Room at the inn: Dreamers build a new life at Boscawen Inn

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Judy and Jonathan Rawdon moved from South Africa in 2012 as the new owners of Lunenburg&#8217;s Boscawen Inn.</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>The Rawdons&#8217; antiques from South Africa grace the parlour rooms at Boscawen Inn.</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>While much of the inn&#8217;s old wall paper was painted over, the Boscawen&#8217;s owners decided to retain some for memory&#8217;s sake, cleverly hanging a picture frame over it.</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>A bar in the lower level of the inn, where guests can while away the evening hours.</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>One of the architectural features of the Boscawen&#8217;s main stairway.</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Boscawen Inn is open for business from May 1 to October 31.</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>The Victorian mansion that became the Boscawen Inn was built in 1888 by Senator H.A.N. Kaulbach,</p>

As owners of the Boscawen Inn on Cumberland Street, Judy and Jonathan Rawdon literally are living the dream in Lunenburg.

"On our first date, he asked me what my dream was and I said, "To own a bed and breakfast, or something like that. Ever since I was little, that was what I wanted to do," explains Judy, sipping a coffee on the Boscawen's deck overlooking the harbour.

"And then I asked him what his dream was, and he said, 'to own a Victorian inn.'"

The couple now has that and more.

It's not something that occurred magically; both admit it took a lot of work.

But mixed in with the dreams and hard work is a business story of romance, insight, a bit of serendipity and a lot of appreciation.

Judy is quick to credit her husband for landing them at the Boscawen.

Having first seen the inn in May, 2012, she admits, "I wasn't wowed."

The dated wall-to-wall carpets were odorous, and heavy burgundy curtains draped from the windows.

"Jon had the vision," says Judy, noting her husband was able to see what their antiques would look like and the difference painting the walls would make.

"He was really excited for the property because he knew he could make it into something," she says.

While Jon and Judy are both accountants by trade, neither were entirely new to the accommodations industry. Judy grew up in Ontario, where her grandfather had guest cottages.

Originally from South Africa, Jon's family owned several hotels there.

For their honeymoon, they did "an around the world trip to find the perfect inn."

They spent four years at an inn Jon's family owns north of Cape Town to get experience and see if the accommodations industry was really something they wanted to do.

Deciding South Africa wasn't where they wanted to raise their two boys and that they would like to be in charge of their own business, they researched a number of possibilities - Australia, New Zealand, England, Ontario, Alberta and B.C.

Jon decided to include the Maritimes in the hunt.

Judy remembers sitting in a cafe in South Africa in January, 2012, when he showed her the advertisement for the 17-room Boscawen on the internet.

"I said, 'Wow. It's big!"

By May of that year, the couple was at the inn's door for an inspection. The deal was finalized in July, and the couple took over in October.

According to Judy, it had come down to the Boscawen and the turn-key opportunity of Queen Anne in Annapolis Royal, which was cheaper, had more land and was "decorated gorgeously" with antiques in place.

"It had lots of pluses, but it didn't have Lunenburg," says Judy, adding the couple fell in love with the place, "the minute we drove in."

Not only did Lunenburg have a good school for the boys, the friendliness of the people and immediate sense of community clinched it for them.

While she admits it may have just been one of those things, she recalls having spent two days and nights in Annapolis Royal, "and nobody said 'boo' to us."

As accountants, they weren't comfortable with the limited accounting figures available for the business. But they decided if the business didn't pan out they could always get jobs in Halifax, live in a big house and have a mortgage like most people.

"We really wanted it to work. I think that was just the parachute if we had to jump," recalls Judy.

And even though she did take a job at H & R Block as a stop-gap, she reports: "We did better than we thought we were going to do. The numbers were there and we were pleasantly surprised."

Their immediate priority was to take up the carpets, and repaint the parlours and entrance way. The back deck needed fortifying, and the entire older section of the inn had to be rewired.

Over the last few years, the bedrooms were painted and the linens replaced.

"I've fallen in love with him over and over again," says Judy of her husband. "I didn't even know he could hang a picture before."

Jon admits he didn't know he could either.

"My claim to fame is that I painted the whole of the inside, and hung every single picture in there," he says, grinning.

"And you pretty much painted the outside too," adds Judy.

According to Jon, his parents were left wondering why he took an accounting degree in the first place and spent years working in the field.

The simple explanation is that he loves old buildings, he says.

"That's my passion."

The couple chose Benjamin Moore's heritage line of colours for the interior walls and replaced the cumbersome air conditioners they had to fit in every bedroom window each summer. They now have a heat pump system that provides warmth as well as air-conditioning.

One by one the bathrooms are being upgraded with new tiling.

The Boscawen is open from May 1 to October 31, however, like many Lunenburg establishments, July to September are its bread and butter.

Although it has a commercial kitchen, the owners have arranged to have Lunenburg's Ryme Restaurant cater guests' breakfasts.

Having hosted such notables in the past as actor Donald Sutherland and Justin Trudeau (before he became Canada's prime minister), the Boscawen has also become an increasingly popular wedding venue.

The couple has allowed as many as 120 guests there, but the numbers have since been scaled down to a maximum of 80. Sweet and Saucy perform catering for events.

Each year, the inn is seeing more and more bookings, according to the couple. "But I think the town has just gotten busier as well," notes Jon.

To cope with the increased business, and allow the Rawdons time away from the job, the Boscawen's staff component has grown from one receptionist and two housekeepers to four receptionists and five housekeepers.

According to Judy, to date the business has done little marketing, since she wanted to wait until standards were higher.

But this year, she says, "I'm totally excited about the inn."

The business is doing far better than the couple anticipated. And while much of the income has gone back into it, the salaries they take for six months work is equivalent to those earned by "most people who have to work, nine-to-five, all the time," says Judy.

The owners envisage selling the business years down the line, but they are in Lunenburg to stay.

"This is where we'll be for the rest of our lives. This is home." says Judy.

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