Recall the days when ferries and steamships plied the waters–some directly from Boston and Portland; when well-appointed Canadian Pacific Railroad Pullman cars came from Ottawa and Montreal—their passengers seeking the beauty of a peninsula surrounded by mountainous island ranges in the Atlantic Ocean. The area was thought to be so magnificent that it was compared to the Bay of Naples.
St. Andrews, the crown jewel of this resort location, boasted many things. By 1871 the Canadian press was proclaiming that the town was becoming the “Watering Place of the Dominion.” A turn of the century poster proclaimed:
The entire absence of mosquitoes and malaria, the general air of restfulness, together with the curative properties of the balsam-laden atmosphere, have made St. Andrews long and extensively known as an Elysium.
Overstated? Perhaps. But notwithstanding, ladies and gents, many with titles like Lord and Lady and Viscount, were flocking to this resort…some to pursue the dream of building country “cottages”. These homes, impressive though their scale, were designed to give relief to “overburdened” grandees from the rigours of running their more elaborate urban mansions. Cottages ranged in style from whimsical to baronial, all with several master bedrooms and guest rooms, each with fireplaces and adequate space for staff to wash and iron and cook and serve them all.
Pre-season plans were feats of organization. The privileged had custom clothes stitched up by seamstresses and wondered who would come to St. Andrews this year. Housemaids and servants brought down the high steamer trunks, wardrobe cases and hat boxes with round mesh forms from the attics in grand homes across Montreal and Boston and New York and Philadelphia. These they filled with outfits and jewelry, linens and towels and even fine silver and copper cooking utensils. And then on the appointed day, it was off to St. Andrews for the season. The town was just beginning to stir from the last remnants of winter. The lilacs were in bloom. And it was time for the town locals to go down to the train station to watch the swells disembark with their domestic retinues in tow.
Country houses set in motion a swirl of house parties. There was good food, fine wine and bright talk of politics, industry, and the arts—as well as the urgent gossip of whether Ellin would marry Irving Berlin (she did); or if Marguerite had danced with H.R.H. The Prince of Wales (ditto). And while there were pretensions—it’s reported that one society dame complained she wasn’t able to throw a late season dinner party because all but nine of her servants had returned to Montreal—the true lure of St. Andrews was the healthful salt air setting amidst the natural beauty of the surrounding islands and sea. Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt often picnicked at the shore of their nearby Campobello Island cottage in the company of their friends and the curious seagulls to escape the rigours of public life and the heat of the city.
Since it was built in 1897 Kingsbrae Arms has been a part of this history, lore, and romance. Writers, poets, musicians and artists have been frequent guests in these public rooms and gardens.
Over the years, change has come. Most recently, a renaissance has been sweeping the town giving new life to gardens and golf courses, galleries and harbour. Many of the country houses of the past have been rescued from neglect and restored. In this re-vitalized setting Kingsbrae Arms is something of a dream—a splendid country house once again receiving guests in a more egalitarian atmosphere of warmth, friendly hospitality, and conviviality. And as always the tug of dazzling natural beauty, the promise of a restful visit, brings guests back again and again.