An Interview with the Owners of the Lunenburg Inn

The day had started great: a hearty and healthy breakfast at the Lunenburg Inn was excellent preparation for a full day of discovery. During the bright and sunny morning I headed out and went on a walking tour through Lunenburg, a quaint and scenic town on Nova Scotia’s southern coast whose unique architectural heritage has garnered it the coveted UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. I capped off my local explorations with a visit to the famous Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, a renowned museum that celebrates the maritime heritage of Nova Scotia.

The Lunenburg Inn – a 4.5 star bed and breakfast

I had big plans for today: a scenic drive along the Lighthouse Trail through scenic communities such as Mahone Bay and Peggy’s Cove to my final destination for today: Halifax, Nova Scotia’s capital. But before saying goodbye to this charming town I wanted to find out a little bit more about the hospitality entrepreneurs running the Lunenburg Inn. I am always interested in the people behind the destinations, because the people are really the key factor in any hospitality experience.

So with my suitcase packed and stashed safely in the car, I sat down with Don and Gail Wallace, owners of the Lunenburg Inn, to find out more about their personal story. Don started off by telling me that he had spent 33 years with a Toronto-based company in the warehousing and transportation business, holding the title of Vice President towards the end of his tenure. He felt it was time to make a significant change in his life, so he and Gail sat down to discuss what options they might have. They talked about downsizing their house and looking at a second career that they could start together. They also wanted to relocate away from the Toronto area and find a place where they would be able to retire. So they started looking further afield.

Don and Gail Wallace, the owners of the Lunenburg Inn

One day in February of 1995 they noticed an advertisement in the Financial Post for a place called the “Lunenburg Inn”. This struck a chord because both of them had been dreaming of retiring near the ocean. So Don picked up the phone and got in touch with the real estate broker. On a Sunday morning in February he flew to Halifax and fell in love with Nova Scotia’s South Shore. Don adds that Lunenburg was not as pretty as it is today, but even then he recognized the potential of this town. He really liked the property a lot, although it would need a lot of work. So he phoned Gail to share his positive impressions and suggested that they both travel to Lunenburg the following weekend to see the inn. All the necessary professional contacts were initiated: the mortgage officer at the bank, the building inspector, the real estate agent and the lawyer who would handle the transaction. Don and his wife talked the idea over with their grown-up children. The following Sunday afternoon there was a meeting with the building inspector, after which Don prepared the offer. On Monday morning the mortgage was approved and shortly after lunch Don handed the realtor a cheque as the downpayment for their retirement plan: the Lunenburg Inn. Shortly after his arrival back in Toronto he received a call from his realtor that they would now be the proud owners of an inn as of May 1, 1995.

Ironically, the day that this real estate transaction was completed Don had to go on a business trip to Vancouver, and he and his colleague went out after work and celebrated with a bottle of wine. It was not until months later that his coworker found out that Don had a real reason to celebrate on this very day: the beginning of his second career.

My delicious breakfast at the Lunenburg Inn

Back in Toronto Don wrote a letter of resignation to his company’s president who was very surprised since he and most people in the company had assumed that Don was a “lifer”, i.e. that he would spend the rest of his working life at this company. Don gave 6 months notice and would leave his position as Vice-President by the end of August. This gave the couple sufficient time to organize garage sales to get rid of unwanted furniture in Toronto. On April 28 their van left at 5 am, packed up their goods and arrived in Lunenburg on April 30. Don had booked two weeks of vacation and his son came along to spend his summer in Lunenburg – a perfect arrangement since Don still had to wrap up his last few months with his company in Toronto.

So from May onwards Gail and their son Drew started to operate the bed and breakfast. Their daughter came to join them in July, she had just finished her last year of high school and was starting a degree at Wilfred Laurier University in September. Don was able to leave his position early since by the end of July a replacement had been hired. So on August 1 the entire family was united in Lunenburg.

Beautifully preserved Victorian features

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