The MacKinnon-Cann Inn: Where Home and Garden Television Meets the Travel Channel

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.

Another restoration project in the works

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.

Michael shows me his work in progress

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.

The blue house

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.

One of the bedrooms at the MacKinnon-Cann Inn

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.

A hearty breakfast for a big day on the road

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.

Lots of work went into these deatils

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.

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