It seems almost a lifetime ago, yet my first foray into business is strongly linked to the political world. In March 2002, I left my tiny community of Green Island Cove and went to Ottawa to learn about politics at the Forum for Young Canadians. I knew nothing about politics, except that I was intrigued by it, little did I know I would become a Member of the House of Assembly just 9 years later. This was my first real adventure on my own, the farthest I had ever been away from home and it truly was a life changing experience – from getting a private tour of Parliament to sitting in the Speaker’s Chair while the Speaker took the photo to meeting friends from all over Canada, some of which I would end up in the same class as we completed our University degrees. However, beyond the week of friendship and politics, I was really overwhelmed by the Museum of National Civilization. It inspired me to think about our history, the people who have had an impact on rural Newfoundland and Labrador, especially on the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula.
I remember the return ride from the Deer Lake airport sparked the conversation about creating a museum that depicted the way of everyday living and its people. On the Great Northern Peninsula we are the one unique place where the “World Came Full Circle”, an event 100,000 years in the making. Cultures collided from the Maritime Archaic Indians, Paleo-Eskimo, Groswater Eskimo, and recent Indians, like the Beothuk and Mic’maq to the Norse, Basque, French, English to modern day. By the end of the ride the wheels were in motion to consider establishing a museum at Aunt Betty Spence’s vacant home in Nameless Cove. However, like most good ideas it almost never got off the ground. I applied for a position with the Green Team, looking for security in summer employment versus the ups and downs entrepreneurship would bring. I was unsuccessful in securing a position.
Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up. – Thomas Edison
It was now May and I decided that the concept of the museum could be done, with proper diligence and took all my free time in the remaining six weeks of preparation to conduct research (with dial-up Internet), complete some renovations and prepare the property for what would be a grand opening on July 1, 2002. The beginning investment was a lot of sweat equity and less than $500. The reward for trying, was priceless.
Flower’s Island Museum opened with Mary Elizabeth “Aunt Betty” Spence cutting the ribbon. She was approaching her 95th birthday and was excited that her old homestead, collectables and story was being shared with the world. Despite higher gas prices, the outbreak of SARS and limited knowledge of this new venture, this operation was able to secure 600 visitors from Australia, Norway, UK, USA and many places in between. I have made friendships that continue to this day, more than a dozen years later.
After my first season, I re-evaluated the business and look to find ways to generate more revenue streams to make the business model more sustainable. The first season saw great contributions in the form of donations, admission and gift shop sales. That winter, I began drawing up plans to create a Newfoundland themed nine-hole miniature golf course. That Spring the concrete was being laid, with many thanks to family and friends for helping and contributing to its success.
I look back and remember all the fun that happened during those summer months people had playing golf. There was lots of excitement for me on hole number 8 when my golf ball went up the pipe in the lobster trap and it was a hole in one. There were many tournaments that summer and a lot of life in the little community of Nameless Cove.
A summer Fun Festival was hosted in 2003 and 2004 with a partner and the ideas seemed endless. All the magic happened before Facebook, before access to high-speed Internet was available in the community. We focused on printing brochures, doing paper promotions and posters. These are all things of the past to those who have adapted in the tourism world.
It was clear the times were changing and with it some tough decisions had to be made. I was enrolled at Memorial University completing a business degree with summers committed to work terms and education. I worked to help others start-up their own summer ventures and spent a year living and working in Europe. Those decisions would ultimately lead to the closing of the museum’s doors. It was very difficult to see something in which I created, and have to let it go. Though, the experiences I gained overseas have forever changed my outlook on life, on economic development and on community, not to mention the life long friendships.
Flower’s Island Museum was a real high point in my life, as it really let my creativity flow to generate new ideas and share with the world what the Great Northern Peninsula was all about. Is there a possibility to re-visit this concept as it was?
As I walk down memory lane, I reflect with a smile realizing that since 2010, I’ve been continuing what I started more than a decade ago and that is sharing Rural Newfoundland & Labrador. This blog has been letting those “Experience the Great Northern Peninsula” in a virtual form reaching hundreds of thousands of people from 191 countries around the world. We’re certainly on the map!
We all have something to offer and all have an impact on our community. I encourage you to take a walk down memory lane and look back on some of your accomplishments and find new ways to look at failure and realize that there are always other paths to success.
Live Rural NL –
Christopher Mitchelmore, MHA (The Straits-White Bay North)