Rental 'home it'll be:' MacNeil's sprawling Cape Breton abode now a fan retreat

Owners of a new vacation spot in Cape Breton hope Rita MacNeil’s enduring legacy will draw fans to their sprawling waterfront property.

The late East Coast singer-songwriter's former home in Coxheath, N.S. has been repurposed as a three-unit Airbnb rental dubbed Rita's Retreat.

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Sitting on the picturesque waterfront and covering nearly 2.5 hectares (six acres), the getaway is scattered with reminders of the late MacNeil, who built the property in the early 1990s.

Inside, guests can settle down at her grand piano, step into her basement recording space or take a dip in a 15-metre saltwater pool with a makeshift viewing deck tucked in the corner.

The backyard's main feature is MacNeil's beloved garden and a chair where the owners say she wrote some of her best-known songs, including "Flying on Your Own" and "Working Man," her ode to local coal miners.

MacNeil, known as Cape Breton's first lady of song, died in 2013 after complications from surgery. She was 68.

Property manager Victoria Serwatuk says her father came across the home on the real estate market before the agent told him it was owned by MacNeil. As a longtime fan of the singer, she says, the opportunity to scoop up the place was impossible to pass.

She says the family decided the space was too big to live in full-time, but they saw the potential to give MacNeil's fans a unique space that kept some of her items intact.

"We want to keep the legacy going," Serwatuk added.

"All of the architecture is done by her and specifically designed for her."

Visitors can select from three listings on Airbnb — the main cottage, a space called Rita's suite or a bachelor space — with prices ranging from roughly $150 to around $400 per night.

Serwatuk says the family doesn't intend to "abuse" MacNeil's name but rather pay tribute to her lasting influence. They also informed her son Wade Langham about their plans before the property opened.

She says they reached a business agreement with Langham to purchase coal-shaped chocolates from him, as a tribute to MacNeil's solidarity with miners.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 22, 2021.

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