CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – More than 125,000 oranges.
That’s the number Jay and Carol Macdonald estimate they have squeezed over the years providing fresh orange juice for their guests in the tourism industry.
“Every day. We squeezed a lot of oranges,” said Carol.
For 29 years, the couple owned and operated the popular Elmwood Heritage Inn at 121 North River Road in Charlottetown. In April, they sold the inn, but stayed on to help the new owners with the transition.
“I actually figured it out,” said Jay. “I know how many oranges it takes, how many months we were full, how many rooms, how many people – I have all those stats. That’s a lot of oranges.”
For their long career in the tourism industry, the couple were recognized at the Nov. 22 Tourism Industry Association of Prince Edward Island (TIAPEI) gala in Charlottetown. They received the Lieutenant Governor’s Tourism Award in front of a standing ovation. For Carol, it was an “oh my gosh” moment.
“It just blew me away,” she said.
The Macdonalds are originally from New York State. Carol grew up on a farm near Syracuse and Jay in Yonkers.
But Jay’s family history traces back to P.E.I. His great-grandfather came to P.E.I. in 1840 from the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Jay’s grandparents also lived on the Island, but left for New York City in 1896 to find work.
The couple met on the campus of Cornell University. Carol says the first time they met, Jay talked about Prince Edward Island.
“I don’t remember that,” said Jay, with a laugh.
“First day,” replied Carol. “I said ‘what’s a Prince Edward Island?’ But anyway, it worked out fine.”
They visited the Island for their honeymoon in 1970. Four years later, the Macdonalds made the move permanent.
Their first venture in the tourism industry was By the Bay Cottages in Stanhope.
When they bought cottages, Jay was working as a patron services manager at the Confederation Centre of the Arts. They were only looking for one cottage for themselves, but the real estate agent gave Jay a handful of keys instead. It was March and the couple drove out to see the cottages. There were spots where they had to wade through deep snow, but the view of Stanhope Bay made the trip worthwhile.
“We thought ‘this is a great spot,’” said Carol, adding “we’ve never done it before.”
They ended up buying the cottages and running the business for eight years, making new friends and watching their children play and grow up on the property.
“I’ve learned how to light every gas stove. You know, you just learn how to do all these things. We always thought cleanliness, good beds and hot water – that’s what we took care of first,” said Carol.
In 1987, they sold the cottages and bought the Elmwood Heritage Inn. The couple lived on the first floor and rented out the two upper levels. When the tenants moved out, the Macdonalds converted the floors into suites and rooms with bathrooms.
Over the years, the inn has received several accolades, including 21 consecutive years with a five-star rating from Canada Select and seven Trip Advisor Certificates of Excellence.
Carol said a key to the inn’s success is that the couple treated the occupants as guests in their home.
“We never really thought of it as just a business. This is our home. These are all our things. And, we’re sharing them with you,” she said.
Besides taking room reservations, the Macdonalds also helped guests plan their visit, such as booking tickets for the theatre or making diner reservations before they arrived.
“We really tried to let them know that we cared that they were there and we wanted them to have a good time,” said Carol.
Another key to the inn’s success is that they cook for their guests, and are good at it, said Jay. They’ve also learned how to cook based on the needs of the guests.
“Celiac, vegan, vegetarian. All sorts of very interesting diets that people will say ‘by the way, I’m such and such.’ And you Google it and find out what they can eat. So, we’ve learned a lot about alternate food styles and we’ve pretty much taken care of it,” said Carol.
The inn has been a popular spot for filming music videos as well as the television movie Mrs. Ashboro's Cat starring Ellen Page. Don McGowan’s well-known show Travel Travel also stopped by for an interview. The episode was played in syndication for several years.
The Macdonalds have countless memories of the guests that have stayed at the inn over the years. They estimate they have made a “thousand new friends” each year.
“Honestly, fingers on one hand the number of people we didn’t want to come back,” said Jay.
But for the past couple of years, the couple was thinking about selling the inn and moving on.
“We didn’t really want to put a sign out at the end of the street. So, we never listed it,” said Jay. Then one day, a real estate agent they knew asked if they wanted to sell it. An offer was on the table, and they took it.
“It was time,” said Jay. “Do we miss it? We miss it because of the people.”