identify the strengths of the region.

Brennan Lowery
Photo: Submitted

“We need to start with what’s strong, not what’s wrong,” he said.

“Communities that get labelled as “in need” can be debilitated by labelling, but when communities find a way to use their strengths, assets and abilities, that focus can change the conversation and make the conversation more empowering.”

Some of the topics the group discussed were socio-cultural assets, including diversity, close social networks, relationships, such as those with law enforcement, and identity/sense of community, as well as natural assets, including natural resources, ecosystems, water, climate, fishery, forestry, mineral exploration, protected wildlife reserves and sustainable energy potential.

Other topics were economic and human assets, such as skilled workers, diverse skills, increased employment in health care, and increased tourism and potential in the oil and gas sector, as well as institutional assets including public facilities, infrastructure, government offices and non-profit organizations, such as recreation facilities, health care and care for seniors, and services.

Honouring Dr. Grenfell’s gardens

Researcher Dr. Greg Wood introduced the idea of rebuilding the historic gardens and greenhouses that Dr. Wilfred Grenfell built in the 20th century.

The property consisted of tree greenhouses that were used to start plants that were transferred into residents’ vegetable gardens.

“One of the messages of Dr. Grenfell was not just give things to people, but teach people to . . . sustain themselves.” — Dr. Greg Wood

Dr. Wood also spoke of Dr. Grenfell’s attempts to bring livestock to the region. He says Dr. Grenfell’s intention was to work towards food security for the people of the Northern Peninsula.

“One of the messages of Dr. Grenfell was not just give things to people,” he said, “but also to teach people to do things themselves, to sustain themselves, not just do it and leave.”

A proposed time line for such a garden would be spring 2019, pending approval of financial and human resources.

New product development

Dr. Jose Lam, professor of entrepreneurship in Grenfell’s business administration program, and Dr. Lakshman Galagedara, hydrologist with the Boreal Ecosystem Research Initiative, have been conducting a feasibility study on innovative and value-added dried fish and aquatic products for domestic and international markets.

Newfoundland salt fish has traditionally been a low-value product. To increase its value, the researchers say a more diverse product is necessary, including a product that can be both harvested and processed in the Northern Peninsula region.

The men’s research sparked questions from the participants such as the following: How can we find a niche market? Can we look at companies that only employ a few people rather than large corporations? Can we look at different products, like smoked seafood, for example?

Experiential tourism

Expanded food production would also allow for new opportunities in the tourism industry.

“We are looking at experiential tourism industry, but we are bound by fishing regulations,” said Andre Myers, mayor of Bird Cove and representative of the Viking Trial Tourism Association.

“Now, some fishermen can sell from their boat. Some are having lobster boil ups on the beach. There are gaps, but these are also opportunities.”

Innovation is all about creative thinking, says Mark Tierney of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

“Innovation doesn’t always mean reinventing a product, it’s also about reinventing the market, the packaging, and things like that,” said Mr. Tierney. “With social media, Facebook specifically, internet branding is much more accessible and affordable, and easy to execute.”

Unleashing potential

Jack Daly, a graduate student in the Department of Geography, presented his research on the Impacts of the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) on Sustainability of Northern Tip Coastal Communities.

Jack Daly
Photo: Submitted

CETA outlines exports of fish products from Canada to the European Union. Currently, exports are high, but there is unmet potential, says Mr. Daly.

The goal of the agreement is to create more economic interaction and encourage economic diversification. Among the biggest benefits to the Great Northern Peninsula is tariff reductions and access to an innovation fund.

“Sometimes the smallest player with the least resources have to fight the hardest for the money,” said Mr. Daly. “That is why I’m interested by this research. Maybe it’s about collaboration, working together to have a louder voice.”

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