Regular readers of UrbanToronto know that this site is normally about the new developments that are adding to the hustle and bustle of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. If you've been reading us for long enough, you also know that every once in a while we venture beyond the 416 and 905 to contemplate places where you can get away from that same hustle and bustle that we love so much: every so often, everyone needs a break.
Over the past few years we've introduced you to getaway spots in Ontario's vacationlands, but this year we're making a bigger leap to a spot outside the province, to the kind of place that despite its distance from Toronto, can only exist because of the economic power of major cities of the world like Toronto. Despite being just a short flight away, Fox Harb'r Nova Scotia feels like it's in another world. Remote yet throughly civilized, wild yet beautifully manicured, quiet yet surprisingly fun, Fox Harb'r manages to successfully merge its extraordinary offerings in a luxurious setting with the relaxing familiarity of genuine friendliness and zero attitude. Fox Harb'r makes you feel welcome and that you belong here, like the best resorts and homes-away-from-home.
So, what is Fox Harb'r, where is it exactly, and why is there an apostrophe in the name?
Fox Harb'r is a resort and community offering everything from overnight stays (although it would be crazy to stay just one night) to home ownership. It first made its name as a premier golfing destination, and has steadily added more activities over the years, managing to do everything in a first class way. Fox Harb'r is almost directly north of Halifax on the shores of the Northumberland Strait, with a vista of Prince Edward Island across the fishing boat-flecked water. Over a square mile in area, the resort's property goes from one side of gently rolling Smith Point to the other, with vineyards on its south side running down towards a sheltered bay. It's that bay—Fox Harbour—that gives the resort its name, and that apostrophe is meant to reflect the place's laid back and friendly feel.
How did it all come about?
Fox Harb'r was originally meant as a getaway for Tim Hortons titan Ron Joyce. Born and raised in nearby Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia, then Hamilton-resident Joyce bought the 1,100 acre oceanfront property in 1987. Previously the site of a lobster processing plant, Joyce built himself a home on the vast property and then went about adding accommodation for friends, an airstrip to get them there, and things for them to do when they came to stay. An informal golf course was replaced by a Graham Cooke-designed 18 hole championship course and an executive Par 3 course. By the time the resort opened in 2000, the course was augmented by a club house, spa, and vacation cottages.
In the sixteen years since opening, Fox Harb'r has been written up again and again for the qualities of its golfing and accommodations (the course appears on many of the world's best-of lists, and Tiger Woods holds the course record), and it regularly holds conferences of an international calibre. Former New Brunswick Premier and now TD Financial Vice Chair Frank McKenna holds an annual event at the site which has hosted Former Prime Minister Chretien, Former Presidents Clinton and Bush, Former Vice President Al Gore, Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, and many more luminaries over the years. The place has quite the CV.
How do you get all of these people to Fox Harb'r? Most often, by private jet. Beyond Tim Hortons, one of Ron Joyce's business pursuits has been private aviation, and Joyce now owns Jetport, a jet charter service with facilities at Hamilton's Munro International Airport, Halifax's Stanfield International, and at Fox Harbour Airport itself where there's a 4,885 foot-long runway and hangar capable of handling any business aircraft.
If you're from away and not ready to fly your own plane to Fox Harb'r though, nor charter one with your friends, you're probably going to fly into Halifax or Moncton airports and complete the trip from either with a drive of less than two hours. You can always up the romance and ride VIA's streamliner The Ocean from Montreal, or even arrive at Fox Harb'r by yacht: the resort's own marina has 25 slips which can accommodate boats up to 80 feet in length.
However you get there though, the first thing you're bound to notice is the golf, so let's look at it a little closer. The front nine of the 18-hole course is laid out Parkland style. Away from the ocean, the road into the Fox Harbr'r grounds passes through this area, enjoying views of the fairways.
The back nine are Scottish Links style. They are laid out parallel to the Northumberland Strait with plenty of rough between the fairways. While golfers are less likely to lose their ball in the forest here, they have more wind to challenge them. Ponds and sand traps add to both the hazards and the scenery.
The Executive Par 3 nine hole course is also beside the coast here. While it offers a quicker round of golf, the course also promises championship level challenges for its players.
The golf academy's team is led by pro Elliot Isenor. Elliott's knowledge and advanced swing tracking technology will improve anyone's game.
There's also a driving range with plenty of targets to aim at, and of course a pro shop to round out your equipment needs and your on-course attire.
The pro shop is part of the clubhouse, where you will also find a comfortable lounge space for break times, naturally. Naturally is also a good word for the clubhouse's 'The Willard' pub—for quick meals—and the 'Cape Cliff Dining Room'—for when you want to linger—and we'll come back to why 'naturally' a little later.
Supporting the golfing program are a range of top-notch accommodations. A dozen guesthouses line the fairways of the back nine, each offering 6 suites. There's a choice of 2 studio suites, each with all-in-one living/sleeping quarters matched with a luxurious bathroom, or 4 executive suites which separate the bedroom off from the living area. These too have luxurious bathrooms with heated granite floors, soaker tubs, and walk-in showers.
Families or groups of friends can also opt for one of the golf villa townhomes in Harb'r Stone Village, the resort's growing community. These accommodations feature full kitchens, living rooms, dining rooms, and another sitting area. Upstairs offers a large master bedroom with ensuite, while another two generous bedrooms share a second bathroom.
The townhomes aren't just available on a short-stay basis, as a number of them are now second or first homes for families who have made Fox Harb'r a permanent part of their life, either as full-time residents or as fractional owners. Two different models offering 2,700 or 3,000 square feet (with another 1,355 to 1,670 square feet of ready-to-finish basement space) are available in a variety of interior looks, all high quality finishes.
