Bed and breakfast travel is one of our favourite ways of discovering new places and the historic Twin Gables B&B is a real treat. It is a 4.5 star-rated bed and breakfast, located in the upscale Mount Royal neighbourhood in Calgary, which is about 25 minutes away by foot from downtown, and the restaurant area on 4th Street takes just a 10 minute to walk to. It was the perfect location for our Sneak Peek at Calgary and after a good night’s rest after our feast at Il Giardino’s last night, we enjoyed the comforts of our Mount Royal Suite, complete with its own sitting area, a private bathroom, an in-suite jacuzzi, a fireplace and a laptop computer with high-speed Internet access.
Well, a good portion of the B&B experience is the breakfasting experience and boy, were we in for a treat. We were just waiting to sit down for our morning meal in the historic parlor, when the two other B&B guests came down the stairs: a good-looking couple about our age was about to join us for breakfast.
I thought the face of the young man looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. My husband, on the other hand, recognized him right away: Michael Damian , a.k.a. “Danny Romalotti” from the famous “The Young and The Restless” daytime television show.
I did some research on our famous breakfast companions and was rather astounded at their achievements. Not only did Michael star in the #1-rated daytime drama (with an audience of over 100 million around the world), he is also enjoying great success in music and theatre. He captured the starring role in Andrew Lloyd Webbers “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” which became the highest grossing revival in L.A. history. He then continued his success in New York, breaking box office records on Broadway. Michael has also released 5 albums and has had 8 top 40 hits and earned a BMI Songwriting Award. Recently Michael has moved into directing, writing and producing movies and music videos.
Mike’s wife Janeen (formerly Janeen Best) is a celebrity in her own right: she is a former Solid Gold dancer and her film credits include Basic Instinct, Bugsy, Earth Girls Are Easy, Footloose and many more. Her television credits include Solid Gold, the Academy Awards, American Music Awards, Grammy Awards, the Young and the Restless, Matlock, Fantasy Island, Love Boat, Johhny Carson, the Dukes of Hazard and many more. So, it finally dawned on me that we were indeed surrounded by stars.
Well, after I got over this initial surprise, the breakfast was excellent, we started off with a yoghurt with fresh fruits, followed by beautiful home-made blueberry scones. The main course was a delicious Western omelette with green peppers, onions and mushrooms. The meal was delicious and we had a great conversation with our famous breakfast companions.
Mike and Janeen shared with us that they were in town to scout out a location for their upcoming movie project and they were staying at the Twin Gables for a few days. They mentioned that they launched a movie production company called Riviera Films a few years ago, and that they enjoy a great collaboration writing, producing and directing movies. Their latest project “Hot Tamale” was recently completed and will be premiering shortly at the Newport Beach Film Festival.
For a moment it felt a bit strange, sharing the breakfast table with real celebrities, but Mike and Janeen were so natural and down-to-earth, it was like sitting down with a regular couple from next door. There was not even a hint of snobbishness or arrogance here and all four of us had a delightful conversation.
For me it was very interesting because I myself have been making a transition into the creative / media field with my website, so it was very informative for me to listen to Mike and Janeen share their own stories of moving from acting in front in front of the camera to stepping behind the camera into directing and producing movie projects, a field where they had to prove themselves all over again. We also shared lots of laughs and parted, wishing each other good luck for our respective projects. Our encounter goes to show you that some of the stereotypes that we associate with celebrities often don’t apply and that fame doesn’t automatically inflate people’s egos. It was a real delight meeting Michael and Janeen, two successful, creative and down-to-earth people.
After breakfast I wanted to sit down a little with Deirdre and Henry Brost, the owners of the Twin Gables, to find out more about the background of this historic home and how it came to be this special bed and breakfast. Deirdre explained that in 1909 there was a big boom in Calgary and CP Rail owned all the land in the neighbourhood and decided to sell it off in lots. American investors wanted to call it American Hills, but CPR’s founder would not allow that. He decided to name the area Mount Royal, in keeping with making it the most exclusive area in Calgary.
The house itself was built between 1910 and 1912 by a lawyer, a certain Mr. Milliken, who had come to Calgary from Toronto. Due to the economic crisis following the 1929 stock market crash he lost the house to the bank in 1931 and a certain Wellington Walker, an entrepreneur also from Toronto, bought it in 1932 for $10,500. He was involved in the coal and cattle business and owned several sign shops. In 1965, at 91 years of age, he willed the house to his caregiver who turned it into a lodging house after his death. After she passed away in 1972 it remained a rooming house and slowly started to fall in disrepair.
