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 Hisgen and Michael Tavares
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.
Victorian beauty: The MacKinnon-Cann Inn
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.
Parlour at the MacKinnon-Cann Inn
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.
Dining room at the MacKinnon-Cann Inn
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 Charles C. Richards House
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.
A gorgeous fireplace with a beautiful wooden floor