How one couple's dream blossomed into Mongolian yurts in eastern P.E.I.

·4 min read
Heather and Jarrod Gunn McQuillan, with their children Finlay and Emma, say they love living in nature. (Shane Ross/CBC - image credit)
Heather and Jarrod Gunn McQuillan, with their children Finlay and Emma, say they love living in nature. (Shane Ross/CBC - image credit)

It's something Heather and Jarrod Gunn McQuillan have been planning since they were living in B.C. 15 years ago. Find a place in nature, away from the hustle and bustle, where they wake up in the morning, hear the birds chirping and maybe see a hare scamper by or a curious fox staring back at them.

Then, someday, expand it into a four-season nature retreat.

They found the land on a secluded property by a lake in St. Peters, P.E.I., about 12 years ago, around the same time they moved to the Island.

"We've been all over the country and decided that this was where we wanted to grow our roots," Heather said. "And even when we came to P.E.I., we searched all over this Island from tip to tip, looking for the right place and points east was the right place. It's really focused on nature and the natural environment."

Though they had found their haven, they were busy with their jobs — Heather with Atlantic Veterinary College and Jarrod as an oyster biologist with the provincial government.

Then they had two kids. Finlay is now 10, Emma is seven.

Danny Arsenault/CBC
Danny Arsenault/CBC

It was after Heather's father died five years ago, before he could enjoy his retirement, that they decided if they were going to build a nature retreat, this was the time.

Just as they were getting their plans finalized, the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

"Certainly it's been a challenge, but we're coming out the other side of it and I think ultimately it's going to be OK," Heather said.

"I think what this pandemic has taught a lot of us is how important it is to connect to each other and to connect to the world around us. And that's the whole mantra of this place."

Danny Arsenault/CBC
Danny Arsenault/CBC

Nature Space is a retreat that offers unique "glamping" accommodations in four circular yurts that came straight from Mongolia. Two larger yurts are used for yoga, corporate gatherings, small music events, and even intimate weddings.

There is another building with kitchens and washrooms, and an apartment along the treeline that offers views of the lake.

The yurts, crafted by hand, are like staying inside a work of art, Jarrod said.

There are no screws or nails holding the yurt structure together. The lattice is constructed of eastern larch or juniper trees, and the pieces are held together with a leather made from camel sinew. Connecting ropes and tension ropes are made from horse hair, as are the ropes on the outside of the yurt.

Danny Arsenault/CBC
Danny Arsenault/CBC

There is the central skylight in the shape of a circle. The yurts are equipped with beds, wood stoves and hot tubs.

The furniture is made with reclaimed wood from P.E.I. The contractors, electricians and plumbers are all from the Kings County area.

Community support

"Our community has been amazingly supportive," Heather said. "We came from away, we're Islanders by choice and moved to this area, and the community of Morell and St. Peters Harbour have really embraced us and have been so supportive. Everyone has just been so helpful in helping make this a reality."

The retreat offers activities like kayaking in the warmer months, snowshoeing in the winter and yoga year round.

Danny Arsenault/CBC
Danny Arsenault/CBC

But Mother Nature is the biggest attraction, Heather said.

"We're both big kids at heart," she said. "We're still the people who are like, oh, wow, look at that. And we go run outside and look at the eagle flying overhead. When the foxes are out, it's like, oh, look at the fox. It's amazing."

She said she's relieved to see it all come together and share it with others.

"This is what no regrets looks like, because at the end of the day, this is something we've dreamed about and wanted to do for nearly 20 years. And it was hard. It wasn't easy," she said.

"It took a lot of a lot of things coming together to make that happen. And I think it's been really cool that we just sort of persevered."

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