The house’s previous owners, Marge and Tsak Rogers, are local artists who produce highly sought after paintings and they started renovating the house from top to bottom in 1976. In 25 years they gutted it and completely renovated all three floors. Henry & Deirdre bought the house about 4 years ago after they had already owned a bed and breakfast in the suburbs of Calgary. Deirdre wanted to move into the center of town where there would be demand for tourist accommodation all year round. It was a big step for both of them, and the taxes in the city proper were a significant increase in costs, but Deirdre loves the location. She said that this is the house she has always dreamed of owning.
Henry & Deirdre’s story of how they opened their B&B is rather amazing in itself: They took possession on a Saturday and their friends helped them move. On Sunday they unpacked their 3-bedroom house, on Monday the B&B inspector came, and Monday afternoon they were open for business. Sure enough that Monday evening they had their first guest.
They filled me in on a whole litany of renovation adventures: they added bathrooms to two of the three guest bedrooms. A big surprise hit them when they found out they had to rewire the whole house, but Henry, an expert electrician himself, rewired the house by leaving the walls and the historic wallpaper intact and installing wires from the floors above. They installed extra plugs, extra telephone wires and high-speed Internet access all throughout the house.
Another adventure befell them when their sewer pipe collapsed: they had several guests in the house when the clay pipe leading away from the house broke and a rather unpleasant liquid started backing up into the house. They had to get a work crew in with a back hoe and many thousands of dollars later they had not only a new sewer pipe, but also a new driveway and parking lot.
They also had to redo the chimney, and while they were at it they had to remove a family of squirrels. The chimney’s mortar had deteriorated and they had to redo the joints between the bricks. From 2004 to 2005 the house was completely repainted and holes behind the eavestroughs were fixed: it took 72 packets of silicon to fill in the cracks. Then they handwashed and painted the house. And all this had to be scheduled while the B&B was hosting a wide variety of guests. Both Deirdre and Henry say that owning an old house is like a moneypit, but they both love the house. Henry, always with a smile on his face, did virtually all the renovations and says he enjoyed them all. They even redid the entire garden, not surprising considering that Deirdre is an avid gardener.
Deirdre runs the bed and breakfast full-time while Henry helps her as much as he can, considering he is working full-time as an electrician. Deirdre said she had to train him not to snatch strips of bacon away from her B&B guests on his way to work. With a boyish smile on his face Henry says he has learned the rules of the house in the meantime and no longer grabs tasty morsels from the guests’ breakfast.
With all the renovations, Deirdre and Henry tried to preserve the outstanding architectural features of the house. The dining room has not changed at all, the wallpaper, furnishings and hand-moulded cornices are original to the house. The room also features a built-in mahogany china system. To this day, Twin Gables has a functional “maid call system” with bells to call the household help on every floor.
The parlour features a wall surround wallpaper with scenes of Hyde Park in London. Deirdre believes the wallpaper dates back to either the first or second owner. The first owner, Mr. Milliken, was friends with the Prince of Wales, who is said to have been here at the Twin Gables.
The living room and parlour feature original light fixtures with a copy of the original Edison lightbulbs. Certainly not the brightest lighting, but truly historic. The previous owners got the house designated as a provincially registered “historic resource” in 1984 because of the house’s historic arts and crafts style.
Twin Gables’s overseas guests mostly come from England, Scotland, Ireland as well as Germany and Holland. Of course they also see a lot of Ontarians, British Columbians and travelers from the United States. Off-season they get a lot of ”urban romantics’” who are local Calgary residents, just trying to get away for a weekend of pampering and romance. They also see their fair share of business travellers, particularly during the week. Many of the travellers are teachers, doctors and lawyers, but they have even hosted NASA rocket scientists.
Overall they have had a really positive experience with their bed and breakfast and they have hardly ever had “the guests from hell”. The only thing that bugs them is when guests don’t come downstairs on time for breakfast or when they don’t show up at all. Freshly made breakfasts don’t taste that great a half hour later and Deirdre works hard to make sure her food tastes just right. She commented that she has truly found her niche in life and strives to deliver the best possible service. “Ï am here to serve”, she says, and Henry agrees, nodding with his characteristic smile.
All guest rooms are equipped with their own private bathrooms, telephone, and individual laptops with high speed access. Each room has a personal fridge and a coffee maker, and our suite had a wonderful Jacuzzi tub with a great view of the Calgary skyline.
Deirdre and Henry’s dedication to delivering a great B&B experience definitely shows.