Taylor Giovannini says that when she was looking for a building to house a production facility for cannabis company Oceanic Releaf, the former High Liner Foods fish plant in Burin was an natural choice.
When the seafood processing plant closed in 2012, more than 120 people lost their jobs and the area was "devastated," said Giovannini, who is originally from St. Lawrence but had been attending Memorial University in St. John's.
"It made a lot of sense to go back home, to give back to the Burin Peninsula and to revitalize that area," she said in an interview on The Broadcast.
Now, the plant is being converted into a cannabis cultivation centre and production facility. The plant already employs 20 people in the area.
The plant is 63,000 square feet, with 15,000 square feet currently in use as a Health Canada-licensed cultivation facility. Giovannini said the company had its first harvest last week.
"It's been a long time coming and it was surreal," she said. "I'm still trying to pinch myself."
Oceanic Releaf currently has one store open in Burin, and plans to open six more across Newfoundland and Labrador within the next year.
While the company is focusing on Newfoundland and Labrador for now, Giovannini has plans to eventually start exporting products outside the province as well.
"Every day is a learning day," said Giovannini.
"We have great people around us and we just have the ability with our team to just adapt and kind of move forward."
Same building, different work
Giovannini hopes to employ another 40 to 50 people within the next year, with the goal of eventually bringing back all the jobs lost in the closure of the High Liner plant.
"That's the goal, I always shoot for the sky," she said.
In its heyday, the plant was "state-of-the-art," said Giovannini. Unlike other fish plants, it operated year-round and made food for companies like McDonald's. It was a mainstay of the town's economy for 70 years.
Joy Drake, who worked at the High Liner plant for 25 years, says she never expected to one day be cultivating cannabis in the same facility.
Before the plant closed, she worked as a labourer, packing fish among other things. Now, she waters, cleans and trims marijuana plants. She said her time with Oceanic Releaf has been "wonderful."
"It's great to be working with people and it is a great workforce," Drake said.
She also believes that the new jobs at Oceanic Releaf will have a positive impact on the town of Burin.
"It's gonna do wonders," Drake said.