The Caneel Bay Resort has long possessed its own special kind of magic. From the donkeys roaming the rolling hills, to the friendly staff and the resort’s beautiful beaches, it’s no wonder so many guests come back year after year to experience Caneel’s hospitality and charm.
The essence of Caneel Bay has been expertly captured in Destination Media’s “Caneel Bay A Celebration of 50 Years,” a coffee table book honoring the resort’s 50th anniversary. The book features vibrant photographs taken by Theo Westen-berger and Steve Simonsen of St. John; artifacts, including postcards and old restaurant menus; and the stories of many of the resort’s repeat guests, written by travel author Joan Tapper, who also experienced the enchantment of Caneel Bay during her research.
“I work on lots of different kinds of projects, and this one was just really special,” said Tapper. “I am really delighted with the way it turned out. The opportunity for me to talk to so many passionate people about their experiences over decades with Caneel Bay was just very unusual, and people had great stories.”
Tapper’s enthusiasm for the Caneel Bay book shines through in each of the book’s five chapters: Beginnings, The People, The Island, Traditions and Caneel Bay Today.
Tapper recounts her experience on St. John in the introduction of the book.
“I got to meet some of the staff members I’d been hearing about for so long,” Tapper wrote. “That was crucial, because this project has relied not only on printed and historical sources, but also on the incredible generosity of dozens of people — on St. John and around the United States, guests, staff and former employees — who shared 50 years worth of experiences, pictures and memorabilia. They also referred me to their friends and fellow workers, who provided additional rich layers of memories and stories.”
Welcomed Into Family
“In the process, I found myself relaying greetings and family news to people I’d never met,” Tapper continues. “I know I’ll never forget being welcomed into such a warm extended family.”
The book’s first chapter, Beginnings, goes way back to the beginning — to the time of the Arawaks, around 900 AD.
Tapper writes about the different inhabitants and owners of Caneel Bay, right up until December 1952, when Laurance Rockefeller purchased a 593-acre property encompassing Caneel Bay.
Chapter two, The People, profiles the people who make the resort what it is.
“It is the most unusual of extended families,” writes Tapper. “With a warmth and a rare shared history, the Caneel Bay community embraces multiple generations, employees and guests, returnees and newcomers, celebrities and private citizens, islanders and visitors from around the world.”
Even Caneel’s current managing director Rik Blyth speaks to the uniqueness of the resort.
Cornelius Matthias, A Legend
“Elsewhere, you don’t know your guests,” Blyth states in the book. “But here, there are people I stay in touch with.”
A book on Caneel’s history would not be complete without mentioning the resort’s longest running employee, Cornelius Matthias, who literally helped build the resort more than 50 years ago and works today as a welcome ambassador to guests.
“A legend in the flesh, Cornelius Matthias came to work at Caneel Bay in 1950, before Laurance Rockefeller acquired the property,” writes Tapper in chapter two of the book.
Chapter three, The Island, features St. John, and what makes the island itself so unique.
“Often lovers of this island identify the sea simply as St. John blue, describing not just the color but also, in a way, their attachment to the place itself,” Tapper writes.
The Annaberg Ruins, Mongoose Junction, Woody’s, and the Reef Bay Trail are featured in this chapter.
Traditions, Caneel Bay Today
Chapter four, Traditions, focuses on those who have been captivated by Caneel Bay Resort and return year after year, creating their own traditions.
“People had such great stories,” said Tapper. “It was kind of a window back half a century. I talked to people who were kids at that time, I talked to people who were actually getting up there in years now who first started going there as kids. In one family, I talked to three generations — it was just amazing.”
Chapter five, Caneel Bay Today, features executive chef Alex Chen, the resort’s tennis courts, and the Self Centre.
“No place exists completely unchanged for 50 years,” writes Tapper. “Without growth, evolution, enhancement or innovation, a place like Caneel Bay becomes a mere museum. But that has never happened — instead, the resort has remained an essential part of people’s lives, maintaining its hold on their affections by revitalizing its outer form while keeping alive the values that have defined it for more than three generations.”
Tapper was amazed at just how many artifacts people held on to from the resort, she explained.
“I talked to a former chef, who kept liquor bottles and menus,” said Tapper. “Eleanor Gibney had all these postcards and other wonderful things. People had all this stuff that they had hung onto, and we couldn’t even use it all.”
Conveying Warmth, Fascination
“I’m so grateful to people for sharing all their stuff and their memories,” Tapper added.
Tapper hopes the book conveys the warmth she felt while doing research on St. John, she explained.
“It was really a wonderful experience for me, and I’m happy that I could convey that to other people,” said Tapper. “If people get from the book the warmth and fascination that I felt, that would make me really happy. It’s a tribute to both the guests and the employees.”
Another one of Tapper’s recent projects, “Island Dreams Caribbean,” features an entire chapter dedicated to St. John, and can be purchased on amazon.com.
“Caneel Bay A Celebration of 50 Years” can be purchased at the Caneel Bay gift shop, or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.