Tourism at its finest
When enRoute Magazine lists your service as one of the 100 favourite things to do in the world, it’s a sure sign that your business is on the right track. In the case of Lighthouse Picnics of Ferryland, Newfoundland and Labrador, it’s just reaffirming something they already knew – beauty and history never go out of style.
“Our average day can see between 100 and 150 visitors coming to the lighthouse for picnics,” says owner Jill Curran. “History is my first love and being able to work here, where I grew up, is great.”
Now in its eighth season, Lighthouse Picnics offers visitors scrumptious gourmet picnics while enjoying spectacular views of the rugged coastline where minke and humpback whales and icebergs make frequent appearances.
Located on a narrow peninsula that juts out dramatically from the Town of Ferryland, visitors take a scenic 25 minute walk to get to the historic lighthouse.
When they arrive, visitors choose their picnic fare from a delicious menu and then are given a blanket and a flag. They’re told to pick out their favourite spot in the vast headland surrounding the lighthouse, lay out their blanket, set up their flag and await their meal.
Once their picnics baskets are ready, they are delivered by a server who matches the basket to the flag. The food is served on real plates with real silverware and the drinks are in Mason jars with screw-on lids so they don’t spill. Visitors are then free to eat the fresh, gourmet fare, watch the whales and icebergs go by, enjoy the scenery with the sea breezes ensuring there are no flies, and lounging at their leisure.
“It’s a delight to a lot of our visitors because it’s so removed from all the traffic noise and other distractions,” says Jill. “No one is waiting for them to leave a table for the next guests, they can stay as long as they like. We’ve actually had visitors stay all day and take naps on the grounds.”
While many experiential tourism destinations advertise adventures and exciting experiences, it’s the serenity and remoteness, along with great ‘al fresco’ dining, that appeals to the people who make the trek to picnic at this historic lighthouse. It’s also why Lighthouse Picnics is the winner of the 2005 Provincial Cultural Tourism Award.
Jill didn’t come to start the business by accident – she has a long family history connected to the Ferryland lighthouse.
“My grandmother was born and raised in this lighthouse cottage,” explains Jill. “Her father, my great grandfather John Costello, was the lighthouse keeper at that time. His nephew Billy was the last lighthouse keeper here before they automated it in 1970.”
Built in 1870, the lighthouse is still functional, but the adjacent cottage stood empty for 20 years before Jill and her business partner at the time, Sonia O’Keefe, decided to build a business out of it. Sonia was finishing cooking school when the two friends decided to refurbish the cottage and offer gourmet picnics, featuring local and organic ingredients, as a seasonal business.
“We developed the concept of a picnic experience because it’s so common here in Newfoundland and Labrador and with the wonderful views, we thought visitors would enjoy it,” says Jill. “Many people here work outdoors and are used to taking their cup of tea and bit of bread outside. We enjoy it so much we thought others would too.”
Jill and Sonia soon got to work renovating the cottage, careful to keep the integrity of the building intact. They leased the building from the town and as the business grew, the businesswomen were able to access repayable assistance through ACOA to undertake some additional leasehold improvements to their facility.
“ACOA helped us to achieve our vision by providing helpful advice and financial assistance that allowed us to expand our capacity – to purchase commercial grade equipment, make updates to buildings and hire more people,” notes Jill. “We also received repayable assistance towards promotional activities that has helped us to increase our market penetration.”