BURLINGTON, N.L. — Newfoundlanders have a reputation for being very loyal to their home province and perhaps none more so than Burlington’s native son, Shaun Majumder.
Majumder’s brainchild, The Gathering, a music, comedy and food festival now in its seventh year is set to go Aug. 23-25 in Burlington, Middle Arm and Smith’s Harbour.
It has become the place to be in late August, said former Middle Arm town councillor Bobby Hull.
"The music’s awesome, the chefs are great, the food is awesome,” he said.
The 2018 edition of the festival is being headlined by two-time Juno Award-winning country singer George Canyon anchoring a lineup that includes: Newfoundland The Band, Strewn, The Once, Chris Kirby, Steve Poltz, May Hemingways, Duane Andrews and the Hot Club de Carbonear, Sherman Downey, Rich Aucoin, Rachel Cousins, Jacob Critch and Kathy Stock.
Festivities kick off Thursday evening (Aug. 23) with a jiggs dinner followed by Shaun Majumder and Friends Comedy Night. Scheduled to perform alongside Majumder are Steve Patterson, host of CBC’s The Debaters, and Mike Lynch (aka Cecil O’Brien aka Randy Lee).
The Gathering is part of a larger effort launched by Majumder and his wife, Shelby Fenner, to create a sustainable tourism-based economy for the struggling outports of Baie Verte.
Dubbed ‘Ome, it has the stated purpose “to rewrite the rural story.”
In a promotional video for the 2018 festival, Majumder explained, “The story of rural Newfoundland has gone from it being a place of bounty and a place that was thriving to a nothing place,” he says.
“Why is the provincial government asking (people) to resettle and move to bigger centres? Because the provincial government can no longer provide for these tiny little places, so why don’t these tiny little places find a way to provide for themselves.
“So, what ‘Ome wants to do is rewrite that rural story. We don’t believe there’s nothing in rural Newfoundland, we believe everything is in rural Newfoundland.”
They proposed to do that by building small businesses and reinvesting the profits back into the community.
To that end, Majumder and Fenner started the first ‘Ome business, Hummock View Greens, a community greenhouse. To celebrate, they decided to throw a party with world class chefs and local musicians, which became The Gathering.
Hull said he has seen positive results.
“It’s having an awesome impact,” he said. “I notice small things, like people taking more interest on a personal level, like having a cleaner town. Especially in our little town, everybody got into building their own little wharfs for their boats and even painting them with Newfoundland colours and people keeping their land cleaner.”
Hull said people are starting to realize there is a future in tourism and more people are coming to the area, even at other times than around the weekend of The Gathering.
“People are starting to realize it’s actually a good thing for the area,” Hull said.
In fact, it is working so well that, in 2017, Majumder and company took a scaled-down version of the show on the road visiting St. John’s, Grand Falls-Windsor, Gander and Corner Brook prior to the big event at the end of August in Burlington.
He says the model can work all over the island. Encouraging others to create tourism businesses, Majumder notes it is the very lifestyle that is disappearing that makes these places attractive to tourists.
“It’s all about the bling, baby,” he says. “You’re sitting on a gold mine and you might not even know it.”
“Fishing and forestry and mining, these are things that come and go, but you know what will never stop? People. They’ll always want to go to a place like Burlington, like Middle Arm, like Smith’s Harbour.”