Comedian Shaun Majumder: Home Is Where The Heart Is
Insight Comedian Shaun Majumder shares his love for the people, places, sounds and tastes of his native Newfoundland.
Mediaplanet What was it like growing up in Atlantic Canada?
Shaun Majumder Being raised in a tiny place like Burlington, Newfoundland was like living on another planet. I feel like when you grow up in a small town, it’s kind of like living in a little universe. I was free to run and play and explore—it was such a unique, cool, beautiful place. And I think it really set the bar for me of how I see the world. I grew up bright eyed, bushy tailed, always playing and exploring, without a worry in the world.
MP How small is Burlington, Newfoundland?
SM Well, in Ontario you’ll drive through rural communities and it’s usually 2 or 3 kilometres between towns, and each town has around 2,000 people. Burlington is a lot smaller. It’s a town at the end of the road that spills out into the Atlantic Ocean. Actually, it’s three towns that are attached—you’ve got Burlington in the centre, Smith Harbor to the east and Middle Arm—which is not from the Lord of the Rings, it’s a real place—to the west. All combined, it’s about 1500 people.
MP Over the past few years, you’ve been actively involved in promoting the region’s unique tourism experiences. How did that begin?
SM It all started when I was back in Newfoundland one year to buy some land. I ended up buying the school that I went to as a little kid, right in the middle of town, for $2,700. And I sat on the land for a few years not sure what to do with it. The more that I went back to visit, the more I started to see that the town was missing some key things—there weren’t any hotels or restaurants.
And I thought, “Well, I’ve got this piece of land. Why don’t I build something there that could house people? And while I’m at it, why don’t I put a kitchen in and make a little restaurant?” And that idea evolved into, “Why don’t I make a documentary film TV show about it and make it something that I can share with people?”
“I was free to run and play and explore—it was such a unique, cool, beautiful place. And I think it really set the bar for me of how I see the world.”
MP Where did this desire to give back to the community come from?
SM When I moved away from Atlantic Canada, I always felt a longing—there was a part of my brain that was being pulled back to that place. Stephen Fearing from Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, one of my favourite singer-songwriters, wrote a song about leaving Canada and going to Ireland when he was a kid, and his longing to go back. The quote was, “Like a tongue to a broken tooth.” The metaphor was that it was always there and you’re always finding yourself drawn back to that place. So because I was always drawn back to this place in my mind, no matter where I was, I was always nurturing the feeling of being in that place.
MP Is this idea of being drawn back to Atlantic Canada present in your initiatives?
SM Yes, absolutely. One of our initiatives, a sub-business, is Ome Sweet Ome, which is essentially the accommodations piece to the overall project. I like the concept of ome because ome is exactly what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to bring people home. And you know, that’s how Newfoundlanders say it. They say, “How long you ome for?” H’s become A’s and A’s become H’s in Newfoundland.
MP How does the initiative work as a whole?
SM Well what we’ve done is create a social enterprise in the community with the goal of building tourism infrastructure, places to stay and eat, and giving people things to do. The money generated from each of these sub-businesses feeds back into a central not-for-profit, and then that money gets floated out to the community. We’re trying to wean the community off the dependence of government funding for things like renovating an ice rick or building hiking trails—fundamental things that the community needs. We’re in the early stages but it’s fascinating to me. There’s this amazing potential. It’s like a social experiment in some ways. Can we keep rural alive through social enterprise?
MP Then there’s The Gathering Burlington festival. Can you tell me about that?
SM The Gathering Burlington is the festival that is the lightning rod for people to come to Newfoundland and celebrate what Burlington and the region are. The area is really one of the most beautiful spots in Atlantic Canada. It’s where all the icebergs flow down from May to July. We’ve got such amazing wildlife, mountains, and waterfalls—there’s just so much here and we want people to come experience it.
MP What is it about Newfoundland and this region that’s so special?
SM There’s a kind of authenticity in the region that permeates the people, the culture and the physical beauty. That’s why our goal has never been to force our vision on the region, but to celebrate what’s already there. We want to enhance and elevate the region, so we’re trying to create these experiences that already exist. It’s about being outside in the elements, experiencing local ingredients, local fare, and meeting local people.