By Carter Hammett
Special to The Toronto Sun
It's a frosty Friday night. The drive to Haliburton, Ont., three hours north of Toronto, has felt long, and now the car creeping along the gravel road
surrounding Maple Lake comes to a grinding halt. A gentle pillar of light shimmers through the trees. The light beckons through a marvellous and triangular floor-to-ceiling window of Chalet-By-The-Lake Bed and Breakfast, owned by Paul and Dawn-Marie Hicks. We know we've arrived.
Paul and Dawn- Marie Hicks' dream home in Haliburton, Ont., became the avenue to their dream job when they converted it into a quaint, chalet-style bed and breakfast. (Photo, Paul Hicks)
What seemed like a quaint way to spend retirement and remain productive has evolved into a bustling, year-round operation since opening their home to the public just more than a year ago. Neither half of the duo had ever even stayed in a B and B before, but this did not deter feisty, former insurance broker Dawn-Marie from realizing a childhood dream.
"We'd spend weekends at my grandmother's house in the country, and since I was a little girl, I knew I'd wanted to live in the country," she says.
It would be dream she'd harbour for the next four decades while working for a Toronto insurance broker. When the business shut down two years ago, "a generous benefits package" enabled the couple to begin renovations on the dream house they'd purchased six years before.
The "dream house," however, was far from paradise when first purchased.
"It was an abused home," Paul says, "and needed lots of work to fix holes in the wall and drywall and repair damage from cigarette burns."
The house had been on the market for more than a year under power of sale, when the couple drove by one day and spotted it. They put in an offer and almost 24 hours later, the house was theirs.
Little by little, the couple began extensive repairs, including the installation of new flooring, heating system, bathrooms and living quarters for the couple.
The finished product is a sight to behold, with huge windows, through which bathe the first and second floors with natural light.
The main attraction of the B and B is the "honeymoon suite" in a loft that features a Jacuzzi, and private living quarters beneath a skylight roof. The entire loft is made of wood.
Indeed, one of their first guests were newlyweds who were honeymooning in the area, an event with a lot of significance for their hosts, who were married in the living room of their new home.
Dawn-Marie Hicks, who runs the Chalet-By-The-Lake Bed and Breakfast in Haliburton, Ont., with her husband, Paul, says she is living her dream life. (Photo, Paul Hicks)
"In our lives, we would not have met the people we have if we weren't doing this," says Dawn-Marie, whose guest register includes visitors from France, Japan, South Africa and Australia.
Not all guests are low maintenance, however. Dawn-Marie recalls a couple who showed up drunk, spied some decorative soaps and promptly gobbled it down thinking it was fudge.
Fortunately, those guests are few and far between. But the success of their B and B has meant lots of work for the couple, who receive guests throughout the year, including winter skiers. In addition to constant cleaning, the couple rises early to cook a wide range of meals that cater to distinct and fickle tastes. It's a constant balancing act and, in their free moments, they
retreat to a finished apartment in the basement.
"One of the things we'd learned was that other B and B owners complained about the lack of privacy and how confined they felt. Our apartment allows both the hosts and guests to maintain their privacy," Paul says.
"It took adjusting. For the first few months I tried to stay out of the way, but people were interested in speaking to us," he says. "They find running a B and B fascinating."
The Hicks' understand customer service, and include in their offerings complimentary snacks and access to a kayak and peddle boat.
A detailed Internet site (chalet-by-the-lake-b-and-b.com) allows for easy planning.
Paul estimates that more than 90% of their business comes from the Internet.
As the Hicks' celebrate their first anniversary as home-based entrepreneurs, other B and B owners have warned them of burnout, which tends to catch up after five to seven years, Paul says.
But for now, the Hicks' show no signs of slowing down.
"This job is for our retirement years and supplements things nicely," Dawn-Marie says.
Paul puts things more succinctly:
"For us, it's more than a house -- it's magic."
For more information, contact Dawn-Marie and Paul Hicks at 1-866-877-0977.
(Toronto writer, trainer, and employment information officer Carter Hammett can be reached at [firstname.lastname@example.org
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