On the Southwestern edge of Nova Scotia, nestled in the Bay of Fundy, rests the sleepy port town of Yarmouth. With a population of only 7,200, Yarmouth is full of heritage attractions, preserving the culture and way of life present when the town was incorporated in 1890 by entrepreneurs that saw value in the sea. Thirty years ago, among Yarmouth’s youths, Mandy Rennehan made the most of her entrepreneurial spark at age 10 when she began foraging for and selling bait to local fishermen. Most of the town’s economic stimuli came in with the tides. “Money was not abundant,” she says. “My parents worked hard and gave all they had in every other way.” With this humble beginning came a set of values that Rennehan would later inject into her business: “It instilled in me a work ethic and a desire to give back.”
Rennehan struck out on her own at 18, hammer in hand, with high standards for both herself and her work. She’d amassed a few years of restoration and trade work under her belt, and began to take on more clients. “As a self-taught woman in a male-dominated field, quality of work got me noticed,” she says. “With experience comes knowledge and expertise, and those who know me best will say I have no problem telling it like it is.” In 1995, after assembling a hardworking team and a base of happy clients, Freshco was born with the intention of providing maintenance, reconstruction, and restoration to retail facilities. Freshco’s clients to date include Starbucks, Home Depot, Banana Republic, Restoration Hardware, Nike, and Apple.
It was Rennehan’s desire to give back that led her to several revitalization projects in her hometown, including an old windmill, a jailhouse, and a row of derelict buildings in the town’s south end. “My vision is to modify these unconventional structures into buildings with purpose again, to inspire the town and make them proud of their architecture, and to re-purpose the buildings to attract new business, creativity, and visitors to Yarmouth,” she says. The windmill in question had been a source of fascination for Rennehan as a kid; the structure spent decades decaying at the top of its hill until it was bought by her in 2005. She and her Freshco team have since converted the site into a beautifully crafted custom home, taking into consideration the structure’s original function and design. Naturally, in a place like Yarmouth, it’s also imperative to honour the culture in which the structure resides. “It is important to respect the heritage of the building, the reason why it came to be in the first place, and incorporate that into the design whenever possible,” says Rennehan. The reconstruction integrates local materials including Douglas fir, beach stone, barn board, and driftwood; the interior stair posts are made from an old cherry tree found on the 18-acre property. The jailhouse and south end structures, for which plans include a possible performing arts centre, a wine bar, a small business think tank, and a conference centre, is due to be completed in 2016.
Rennehan’s philanthropy extends beyond the restorations by Freshco, though. Earlier this year, she established the Chris Rennehan Scholarship, an initiative to get women and kids more actively involved in the trades. The scholarship was created to pay tribute to Rennehan’s brother, who passed away at the age of 38. “Money means nothing if it isn’t helping others,” she says. “Family is important, and setting up the Chris Rennehan Scholarship fund in memory of my brother keeps his memory alive and allows others to follow their dreams.” Rennehan’s own team is currently comprised of 60 per cent female employees. In the case of the windmill, Rennehan is providing an opportunity for Yarmouth that no one else has: “These structures have been ignored for so long that the communities are overwhelmingly enthusiastic and appreciative when someone sets their sights on beautifying and re-imagining them for the benefit of the whole town.”