The Bed and Breakfast Lifestyle in Oakville, Toronto

Canada Bed and Breakfast Melfort House Heather Donaldson When Jim and I first considered changing gears and starting a new business, running a Bed and Breakfast or lodge was high on our list. So I did some research, and read two books that helped us narrow down our focus, if we decide to make the leap. The books, “So You Want to Be an Innkeeper” and “I’m Living Your Dream Life,” dive into the gory details about the daily demands of catering to tourists. I highly recommend them if you’ve ever considered running a tourism business.

What’s It Like Running a Bed and Breakfast?

We’re still considering this type of business as an option, so when we checked into Melfort Cottage in Toronto, we were on a mission to learn more about that line of work. Melfort Cottage is a small three room Bed and Breakfast, run by Heather Donaldson, a retired schoolteacher. Located in the middle of the posh Oakville area, Melfort Cottage is perfectly situated in an historic neighborhood, within walking distance to restaurants and shopping.

Back in 2002, Heather and her husband Bob started making extensive renovations to the home they lived in, and planned on starting a lodging business soon thereafter. Tragically, Bob passed away when work was almost complete. In a gutsy move, Heather made the decision to pursue the business that she and Bob dreamed about, and hasn’t looked back. Today, she still lives in the house, and goes about her day to day life while making her guests feel so welcome, as if they’re a part of her family.

I asked Heather a few questions about what it’s like runing a Bed and Breakfast, and she had nothing but praise for her occupation. One of her favorite aspects is getting to know her guests.

“The relationships you form with people are great! There’s this wonderful serendipitious aspect of’ ‘wow, look who’s dropped into my life!’

“You really get to know families, and become a part of their lives. It’s really so enriching,” she said.

Melfort Cottage Canada Bed and BreakfastBecause her guests are typically on vacation, they’re more relaxed and easygoing. Maybe it’s because many little details about her life are scattered throughout, like family photos on the refrigerator in the kitchen, that people immediately feel at home, and the atmosphere “takes on almost a family sort of way,” she said.

What Do You Do About a Grumpy Guest?

Rarely does she have an intolerable guest. On the one occasion when she’s encountered one with a challenging personality, she reframed the situation to help her get through it (and did a lot of meditating, she added!).

“It was only temporary. And there’s redeeming aspects to everybody, so because this is a business, it forced me to turn that (negativity) into a positive” and move on, she says.

Because she caters to a small number of guests, Heater can give each one individualized attention. She loves helping them out with information about where to eat and what to see. For Jim and I, she loaned us a great map book of Toronto that helped Jim find the cemetery his grandparents were buried in, in the middle of Toronto. We never would’ve found it without her help.

Many of Heather’s friends wonder how she does it. Isn’t it a real cramp on her lifestyle? they ask. And they wonder why she does it, since she’s “not getting rich from it.” Her answer to them; no way, she loves having people over. “It’s definitely not for everybody,” she says. But by being a host, she makes so many friends, and the extra money allows her to travel more often.

Never a Slave to the Business

Heather also dispels the myth about how a Bed and Breakfast host is always a slave to being at home and never gets away. Whenever she wants to go on vacation, all she has to do is block out those dates in the calendar on the online booking system she uses,, and that’s it.

After staying at Melfort Cottage, it was so obvious that Heather is cut out for this type of work. She was so pleasant and fun to talk to her about everything from politics to food, and she had a lot of great advice about Toronto that helped us with our visit. Jim and I both enjoyed our stay, and will hold up Heather’s business as a model to emulate, if we decide to take on something like this in the future.

13 thoughts on “The Bed and Breakfast Lifestyle in Oakville, Toronto”

  1. My wife and I have talked about visiting a bed and breakfast. We were kind of unsure about what kind of experience we would have. I guess the opposite can easily be said for bed and breakfast owners. 🙂

    I think it’s very interesting that folks go into running businesses like these and I think you do have to be warm and caring much like the folks in this article in how you approach running a business that relies on those who travel and vacation to use their lodgings as opposed to a hotel/motel.

    Very interesting read. Thanks!

  2. After we ran several successful restaurants it was time for a change and we did the same thing, but in Cape Town, South Africa.

    The beginning was hair raising and tense, but as we got further along we realised that the market was what we made of it; a few years later and my wife and I now operate several properties and am very glad that we made the decisions that we did.

  3. Thanks for your input, Anthony. I’ve read that the average B&B owner lasts just 7 years. After that, it’s burnout city. Sounds like your Parisian experience was from someone who seriously needed a change of pace. Sorry you had to go through that!


  4. I think Heather’s attitude is spot on. To run a successful B&B – or a boutique hotel for that matter – you need to be a natural host, have a genuine interest in humanity, and have a supreme degree of tolerance for a wide variety of people. I’ve stayed in some B&Bs over the years where the proprietors seemed actively hostile to the idea of having guests. It still irks me to remember the time the owner of a small Parisian hotel told me I was ‘evil’, apropos of nothing. Good service may not always be memorable, but bad service can stick in the throat for years…

  5. