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Hello From Nova Scotia - Part 11 - The Mackinnon-cann Inn: Where Home And Garden Television Meets The Travel Channel

I had spent a wonderfully rejuvenating night wrapped up in the soft high-thread-count sheets and comforters of my temporary home at the MacKinnon-Cann Inn in Yarmouth. After an exciting drive down the Evangeline Trail yesterday that included a very informative tour of the Bear River First Nation Heritage and Cultural Centre, followed up by an early-evening walking tour to admire Yarmouth’s Victorian heritage areas, I had definitely needed a good rest. But a new day had broken...

Nova Scotia, Halifax, Acadian history, Lunenburg, Yarmouth, Annapolis Royal, Peggy\'s Cove

I had spent a wonderfully rejuvenating night wrapped up in the soft high-thread-count sheets and comforters of my temporary home at the MacKinnon-Cann Inn in Yarmouth. After an exciting drive down the Evangeline Trail yesterday that included a very informative tour of the Bear River First Nation Heritage and Cultural Centre, followed up by an early-evening walking tour to admire Yarmouth’s Victorian heritage areas, I had definitely needed a good rest. But a new day had broken and I was ready for more adventures.

First on the plan was of course breakfast, so I got myself ready and walked downstairs into the tastefully decorated dining area of the MacKinnon-Cann Inn. Neil Hisgen, one of the co-owners, was working in the kitchen to prepare breakfast and occasionally dropped by to see how the guests were doing. I caught him for about ten minutes to find out more about this property and his own personal background.

Neil is originally from Racine, Wisconsin, and hails from a family with six children. He spent six years in the navy following which he briefly returned home, only to move to Fort Lauderdale in Florida where he started his hospitality career. He started working at the front desk at the Marriott Hotel and for the next 18 years worked in various hotels and restaurants, gaining experience at the front desk and in the kitchen. He capped his employed career after 15 years with a general manager’s position of a major hotel.

Neil met his business and life partner Michael Tavares at the end of 1997. Neil had made a good return on the sale of his first house and decided to invest it in a bed and breakfast. At the time Michael owned a 200-acre property on a peninsula near Yarmouth which they used as a vacation home. Michael had invited him to spend about a month at his farm near Yarmouth and Neil loved it. Being from the mid-west, he had always enjoyed the change of the seasons.

Neil and Michael were thinking about what they wanted to do and decided they were ready for a change, so they went ahead and opened a bed and breakfast in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia where there was a beautiful Victorian residential district waiting for them with many restoration opportunities. At this point Neil unfortunately had to go back in the kitchen to continue working, but Michael, his co-owner, joined me at my table to give me a more in-depth overview of their projects and his own life story.

Michael is originally from Boston and grew up in the southern part of the city. During college he majored in education, but after school he went into real estate and started his own brokerage firm. He was always fascinated by old buildings and illustrates this with a story from his childhood: at 12 or 13 years of age there was an old farm house nearby, and Michael always wondered who had owned it and lived there. So he talked to his mother about it and she took him to the land registry office to do a title search, obtaining a record of all previous owners of the property.

With these documents in hand he approached the current owners and gave them the historic ownership records of the property. They absolutely loved it, and from that point forward Michael was hooked on the mystique of historic properties. In his words, he loves to “peel back the layers of time” and started to buy and restore his own historic buildings. Over several years he completed eight restoration projects in the south end of Boston.

After Boston he moved to Key West and became a tropical landscape architect. He spent five or six years living and working in Key West, completing many garden design projects for the local gay community. In the 1980s he finally bought a 200 acre farm as a vacation property in Nova Scotia together with several friends. This was when his love affair with Yarmouth began. Michael moved his permanent residence from Key West to Fort Lauderdale where he met Neil in 1997 at a fundraising event. They lived together for a year and Neil helped Michael in his landscaping business. In the summer of 1998 Michael invited Neil to his property in Nova Scotia because he wanted Neil to share this part of his life. So for the last eight years Neil and Michael have been residing in Nova Scotia. Their first Yarmouth property was a run-down Victorian brick mansion which they lovingly restored in 1999 and turned into the present Charles C. Richards House, a historic bed and breakfast with three guest bedrooms decorated in the 1930’s Art Deco Period. Each room at the Charles C. Richards House features a private bath, cable TV with DVD players and period furnishings.

The MacKinnon-Cann Inn where I was staying was built in 1887 and is an example of the Italianate Victorian style. The house was built as a duplex for two female cousins, and to this day the inn features two staircases side by side. Michael and Neil rescued the property in 2000 and took it from a condemned state to the stunning mansion that it is today. All seven guest rooms are uniquely decorated in a style reflecting a different 20th century decade, from the 1900s to the 1960s. The main floor features five lavish parlours and Michael pointed out the beautiful patterned wood floor that was installed at great expense throughout the dining area. Neil is a talented glass artist, and many stained glass windows throughout the MacKinnon-Cann Inn and the Charles C. Richards House feature Neil’s artwork.

Michael explained that he is very active in Nova Scotia’s heritage community and mentioned that he is a member of two historic organizations: he serves on the Board of Directors of the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia whose mission it is to preserve and protect the heritage properties in the province. Both the MacKinnon-Cann Inn and the Charles C. Richards House are provincially registered heritage properties. Michael is also a member of the Provincial Heritage Owners Association of Nova Scotia which encompasses 265 provincial heritage properties. Both inns have won several awards, including the 2005 Restoration Award from the Yarmouth County Historical Society and the L.B. Jenson Award as a contribution to the development and economic health of the Yarmouth Heritage Community.

In addition to the two inns, Michael is also currently renovating the property right next door to the MacKinnon-Cann Inn, another Victorian heritage property which he is thinking of turning into a restaurant that will serve the tourists and local community of Yarmouth. The fourth recently renovated property owned by Michael and Neil is a blue-coloured Victorian heritage property located right between the MacKinnon-Cann Inn and the Charles C. Richards House. In essence, Michael and Neil have single-handedly transformed an entire street block, rescued four historic properties and turned them into stunning examples of architectural revival.

As an astute tourism marketer, Michael Tavares is also the President of the Nova Scotia Association of Unique Country Inns, a collective marketing and branding group that promotes upscale heritage tourism in unique historic properties. Michael is generally responsible for the inn’s marketing while Neil’s responsibilities focus more on hospitality and innkeeping.

Michael’s restoration mindset is based on a commitment to the preservation of buildings and a respect for the historical integrity of the property. He approaches his projects with a certain humility which he says many renovators today are missing since they are only looking for the highest return on investment. He is a strong believer that the cultural renaissance and economic revival of a town begins with heritage restoration and then trickles down to Main Street.

At the same time he also recognizes the need for protecting his investments, and as a member of the local Yarmouth Town Planning Council he has a chance to participate in shaping the future of this town. Michael and Neil have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless thousands of hours in their heritage properties and business ventures. Their efforts make a significant contribution to the economic well-being of the town.

The beginning was not easy since Michael was an outsider with new ideas in a town with long-standing traditions and established power structures. He was the new kid on the block. In addition, it took some time to gain acceptance, particularly as a gay couple in a rather conservative community. Conflict arose originally since Michael was also very outspoken and questioned the old ways of doing things.

However, his commitment to the community became evident in his renovation projects. Michael would call together all the contractors for each project, such as electricians, plumbers, carpet layers, etc. and told them that he would deal exclusively with them as local merchants instead of choosing a big box home renovation store as his main supplier. This commitment to local merchants has earned him a lot of respect and goodwill in the surrounding community, and today many people call him for his opinion before a debate of important issues that will affect the town.

After I completed my delicious fruit salad and omelet breakfast, Michael took me on a tour of all four properties. We started off with the smaller Victorian house currently under renovation where the entire first floor has currently been stripped down to the bare walls. As with his other projects, Michael is going to do the vast majority of the project himself and will call in specialized contractors only where needed. He is one of those people who have that special gift of spotting a diamond in the rough and taking it from a derelict hovel in danger of collapsing to a stunningly updated and stylish historic jewel with all modern conveniences.

We then went over to the recently restored blue Victorian mansion that was renovated by the previous owners according to Michael’s recommendations since Michael and Neil were going to purchase the property. We capped the visit off with the Charles C. Richards House, a stunning Victorian brick mansion with gorgeous architectural details, built for a wealthy local businessman. It was started in 1893 and took two years to finish and was the first brick house of this class to be built in Yarmouth. Most of the special building materials, i.e. the brownstone, granite and brick, were imported from the United States and make this house unique. Michael told me that it took him a whole season to strip the many layers of paint on the ornately carved porch and 32 weeks to repaint it, using eleven different colours.

