For 50 years few have witnessed the exquisite gardens, breath-taking views and Tudor-style buildings tucked into the forested hills.
In fact, when Laurelyn Berry and Jerry Byrne first went to look at the property on the headland between Hopeall and Green’s Harbour, they had trouble locating it.
“It was so exclusive that almost nobody in Green’s Harbour or any surrounding area was ever on this piece of property,” Byrne says. “And when we were looking for it, I couldn’t even find it.”
When they did, it captured their hearts. They purchased the property May 1 and quickly went to work preparing for the May 30 grand opening of The Doctor’s House Inn & Spa.
“What a jewel to keep hidden away from everybody. Our goal is to open it up and let it shine for everyone to enjoy and make it a magnet for the Baccalieu Trail,” Byrne says.
During a tour of the inn he stops on the top floor to pull a folding set of stairs down from a hatch in the ceiling.
“This is something truly special — the tower.”
He ascends the stairs, disappearing into a windowed room with a panoramic view of ocean and trees.
“We’re putting a winding staircase up here. Imagine sitting here in a storm, rain beating down, reading a book. The romance of this place and the seclusion — it’s a place to get lost … or found.”
The inn has 10 guest rooms, each with a bathroom and balcony; five spa rooms with showers; a solarium, and a half-century-old wine vault. The incredible views and the property’s history inspired Berry’s slogan: “Open your eyes and say Ahhhh.”
Berry, originally from Ontario, moved to St. John’s about 10 years ago to work with Target Marketing, later starting her own business in advertising/marketing.
Byrne, who hails from Torbay, is a retired engineer (D.F. Barnes Group) who took a run at politics with the federal Conservatives in the 2011 election, coming in behind New Democrat Jack Harris in St. John’s East.
The couple moved to Whiteway, Trinity Bay a year and a half ago and bought Ocean Delight — seven ocean-front cottages including four in Heart’s Delight and three in Whiteway.
The Doctor’s House was originally owned by an Irish couple, psychiatrist Dr. Charles Boddie and his wife Mary, who made it their private sanctuary after moving to Newfoundland more than half a century ago.
Several years ago St. John’s real estate brokers Nolan Hall bought the estate with a plan for an inn, spa and 50 condominium villas, which were to be sold in connection with a provincial tax credit program.
“It was going to be a village,” explains Byrne. “Then the real estate investment tax laws changed and all of a sudden the real estate market collapsed around the world and so that plan was put on hold.”
According to Byrne, the inn and spa opened for a couple of months during the summer of 2011. When it didn’t open last summer, Nolan Hall needed somewhere to refer their bookings and inquired about Ocean Delight Cottages.
“We got to talking about the property (in Green’s Harbour) that we hadn’t seen,” Berry says, “and then of course we made the fateful visit.”
Right away they were welcomed by the horses, and Byrne’s “scared-to-death-of-them” attitude instantly changed.
“It’s the most amazing thing I ever saw. They run up and put their head on your shoulder,” he exclaims, leaning over the fence to pat a grey-brown Newfoundland Pony. “This one is called a radical changer; he changes colour four times a year. It’s unique to a Newfoundland pony from my understanding.”
The 50-acre property continues to be home to the many birds housed there by the Boddies, and the new owners plan to add greenhouses.
“We’re going to build this around agri-tourism and for corporate getaways,” Byrne explains. “You’re in St. John’s and you’re burnt out and you come out here; it’s a place to regenerate. Or a place to hold weddings, renew your vows or celebrate a special event.”
When the Boddies owned the property, the house was completely unfinished on the inside except for an apartment. But the grounds flourished.
“It was all about the gardens and the animals. She was a gardener and she won trophy after trophy, and they bred race horses over in Ireland and won all kinds of trophies for that,” Byrne says during a walk around the grounds. “I think his wife was homesick and they had a place apparently very similar to this in Ireland.
“In a couple of weeks’ time the flowers will be breathtaking. All the trees will be in bloom. We have limon and pear and apple trees, maples, beech, witch hazel and all sorts.”
The Boddies also kept horses, ponies, goats and sheep that grazed on the many fields.
“And one of the big things they did was save Newfoundland ponies.”
When the property changed hands, Nolan Hall concentrated on turning the inside of the main building into an inn and spa.
“The amount of work Dr. Boddie and Nolan Hall did here is phenomenal. Nolan Hall made the perfect match on the inside. We didn’t have to buy a thing — not even the cutlery. We just happened to be the recipients of a lot of imagination and creativity.”
Berry and Byrne also count themselves lucky to have retained the services of Perry and Veona Oliver.
“Perry’s been here for 30 years, and his wife Veona looks after the inside. By and large, Perry planted almost every tree that’s here. At one time he put in four miles of fences. What a gift to have them stay on with us, because we didn’t know anything about the place and they know every stick and stone.”
Byrne’s appreciation prompts an anecdote.
“Veona was telling me that earlier in the game they had the kids come down with their parents to check the chicken coops and get the eggs. She always went down in the morning early, before the kids got up, figured out how many kids were there and made sure there was always enough eggs for the children. And she said, ‘So if they never ate an egg before in their life, they’re eating an egg this morning,’” he chuckles.
The birds are kept in one of the original barns, which is large enough to hold several more horses.
“Our ducks and geese, chickens and guinea hens will be here in a couple of weeks,” Byrne points out, striding toward another building with a domed roof.
“Our future banquet hall and mini-convention centre, a view of the bay on one side, gardens on the other. This is just a beautiful piece of architecture.”
Along the 2 1/2-kilometre trail around the property there’s a small pond where the animals stop to drink. A fountain will be installed to keep the water fresh.
The trail winds down to a picnic/rest spot overlooking Hopeall Bay, where whales often gather. The view of Green’s Harbour is just over the crest of the hill.
“There’s picnic places, coves, beaches, openings, fields, everywhere. Our plan, of course, is to have sleigh rides and cart rides and all that sort of stuff using the Newfoundland ponies.”
As soon as they find a good location for a wharf, boat tours and fishing will be added.
“And we’ve got some really special stuff we’re going to start in the fall.”
Byrne figures when all is up and running full scale, The Doctor’s House employees will peak at between 25 and 30, maintaining an average of 10 to 12. Adding in the Heart’s Delight and Whiteway operations, peak season employment will total about 45 people, with 15 to 20 people maintained.
When he was told En Route Magazine ranked the premises as the
No. 2 must-see destination in the entire world (2011), Byrne’s initial response was, “Yeah, sure b’y.”
But that was before he saw the property.
“Our goal now is to make it No. 1,” he grins.