Meet Oriel Smith: One of Our Island Favorites

Oriel Smith
Oriel Smith

There are some people you meet on St. John that you simply want to hug. You want to invite them over for dinner and you want to become lifelong friends. Oriel Smith is one of those people.

If Oriel’s name sounds familiar to you, it’s because we mentioned him briefly last month in our story about Scotty the donkey. As you may recall, we received an email about an injured donkey over at Cinnamon. We reached out to a few folks who in turn reached out to Oriel. Once Oriel got involved, we knew Scotty would be well taken care of.

So who exactly is Oriel Smith? Well he is, in our opinion, Caneel Bay’s most valued employee. As the director of grounds and landscaping, Oriel’s job is to make Caneel’s grounds look beautiful. It’s also his responsibility to care for the animals who live on the property including the donkeys and deer. And to say he treats these animals with love and compassion is simply an understatement.

I had the privilege of spending some time with Oriel a few weeks back. Together we strolled the grounds of Caneel while he spoke about his 17 years working at the resort. (Oriel’s 17th anniversary was last Friday, so we like to extend a big congrats to him for that.) What struck me during that conversation was just how knowledgable Oriel was about the animals living on Caneel’s property and how much he truly cared for each and every one of them.

For example, Oriel told me a tale of a young donkey named April who was born back in 2008. When Little April, as Oriel called her, was about eight or nine months old, she disappeared from the property. Now it’s not uncommon for the donkeys to wander throughout the island but they always return to where they were born, according to Oriel. So after not seeing Little April for years, Oriel was convinced something had happened to her.

Several years has passed when a new donkey appeared on the property. Oriel knew she looked familiar and soon realized it was April. Oriel was overjoyed that came home. And for those of you who follow Caneel over on Facebook, you may recall see pictures of a little donkey born in early March. That donkey, named Precious, happens to be April’s offspring. (I love stories that have a happy ending.)

Precious - Image credit: Caneel Bay
Precious – Image credit: Caneel Bay

But it’s not just April and Precious that Oriel knows the backstories of. It’s all of the donkeys on property. As we strolled the grounds, he pointed out Buckelfoot who was in a car accident once, Darry, Daniel and more. In total, there are 14 donkeys who currently call Caneel Bay home.

What I found to be the most interesting is that the donkeys we see at Honeymoon Beach one day may be the same ones we see over near Coral Bay a few days later. They simple wander, Oriel said.

“They take North Shore Road just like we do,” Oriel added.

So as Oriel and I walked over to feed the donkeys some hay in their pen that’s tucked away behind the hut at Honeymoon Beach, I asked Oriel one last question: What’s the best part of your job?

“To me its not a job,” Oriel said. “It’s just – I love what I do. And I tell everybody and I might as well tell you all that I have the best job in the world, the most gratifying and the most satisfying.”

Well said Oriel and thank you for all you do.

Donkeys at Caneel