I admired the wonderful details and stylish décor of the various rooms, including the flower-filled conservatory. Michael and Neil posed for me in front of the intricately carved wooden staircase that leads to the upstairs bedroom and this was the fitting ending for my introduction to architectural preservation and heritage tourism in Yarmouth. I thanked them both for their welcoming hospitality and got ready for my next item on the itinerary: an exploration of Yarmouth history at the Yarmouth County Historical Museum, located right across the street from the Charles C. Richards House.

For the entire article including photos please visit


Hello From Ottawa: Tulips On Majors Hill And A Nerve-wracking Television Interview

My day today so far had been completely dedicated to exploring nature: first I visited the Fatal Attraction Exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Nature to learn about the art of seduction in the animal world. Then I had a chance to explore nature in a real-life setting in Ottawa’s nature playground: Gatineau Park.

At about 4 pm I headed back into the city, got changed and checked my messages at the beautiful McGee’s Inn and got ready to head out to my next stop: Major’s Hill,...

Ottawa,Ontario, Canada, Tulips, Interview, festival

My day today so far had been completely dedicated to exploring nature: first I visited the Fatal Attraction Exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Nature to learn about the art of seduction in the animal world. Then I had a chance to explore nature in a real-life setting in Ottawa’s nature playground: Gatineau Park.

At about 4 pm I headed back into the city, got changed and checked my messages at the beautiful McGee’s Inn and got ready to head out to my next stop: Major’s Hill, one of the official locations of Ottawa’s Tulip Festival. From the leafy neighbourhood of Sandy Hill I strolled through Ottawa’s ByWard Market area and explored a local landmark: the asymmetrical spires of St. Brigid’s have been inspiring Roman Catholics since 1890.

Just a few hundred metres northwest is one of Ottawa’s most magnificent edifices: the Notre Dame Basilica Cathedral, Ottawa’s oldest surviving church. Its site is the location of the first Catholic chapel accessible to both Anglophones and francophones of Bytown.

Right across the Street from the impressive Notre Dame Cathedral is another architecturally imposing structure: The National Gallery of Canada, a masterpiece of modern architecture, designed by internationally renowned architect Moshe Safdie and opened in 1988 to develop, maintain and make known, throughout Canada and the world, a national collection of works of art with special but not exclusive reference to Canada. Part of its mandate is to further knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of art in general among all Canadians.

Just oustide the National Gallery and facing the Notre Dame Cathedral is a monumental sculpture of a spider, created by French-born sculptor Louise Bourgeois. This sculpture, entitled “Maman”, features a sac of 26 pure white marble eggs protruding from the spider’s belly. With a height of 30 feet this enormous outdoor sculpture was designed in 1999 and cast in 2003, and it is the last in a series of six environmental sculptures by this artist. These sculptures have been seen in numerous high-calibre locations, including New York City’s Rockefeller Center and the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. I also saw a copy last year together with a smaller version in Havana, Cuba.

From the plaza in front of the National Gallery all I had to do was to cross busy Sussex Drive and I found myself right in Major’s Hill Park. This public space dates back all the way to 1874, although it was originally named after Colonel By, the creator of the Rideau Canal. As a matter of fact, the park is the site of the former residence of Colonel By who was succeeded by Major Daniel Bolton who ended up giving the official name to this public space.

Major’s Hill is indeed one of the most prominent spaces in Ottawa, with perfect views of the Parliament Buildings, the Rideau Canal, the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, and the National Art Gallery. It is just steps away from Sussex Drive, location of the Canadian Prime Minister’s residence, as well as Ottawa’s prime entertainment district, the ByWard Market. Today the park is managed by the National Capital Commission and one of the main venues for many of the city’s festivals and special events.

As one of the official events for the Tulip Festival, Ottawa’s largest festival, and the largest festival of its kind in the world, Major’s Hill was hosting a number of special attractions: the International Tulip Friendship Village, the Artisans Marketplace, strolling entertainers, the Family Zone and the Get Out! Ottawa Citizen Concert Series. I particularly enjoyed the 150 five-foot tall tulips, all of which are unique, painted by local artists. These sculptures were a great addition to the thousands of real tulips who were already a bit past their prime, considering Canada has had an early spring this year.

5 pm was still a bit early, but people were starting to come in to get ready for some of the concerts that were going to be held here tonight. I admired the real-life tulips, the artist-painted man-made versions and various photos and paintings of tulips in the Artisans Marketplace. The sun was peeking out occasionally and a beautiful view presented itself on the west side of Major's Hill, overlooking the Parliament Buildings and the Rideau Canal’s lock system.

