From Wilderness to Business

You’re moving where?

In tourism it is a mixed blessing to be called ‘a hidden gem’. After 2.5 years in Newfoundland it still surprises me that people in Clarenville, Bonavista and Trinity, each a mere 45 minutes from Open Hall, question where it is.

Perhaps the better question is:  Why Open Hall? When you leave your country, friends, family and culture behind you, you have to really believe in what you are coming to.  And I believe in the Western, sunset-dazzled shore of the Bonavista Peninsula. Specifically, the 8km dead-end road off Route 235, just after Plate Cove, before King’s Cove, that runs through Open Hall, Red Cliffe and Tickle Cove.

Cricket field Tickle CoveActually if you’ve seen ‘The Grand Seduction’, you do know it. The post office, the  ‘world heritage house’,  that rallying cry of the new mayor – bell on hand like a pirate – and the nostalgic scene of boats leaving by lamplight, were all filmed in Red Cliffe.  Dr. Lewis caught his frozen fish and watched the cricket game where both sides won in Tickle Cove. And perhaps you know the Tickle Cove Pond song about poor Kit the horse? So there is a familiarity without knowing why. That is how I felt the first time I came to this area.

Supermoon inspiration

The supermoon camp that started everythingOne supermoon, I camped on a piece of land right at the junction of Red Cliffe and Tickle Cove. The sunset was flashing reds and purples across the islands. A gentle swell was breaking over Wester Rock. I heard one, then two, then three whales blowing as they cruised by. The ground under me had a heady scent of crushed pine needles and blueberries. As the huge yellow moon rose up, all the stories I’d heard of pirate gold, ghost ships and ladies lost in the mist came to life as lights started to twinkle on the opposite side of the bay.  The campfire had settled to smokeless embers and my belly was full of tea, marshmallows and bbq’d cod. I woke up early with the sun but felt entirely rested, larger than life and ready for a new day.

As I waited for water to boil in the Kelly kettle, my mind went over other places in the world I’ve tented, in the wild, alone or with friends. Sleeping at 20 below with dog teams in Alaska;  leading teenagers across a glacier in Greenland; my boyfriend and I trekking in the Himalayas and waking up surrounded by yaks, goats and shepherds; sleeping rough on a mountain top in BC and seeing lights from 6 campfires below us, while we counted shooting stars one after another above us. Bear Grylls, that overtly masculine explorer, once said in a softer moment, “you make true friends in the hills” and I believe he is right.

Everyone should have the chance of having this experience. And so, from that supermoon, grew my plan to be able to share those “wow” moments by creating a new glamping – glamorous camping – resort, right on that campsite.

The long road of reality

Coffee shop second floorI’m sure, as business owners, many of us had dreams of what the outcome will be. Being visionary (dreamer) is the easy part. Making it happen, all that annoying reality;  meetings with lenders, plans, excel spreadsheets, research, cost, deadline, delays, permissions, red tape,  all that money going out, and out, and out, those are the dark, muddy rainy days of perseverance we have to trudge through to get to the sunset views.  It’s a cliché, but I believe it’s true; if you can’t enjoy the journey, even the days when your feet are wet and the mozzies are bad, you probably won’t make it to your destination.  Pace,  accept change, let plans evolve to new conditions, keep a weather eye on the end goal, take time to celebrate highlights along the way, will give you the perseverance to  finally get to where you want to be.

Make friends in the hills

You make true friends in the hills because you share the pain and there is no room for pretence. You have to deliver. When everyone is tired, cold, hungry and plagued by flies, no one likes a moaner, or slacker, or even an unreasonably, annoyingly energetic happy bee. But you also get to share the ‘just had to be there’ moments.

Learning a great deal through mushingWhen I went to Alaska to learn how to drive a dog-team, I had no idea how much insight I would gain about team work, leadership and what I was capable of. Writing about this to a friend he commented ‘the dogs will take you further than you ever thought you could go’. It proved so true in so many ways.  As my mushing mentor Linda Chamberlain told me, you can travel much further, faster, with a team, than on your own.

Today my team is NLOWE, ACOA, BDC, CIBC, IBRD, EDMO, NL Tourism, my lawyer, accountant, contractors, the community and many, many others.  Glamping in Newfoundland is a tough, romantic, expensive, complicated dream to chase, but all kinds of people are willing and helping me to succeed. Never be afraid to start, and never be afraid to ask for help.  These organisations and businesses are your friends in the hills, who will take you further than you ever thought you could go. Spend the money, get the right help, show up prepared and listen to what your team tells you. I can’t tell you how often I was caught in a blizzard and the dogs led me home because I was totally blind. Trust is core to your business. Trust in your research, your information and the mentors around you. Allowing yourself to be led doesn’t mean you aren’t still the one setting the course.

Sharing wow teashop view with family before construction started


Reaching the summit.

Glamping is still 1-2 years away for me. I hit a new, wonderful roadblock. I’m 3 months pregnant, so the grand opening will have to delay a year. Well, that’s OK. There is still plenty I can work on, at the pace my new life will allow.  The shell of the new coffee shop, a 2 storey, glass fronted, ocean blue clapboard building, now sits on the supermoon campsite, just waiting for me to finish my dream and for you to find us.

Working on my dream clearing one tree at a timeJoanna McDonald moved from Scotland, via several countries, to Newfoundland in 2011 and is Co-Owner of Eagles Cliffe Cottages, Open Hall and Founder of StoneHaven , a new glamping resort and coffee shop in Tickle Cove, Bonavista Bay.  To learn more about Eagles Cliffe Cottages, visit them online at or check them out on Facebook and Twitter.  You can also email Joanna at


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