A move to P.E.I. turns beachcombing into business: The Story Line

“Everybody’s got a story,” is the theory I’m working on. To prove it, every month, I open the P.E.I. phonebook to a random page and stab my finger at the first name I find.

Toni Vary and her husband moved to O'Leary a year and a half ago from Owen Sound, Ont.

Toni Vary is a lifelong beachcomber who has managed to turn her love of the beach into a business. (Submitted by Toni Vary)

She answers before the second ring.


I recognize her voice immediately. I just spoke with her about 15 seconds ago, when I dialed a wrong number.

"Oh, sorry," I say. "Did I do it again?"

"Are you looking for Toni?" she asks.

"Yeah, Toni Vary," I say.

"Oh, okay." I hear her move some paper around. "Her number — let's see — it's…"

I'm sitting in the studio at CBC in Charlottetown, talking to a stranger on the phone. I do this every month. "Everybody's got a story," is the theory I'm working on. To prove it, every month, I open the P.E.I. phone book to a random page and stab my finger at the first name I find.

This week, I found Toni Vary in O'Leary. And isn't it the most O'Leary thing ever that when I got her number wrong, the person I accidentally called had her number right at hand?

I think maybe it is.

From Owen Sound to O'Leary

When I finally got a hold of Toni, I found a new Islander who is smitten with her chosen home.

"We're new here!" she announces. "A year and a half ago."

We'd not explored O'Leary at all. But we just liked looking at it, and thought, "that's perfect."- Toni Vary

Vary and her husband Bob chose O'Leary, because it seemed nice and the price was right. From their former home in Owen Sound, Ont., the real estate in Prince County seemed almost too good to be true.

"Every time we looked at the map and looked at the realty, we just kept coming back to O'Leary and saying, 'wow, that's where we want to be,'" she says.

"I mean, had you been there before?"


"No!" she says. "I'd been past. We brought my mother out here quite a few years ago, and we'd been to Tignish and everything. But no, we'd not explored O'Leary at all. But we just liked looking at it, and thought, 'that's perfect.'"

Perfect, as it turns out, looks an awful lot like a renovated old farm house nestled between a couple potato fields.

Vary and her husband bought a renovated farm house nestled between potato fields. (Submitted by Toni Vary)

"It's gorgeous. Originally it was the home of the blacksmith shop. The building's gone, but we have the old schoolhouse just up the street. It's in our backyard, which we're working on fixing up."

Vary spends her days working in community care and spends her free time (uh, when it's warmer) at the beach. She's a lifelong beachcomber and has even managed the seemingly impossible: to turn her love of the beach into a business.

Finding her passion

"All my life I've picked up small stones," she explains. "So I thought, 'okay, I need something to do with them.' So I brought them home, and I thought, 'how bout I try to polish them?' So I bought a tumbler. And then I needed to drill holes in them, so we bought a drill press. And a grinder. And all this nonsense. So I've been making necklaces. I've been making pendants, and key chains, and fridge magnets, and now I'm making the pull chains on ceiling fans and ... yeah."

I can hear her smiling. We've found her passion.

And so, P.E.I. Wishing Stones by Toni was born. She's set up at a few craft sales and is just starting to look for local shops that might be interested in selling her stones.

Vary managed to turn her passion for beachcoming into a business — P.E.I. Wishing Stones by Toni. (Submitted by Toni Vary)

A year and a half is long enough to get a good impression on her new home. I asked her how she would describe O'Leary to people who have never been there.

"It's very relaxed," she says. It's very — it's quite busy. Which is kind of amazing for such a small little wee town. It's a very busy community. It's got everything you need. It's got hardware. It's got groceries. Hey, we even got the cannabis store! Ha!"

And really, what more could you ask for?

More P.E.I. news


Dave Atkinson is a children's author and writer living in Charlottetown.


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