One of Ottawa's most distinguishing features, the Rideau Canal is a designated Canadian National Historic Site and was recently nominated as a World Heritage Site as well. Connecting lakes and rivers between Ottawa and Kingston, the Rideau Canal is the oldest continuously operated canal in North America. Its locks have been open for business since 1832. Several tourists were enjoying the view until all of us got distracted by an oversize groundhog that was sitting quite relaxed on one of the walkways, chewing away on some leafy branches that had been blown down by the wind. He was not at all deterred by our fascination for him.

Well, my serene afternoon was going to come to an end shortly since I was scheduled for a 3-minute live appearance on Ottawa’s primary news channel, CTV. This might not be a big deal for someone else, but for me personally it was my first television appearance. To be beamed live through Canada’s capital on the 6 o’clock news was a very exciting, yet nerve-wrecking experience.

Max Keeping, CTV Ottawa’s news anchor and Vice-President of News Programming, had suggested that we do a live interview from Major’s Hill Park where he would ask me several questions related to travel in Canada. He would of course be located in CTV’s Ottawa studio. Max and I had met earlier this year at the 26th Annual Bedzzz Race where he was the emcee of this charity event.

Indeed, Max is renowned all throughout the National Capital Region for his community involvement and he has helped to raise more than $100 million for important causes over his 34 years at CTV Ottawa. He makes appearances at more than 200 community events a year and is a recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including the Order of Canada, the Ontario Medal of Good Citizenship, a 2003 Gemini, the 2004 Ottawa United Way's Community Builder of the Year, and dozens of other awards.

No wonder I was nervous in anticipation of a city-wide televised interview with such an illustrious personality. As time drew closer to 6 pm I had to make two nervousness-induced trips to one of the port-a-potties on Major’s Hill. About 20 minutes to 6 pm I located the CTV satellite news truck and I went up to the camera man to introduce myself. He outfitted me with an earpiece and a miniature microphone that went on my jacket with a transmitter box mounted to my back. Once I was wearing this equipment I realized there was no turning back, I was going to be on TV, no matter what.

I have to admit I was hugely nervous as the camera man started to position me in different locations in front of the bright spotlight he had set up. From about 6 pm onwards I started to hear the live newscast in my earpiece and the producer of the show occasionally came on to fill me in as to how much longer it would be. She had a surprisingly calming influence on me. Time seemed like an eternity, but finally at about 6:15 pm I was live on the air, with Max Keeping, Ottawa’s most popular newscaster.

He asked me several questions about travel in Canada, and in particular whether I thought that higher gasoline prices would or should have an effect on travel in Canada. I answered frankly, stating that despite higher gas prices it still only took me about $60 in gasoline to drive to and from Ottawa. Canada as a whole and Ottawa specifically, is a great travel destination, since there are always so many things going on as evidenced by my own tight schedule during the Tulip Festival and it is still very affordable to travel and explore destinations within Canada.

Well, the butterflies started to subside and a few minutes later my on-air interview was finished. I felt exhilaration and relief at the same time and thanked the camera man profusely for the professional support he provided to me. I also thanked the producer who came on one more time to let me know that things had gone okay.

By this time it had started to drizzle a little, so I put my rain jacket on and headed for another round of excursions around Major’s Hill. The place was getting busier. A local singer was creating renditions of various Avril Lavigne songs and a young band, the Diableros, took to the stage who were going to be followed by two more musical performances as part of the Get Out! Ottawa Citizen Concert Series.

I crossed the street and strolled through the ByWard Market to my dinner destination, Bistro 115, where I would get to chat with the owner and find out more about another one of Ottawa’s hospitality entrepreneurs. At the end of this exciting, action-packed day I was looking forward to a good conversation and a nice quiet dinner.


Universal Studios Tours and Television Audiences

Have you ever dreamed of sitting in the audience of your favorite television shows? Now you can – at the Universal Studios Tours TV Audience Booth. This could be the opportunity of a lifetime, but you need to move fast.

Make your way to the TV Audience Booth inside the park. Find out what shows are filming on that particular day, or for other days when you will be at the park. The tickets are free, but there is limited availability, and not all shows will be filming everyday. You can often find out the filming schedule for shows by calling ahead. With that schedule, you can plan your trip to coincide with the filming of your favorite shows.

What better way to spend part of your Universal Studios Tour vacation? You can see what is going to happen on your favorite television shows well in advance. You can even make a game of it! Don’t tell you friends that you were in the audience, and place bets as to what is going to happen later in the series!


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