The townhomes range in price from $525,000 to $749,000 outright, or are available for 12 weeks annually for between $169,000 and $215,000. Another option for living here is in a custom built detached home, or by buying a half-acre homesite to build your own home. While the lots run between $195,000 and $385,000 depending on the golf, ocean, or forest view, two custom built homes are currently available in Harb'r Stone Village.
The Seagrove is a 3,100 square foot home (plus basement) created in a New England style.
Like all residences at Fox Harb'r, the rooms in this 3 bedroom home are spacious, with hardwood floors, a gourmet kitchen, a flagstone patio, and extensive landscaping. The Seagrove is priced at $1,029,000.
The Edgewood is a 4 bedroom, 4,000 square foot home (plus basement) which features beautiful Douglas Fir timber construction.
A huge 22 foot floor to celling height marks the living area in this home with a two-storey stacked stone fireplace as the focal point. Views of the ocean are particularly good from this home on a high point by the ocean. The Edgewood is priced at $1,595,000.
As mentioned earlier, Fox Harb'r has a lot more to offer besides golf, with plenty of amenities ready to spoil residents and guests. One of those amenities is the Wellness Centre, which marries fitness with a full service spa. Dol-ás Spa takes its name from the Celtic word for escape, with aestheticians and therapists offering an extensive list of treatments.
On the floor below the spa, the Wellness Centre's fitness facilities can be found. A swimming pool, hot tub, and mineral bath await the bathing suited, while cardio machines and weight training equipment await those in their gym gear. Just outside the Wellness Centre, tennis courts await those looking to spend time with their racquets. When you're done with your activities, change rooms feature such luxuries as steam showers and ultra fast driers for swimsuits.
Fox Harb'r has another building, hidden in the woods, ready for rarer activities: the Sporting Lodge is base camp for hook-and-release trout fishing, pheasant hunting, and clay pigeon sport shooting.
The building also offers games and billiard tables, is ready to host meals, and provides a scenic retreat for group events. My visit to the lodge included breakfast before our group split to check out the fishing, or to try our hand at clay shooting.
Fox Harb'r's Sport Shooting program, led by in-house master Peter Phillips, includes everything from first-time training to top-tier competitions. The program boasts 26-time World Clay Shooting Champion George Digweed as a member of the team designing events in both field and forest settings. In the fall, hunting season brings pheasant and partridge shooting events to the resort's 350-acre game reserve.
With all the activities on offer, when it comes time to eat, Fox Harb'r is ready with Atlantic Canada's first fully compliant OceanWise and locally sourced restaurant menu. Headed up by Executive Chef, Food & Beverage Director Shane Roblliard, Fox Harb'r's food services look to sustainably harvested seafoods, ethically raised meats, and organic vegetables.
Local and seasonal sourcing of food from Maritime producers is key to the menus here. So local sometimes, that trout are raised in a pond on the site, and caught and pan seared daily. Crab apple jelly is created from fruit trees onsite, and berries grown on the property are coming soon. Robillard's adherence to the Vancouver Aquairum's internationally recognized OceanWise program means that diners at Fox Harb'r can be confident that their meals are not contributing to the depletion of ocean stocks, while enjoying superbly prepared fresh-made items.
When it comes to green vegetables, Robillard and Fox Harb'r have that covered too, with a greenhouse and kitchen garden program which mean that the resort does not have to go shopping for its salad ingredients. Overseen by chief horticulturalist Michael Steward, many pounds of salad greens are picked every week, while tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, fresh herbs, and more are being grown here as well. Above, lettuces and other greens have been growing in hanging pots, while flowers are readied for replanting in extensive gardens across the grounds. Below, baby grape vines are being readied for their transfer to an expanding 30 acre vineyard at the south end of the Fox Harb'r property.
While the resort is mostly sited to take advantage of its ocean setting, on its south side leading down to the sheltered waters of Fox Harbour itself, a nascent vineyard is ready to join Nova Scotia's growing viticulture sector. Fox Harb'r has partnered with Jost Vineyards, the province's largest winemaker, to create their own wines once the vines have matured sufficiently in a few years time.
A short drive from Fox Harb'r, the Jost operation (seen below—the peninsula that Fox Harb'r is located on can be found on the horizon at left) offers tastings, winemaking tours, and meals to a steady stream of visitors.
Jost's wines—along with other of Nova Scotia's offerings, from both the Annapolis Valley and growing Tidal Bay areas—are featured as part of Fox Harb'r's extensive selection of cellared wine. Jost's winemaker and owner, Jonathan Rodwell and Carl Sparkes respectively, (seen below)—who between them have paired years of experience in the Annapolis Valley with California, France, and Italy—create wines that take best advantage of the microclimate and terroir of the area. When it came time to plant at Fox Harb'r, Jost was the perfect partner to lead the program there too. Purchasers of homes at Fox Harb'r will even get a section of vineyard for themselves, to plant, harvest, and vint with guidance from the Jost-Fox Harb'r team.
If Fox Harb'r were a rather substantial cake, the vineyard program just might be the icing on top. Or, pick your pleasure: maybe it's the beautiful grounds, the fresh seafood, the organic greens, the superb golf, the ocean breezes, the Maritime hospitality, the gourmet kitchens in the townhomes, the steam showers at the wellness centre… maybe it's a seaside campfire at sunset.
All of those things add up to somewhere you want to go back to. All of those things add up to somewhere you want to have more time for, somewhere you want to make time for. Fox Harb'r is a long way from Toronto, but the trip between the two illustrates just what kind of magic a short ride in a plane can offer.