| [Photo: Sharon Dunn,
John Major, the former British prime minister, left, with his host, Tim Hortons founder Ron Joyce, at Joyce's Fox Harb'r retreat.
The drive to Tatamagouche from Halifax is what you might expect when you don't take the scenic route. Typical, small Nova Scotia farmhouses, with neatly ploughed fields, not to mention miles of untouched fields and forests. And then out of nowhere, rises a tall, imposing black wrought iron fence, stretching in a long line on the left side of the gravel road, encasing beautifully manicured lawns and spectacular flower beds, a sharp contrast to the right side of the road and its untouched grass and hay. I know I've arrived at Fox Harb'r, an unbelievable retreat, virtually in the middle of nowhere, the dream of self-made man and entrepreneur Ron Joyce, founder of Tim Hortons and a native of the area.
The day I visit, John Major, the former British prime minister, is on the premises. In honour of his guest, I notice Joyce is flying the Union Jack. The night before, all of the east coast big names were in for dinner. The Irving's (oil), the McCain's (frozen food), the Sobey's (grocer's) and, of course, the former and very connected New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna, who is, no doubt, responsible for the John Major visit (Last year he brought in former U.S. president George Bush).
"The nice thing about Fox Harb'r is that you don't have to worry about the press coming here," Joyce tells me as we begin our tour.
"I want to make this a destination location", he says, "a world-class resort. One of the things I want to accomplish is to bring people to the north shore. We all know about Chester and the south shore, but here we have less fog, and the water is warmer on the Northumberland Strait." The resort, he says, "offers solitude and the best of everything. The whole idea was putting back in an area that I believed in."
We head from the clubhouse down to the lodge, past the picturesque golf course to the private home Joyce has built on the edge of a cliff with an ocean view on all sides. To say the property is breathtaking is an understatement.
I run into John Major in the kitchen having a bit of breakfast pastry, while he writes a note to Ron's mom, Grace, who celebrated her 92nd birthday on July 27.
Fox Harb'r is becoming known for discretion, and the media is generally frowned upon, especially when VIPs are around, but I'm here as a guest and taking no notes. When Ron leaves the room, I ask Major if he would mind a picture for the paper. "Not at all," he says graciously. Not golfing because of a slipped disc in his back, Major tells me he, too, is taken with the place. And he has been around. "I'm on my way to Kennebunkport to see George Bush (Sr.)," he tells me. The plan is to leave at noon, with Joyce dropping Major off at a Portland airport, then continuing on to check out his new 137-foot sailboat, which has been tied up in the United States. It was refused admittance to Canadian waters until Joyce pays a duty of $6,000,000. They're flying in one of Ron's jets.
"Do you mind if we leave a half hour late?" Joyce asks Major. "I want to show Sharon around." Major magnanimously agrees and we begin the tour. I've been here before, but the property is still changing and developing. The lodge is now finished, and a wellness centre has sprouted up, boasting a full spa offering the latest fads -- dermabrasion, and his and her message, not to mention a junior Olympic-size swimming pool.
Sherry Spicer, president of Fox Harb'r Developments, tells me, "We've got the most wonderful place in the world -- scenery and an absolute gorgeous golf course that's impeccable at all times. Joyce has given us the opportunity to work in all this elegance that you would only have in your dreams." Spicer tells me 91% of all products used in the resort were bought, or made, locally.
We're having lunch at the main restaurant. I've ordered the Northumberland seafood chowder: "Haddock, scallop, shrimp, clam, blended with farmer's cream and fresh butter," the menu boasts, listed for $9.
One of John Major's bodyguards from Scotland Yard has joined us and tells me he, too, is enjoying his stay -- nothing to worry about here. "This is a low-risk property with its high fences and 24-hour security," he says. I discover that Major "doesn't like lobster, but does like oysters and a good piece of roast beef."
Singer Anne Murray, a fixture at the golf course, is also on the property today. "Mom and I are going over to Ron's spa," she tells me. "Neither one of us has ever been to a spa (her mother is 85 years old). We're having facials, a manicure, a pedicure," Murray says, adding, "I can remember whipping up and down on the runway when it was mud; the runway was the first thing Ron put in." As for the golfing, she says, "it's an experience." The course is "breathtaking, pristine and perfectly manicured, so well cared for. It's a beautiful golfing experience."
Anne tells me Joyce has brought excitement to the area. "He landed on my lawn in his helicopter the other day, stopping by on his way to visit his mother in the (Annapolis) valley. I almost lost my pine tree that has been trying to grow for 30 years, but it's fine," she laughs. So what it's like having Ron Joyce as a neighbour? Murray sums it up: "Ron has done so much for the area, he's giving back, and he's giving a lot of people employment. It was his dream, but it's so far beyond anyone's expectation. You can't imagine the wealth here, because you can't relate. I think as I play golf: 'There's jets taking off, and I'm in Pugwash.' I love it here," she continues, "and, like Ron, I want to share it with people, but on the other hand, I want to keep it for myself and my family."
After our tour, we arrive back at the lodge where John Major is patiently waiting -- George Bush Sr. is undoubtedly also waiting at the other end. Our half-hour tour has stretched into an hour. But Major is still smiling. This is because of Ron Joyce, one of the world's most gracious hosts, whether you're John Major, an underprivileged kid down the street at the local Tim Hortons kids camp (a classy resort in itself, by the way), or a lowly reporter, everyone gets the royal treatment. So this is the other side of life on the north shore. And to think it all began with a doughnut.