[ST. JOHN'S, NL] — Not every business’ grand opening features a Mi’kmaq smudging ceremony, a sealskin ribbon-cutting and the provincial leader of the Opposition agreeing with a cabinet minister.
But NaturaL Boutique on Water Street carries the weight of a provincial industry tied up in Newfoundland’s historical identity — not to mention one that is the target of environmental and anti-animal-cruelty groups the world over.
The boutique — owned by Jennifer and Kerry Shears, who also own the Gros Morne Wildlife Museum and Gift Shop in Rocky Harbour — cut the sealskin ribbon with a traditional ulu Tuesday morning. The shop opened its doors June 7.
Tuesday’s event featured speeches by former fisheries minister Clyde Jackman and Frank Pinhorn, president of the Canadian Sealers’ Association. Both spoke of the province’s sealing heritage and expressed hope that the store — which sells high-end clothing and accessories, especially sealskin — will lead the charge in promoting sealskin products to a global market that has largely rejected them.
Jennifer Shears and her husband are Newfoundland Mi’kmaq, which is why the official opening kicked off with a smudging. She said she’s not worried about sealskin product bans by the United States and the European Union, among others.
“What we’ve found is it is governments that are potentially against the seal hunt, and not the individuals, so that’s encouraging, because individuals form governments and can sway governments,” she said.
“Apart from that, Newfoundlanders, Canadians are fully on board, from everything we’re seeing. We’ve gotten nothing but great reviews and great comments, so it just bodes well for the future,” said Shears.
Education Minister Jackman attended on behalf of the federal government. Current Fisheries Minister Darin King was supposed to attend, but his duties as deputy house leader kept him at the House of Assembly amidst filibustering over the government’s proposed changes to access to information regulations.
“We’ve shown over the past number of years how important the sealing industry is to this province,” he said. “We continuously have had to battle the outside interests who are condemning our hunt.”
With steps and programs undertaken to ensure the hunt is as humane as possible, said Jackman, and a hiring of a law firm to fight the European Union ban — as well as a $3.6-million loan to a seal-processing plant — the government has proven its commitment to the industry in the province.
Ball said the Liberals support the government’s investment in the sealing industry, and added the store is an important show of strength by the industry.
“No. 1, we see two young entrepreneurs in Newfoundland and Labrador having the confidence to open a business in St. John’s in this case, and a business too on the west coast of Newfoundland. That’s important,” he said. “More than that is to see that they actually believe in the seal industry to the point that they’re willing to look for this business opportunity to advance the seal industry.”
Ball said the province needs to make sure the sealing industry has a successful future. “Not only when you look at the harvest, but when you look at the opportunities in the secondary processing just like you’re seeing here today.”
Pinhorn noted that the industry hunted 70,000 seals last season, almost double its catch of 38,000 the previous season. Next year, he said, they’ve got their sights set on 200,000 to 300,000, which is still far less than the provincial quota of 400,000 seals.