Unlikely as it seems, but it took a former lawyer and a scholar of Chinese history, who left their white collar careers to run an organic farm and restaurant in the deep South of the United States, to revive a "great camp" deep in Canada’s backwoods. Vaughn Perret and Charles Leary, former lawyer and scholar respectively, have made their Trout Point Lodge an award-winning resort where tourists enjoy Acadian French cultural tourism and an ecologically-friendly immersion in the Tobeatic Wilderness Area of southwestern Nova Scotia.
In 2009 the Changemaker’s National Geographic Geotourism Challenge recognized Trout Point Lodge with a finalist award for creating a unique venture that captures the essence of geotourism: sustain and enhancing the character of a place, including its environment, culture. aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of its residents.
“We certainly have been able to leverage the Changemakers competition finalist designation,” said Leary. “The networking and exposure to other people’s ideas and experiences excited me with all kinds of new thoughts about how to move Trout Point to a more sustainable position.”
Trout Point Lodge is built from giant eastern spruce logs, and chiseled granite and sandstone that reflect its location in Atlantic Canada's largest protected wilderness area. Resting amidst a forest of pine, spruce and birch trees, the lodge is surrounded by organic vegetable, herb and flower gardens to which Perret and Leary turn for their guests’ meals, and for the ingredients for their Creole, Acadian, Cajun and Mediterranean cooking classes.
The Creole/Cajun-Acadia connection is a natural one for Perret and Leary. Before coming to Canada, they were running one of the first certified organic farms in Louisiana, located near the Mississippi border – making hand-made French style naturally ripened cheeses, cultivating forest mushrooms as a revenue-generating product for poor, remote communities, and exploring sustainable ways to raise dairy sheep bred for hot climates. On a visit to Canada, they explored the roots of Lousiana cajun culture that traces back to the migration of French colonists in Acadia (the Canadian Maritime provinces) who were expelled by the British in the mid-1700s.
In keeping with Perret and Leary’s ethic of giving back to the community, a local cabinetmaker made the lodge’s wildwood furniture from saplings, burls, and branches taken from the land. The core of employees is local, and Perret and Leary have secured the confidence of the villagers of Kemptville, the closest town located 20 kilometers from the lodge, as they collectively strive to revitalize nature tourism, culinary tourism, and Acadian French cultural tourism.
Perret says, “The biggest accomplishment for us during the last year, and something that almost magically seemed to happen, was that our business earned the trust of the local community – which means having people willing to throw their lives and fates in with ours. We almost don’t have to hire anybody from outside now.”
“It’s an entirely handmade experience,” Leary says. “We like to think of ourselves as an antidote to the commercial -- almost entirely defined by place, whether focusing on the food or the building or the staff. We do encourage all of our employees to interact with the guests and tell their stories. It helps our guests to have some sort of link to the place, through our employees, their experiences, and their interactions.”
Leary notes, “We have always tried to benefit the local communities in which we live, whether a poor community on the Louisiana or Mississippi border, or this backwoods community in Nova Scotia. We both diverted from our original professional career paths, and while that training has been invaluable, those paths were not what we wanted to pursue.”
Now Perret and Leary speak of the joy they experience by having discovered an alternative way of living a rich and meaningful life, as changemakers in this remote Atlantic Canadian region where they strive to protect the land and culture, and celebrate it with their guests. Perret says, “It was very interesting to participate in the Changemaker’s National Geographic Geotourism Challenge, because we never really thought about what we do – we just do it.”