The future operation and ownership of the former Lupine Lodge on Campobello Island are in question, with members of its most recent operators, the nonprofit International Friends Committee/Compass Institute, dismayed by recent New Brunswick Department of Tourism and Parks actions.
The lodge, a historically significant property once belonging to the Adams family, cousins to the Roosevelt family, is owned by the province of New Brunswick. Gerry Hicks, a member of the nonprofit Compass Institute, says that the organization received in January only two days' notice from Director Alain Basque that "he would be on Campobello Island to pick up the keys and would not be offering an extension" to the lease.
The previous and long-time operator, the Lupine Corporation, had contracted with the province to operate the lodge since 1991. The corporation ended its contract in August 2009 by transferring the remainder of its contract to the island-based nonprofit with the full cooperation of the Department of Tourism and Parks. Linda Godfrey, a founding member of the Lupine Corporation, says about the decision to wind down her company's involvement, "About 2007 it became clear that it was going to be more difficult with gas prices, the economy and passport requirements. We immediately saw a change, but also Lupine Corporation members were getting older or working on new projects."
In January 2009 the Lupine Corporation and the International Friends began work with the Tourism and Parks Department to transfer the remainder of the operation's contract to the International Friends Committee/Compass Institute, after then Minister Stuart Jamieson recommended that a nonprofit would be the organization of choice with which his department would work. Hicks wrote in a February 28, 2010, letter to Acting Minister Hedard Albert explaining his organization's brief history working with the Department of Tourism and Parks. "Minister Jamieson spoke to us regarding the possibilities with regards to securing the Adams estate and Herring Cove Provincial Park through a partnership with a not-for-profit organization on Campobello Island." In August 2009, the nonprofit took over the remainder of the tourism season and planned on renegotiating the lease at the start of 2010. Instead, Hicks says, "the trigger of the change of plans is a mystery."
The department "is still evaluating options we have for operations in the future," says Department of Tourism and Parks Communications Director Paul Harpelle. "Foremost is recognizing the unique and historic property. There are some infrastructure challenges. We're hoping to be in a position very soon in the next few weeks to be able to articulate the options and plan." The lodge and grounds are close to the Herring Cove Provincial Park and the Roosevelt Campobello International Park.
The history of the lodge
The Lupine Lodge has been a summer-season destination for tourists and residents since a group of women formed the Lupine Corporation in 1991 and began operations as a restaurant and lodge. But long before that it was the summer home of the Adams family. They built it as a summer retreat as part of the "rusticator" tradition then sweeping the country. Godfrey tells the story of how the Lupine Lodge came to be what it is known as today.
"At one point there were 13 structures on the parcel. The compound had the lodge, an ice house and ice pond, cabins, carriage trails, a doll house, tea room, and it was the first place on the island that had running water. Up in the woods you can still see the source of that water." By the early 1970s, she says, the Adams family no longer used the property and turned it over to the provincial parks department. The department agreed to maintain it and keep it open to the public. "But because of financial challenges, the property stood empty until the mid to late '80s when a developer flew over the island and saw potential." That developer was Jim McDougal and his wife Susan of the Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan. Very shortly thereafter they would be involved in the savings and loan crisis and of "Whitewater" fame. They formed The Campobello Company and bought 3,000 acres of land belonging to a private company.
Godfrey remembers that the company entered into an agreement with the parks department to renovate and manage the Adams estate as part of their development plans. "They put in roads, developed lots and utilized the Adams estate to wine and dine clients." The company had grand plans to create a self-contained resort. "They sold a few hundred lots, mostly to people from the Boston and southern [states] market."
During the brief period that the McDougals ran the lodge, renamed the Island Club Lodge at Adams Estate, they used it as an exclusive club to entertain potential customers of their development. With the savings and loan crash, the Lupine Corporation stepped in and approached the province about running the lodge. Godfrey says, "We changed the name to the Lupine Lodge to signal to the community that it was welcoming to them."
The lodge's role in island autonomy
Hicks is not only a member of the Compass Institute but has been at the forefront of the Campobello Island Health and Wellness Advisory Committee. In a 2009 letter to Transportation Minister Denis Landry, he explains, "Our committee has completed four of five phases of a needs assessment study in conjunction with the Atlantic Health Sciences Corporation in Saint John C we are actively seeking year-round ferry and governance options for our island community." A large part of the committee's goal is to stem the downward spiral of the island's out-migration and increase economic viability. Hicks believes that the Adams estate could play a significant and positive role in the island's ability to create a localized economic development tool.
During the Lupine Corporation's operations, 16 to 20 islanders were employed during the season. "They were all island residents, some full-time, some part-time. We never made a lot of money, but everyone always got paid. It was a true joy to be a part of the place," Godfrey says. During that time, the lodge also spent between $40,000 and $60,000 on supplies and food purchased from island companies. Events were held that brought in people who spent additional money on the island. Godfrey lists the "Ancient Days, Ancient Ways" retreat, the Third Millennium Gathering, Elderhostel for 13 years, the Eleanor Roosevelt Symposium, as well as tea-time story hour with the island's 4th grade, dinner theatre, and a haunted Halloween house put on every year by the staff. "Lupines had children get married there. Certain families always came back. Those Adams family members who were left were very happy with our stewardship."
Hicks says that it is in the best interest of islanders for the nonprofit Compass Institute to manage the lodge's contract for operations "until the governance issue is resolved." The island will be holding a governance plebiscite in May. On February 28 Hicks wrote to Acting Minister Hedard Albert, "I am writing to respectfully request that you reserve any decisions until proper and transparent negotiations involving all interested parties have been concluded." He says that the department has said "that they are looking at all options, but this is not possible because they have not included the island in the discussion. After they sell [the lodge], we would have no recourse." Communications Director Harpelle explains that the island doesn't have to be included in the discussion. "It's a government asset. The process doesn't require it. We're just going about the business of running the asset."
In his letter to Albert, Hicks writes that the Compass Institute had been told by the Department of Tourism and Parks that no discussions were occurring with the international park, but that in the beginning of February "we were made aware that Roosevelt park management met with its senior staff to tell them that they had been approached by the department regarding the acquisition of the provincial park property."
Whether or not the Adams estate is being considered for purchase or lease by the international park, Roosevelt Campobello International Park Commission Chairman Christopher Roosevelt says, "I would not be in a position to say anything about a discussion between the international park and the New Brunswick tourism department." However, he says, "Much of the northern border [of the park] is shared with the provincial park. It would be irresponsible not to have discussions about abutting parks."
Roosevelt says of the international park, "We are the largest employer on the island, whether Canadian and American. Our lifeblood are the people who work with us. We care about the people of the community." He states that the commission "clearly understands that we are supported by taxpayers on both sides of the border. As a result we try to spend our dollars as efficiently as possible. We try to make purchases and try to employ people in ways that reflect the fact that we represent the people of two countries."
Hicks, though, notes the loss of wages at the Lupine Lodge and says that the lodge was "the largest client of the only store on the island." Art Quinn of Quinn's Valufoods says, "The economic impact is Roosevelt [Campobello International Park] doesn't buy from us. It's about $40,000," that would be lost annually in store sales from the lodge's operations.
Harpelle responds, "We haven't reached our decision yet. It's premature for Mr. Hicks to raise potential impacts. Let's get to that point first."
"I'm looking for accountability," Hicks says. "It's their decision; that's fine. But it's not fine to not engage the island residents. It's cavalier to operate in a bubble when the community is scrambling. We're close to auto-extinction on the island. There is a domino effect. When we lose our big corporate presences, it's big. Pretty soon it's just nickels and then nothing. It's chipping away at the island's autonomy."