SHERBROOKE– Seven weeks after losing her operation in a fire that left nothing but embers and ash, Leigh McFarlane has persevered and found a permanent home for her business, The Soap Company of Nova Scotia, at the former St. Mary’s River Smokehouses in Sherbrooke.
“I couldn’t be happier,” a breathless McFarlane told The Journal between errands over the phone last week. In a statement, she added: “We’ve gone from soap to smoke and back to soap again in the former smokehouse. The way forward is finally clear.”
In a deal McFarlane described as “good,” Cooke Aquaculture of Blacks Harbour, N.B, has agreed to lease its property – the former Smokehouses, which it owns through its subsidiary True North Salmon Co. Ltd. – to The Soap Company as part of its commitment to “a strong rural economy.”
Cooke’s Director of Public Relations Joel Richardson said in a statement: “As a family company we believe in supporting local Nova Scotian businesses at every opportunity and we applaud Leigh and The Soap Company of Nova Scotia for their perseverance to get back up and running. We know the community embraces Leigh and her team… and we are happy to have a facility available that can accommodate the business.”
McFarlane said the new premises are ideal.
“It has all the different spaces that we need to fully re-establish the business – all the spaces that we need for segregating all the different activities that we need to do,” she explained. “It also provides us with a loading bay, which is really important for shipping and receiving, and it will allow us to re-establish our retail shop in the front. It basically ticks all the boxes.”
Shortly after the November fire that consumed her Cherry Hill home and business – forcing her to flee with little more than the clothes on her back and a defunct cordless phone – McFarlane set up temporary operations at the former fire hall in Sherbrooke on a reportedly open-ended sublet at no charge from Atlantic Gold, which rents the Main Street building from a New Glasgow interest. “They [Atlantic Gold] really are lovely people… and we’re really floored,” she said at the time.
That move was critical, she noted last week, to enable her to fill orders for soap this month. “In the lead up to Christmas, focus shifted to finding a place to fully ramp up production,” she said. “The Smokehouses really was the only place available where we didn’t have to build something; we could just go in and get set up and get to work.”
Cooke purchased The St. Mary’s Smokehouses salmon-curing company in 2017, before moving its operations to Charlottetown a year later, affecting about 18 local employees.
In her statement, McFarlane said, “Building a business from scratch and experiencing it scale is super gratifying. So, seeing the entire operation burn down was devastating. Immediately, the community gathered us up in a great big hug that provided energy to rise up and it got even bigger with this most recent event. The former smokehouse facilities are key to making our comeback possible. I am so incredibly grateful to the Cooke family for hearing our story, seeing our commitment to the community and allowing us to set up operations in this building… This move will reinvigorate The Smokehouses. A true community win-win!”
McFarlane hopes to be operating at full capacity – with three full-time and three part-time employees – within a month.
The Soap Company makes soap and laundry powder for individual and retailer customers, including 86 Sobeys stores, across the Maritimes.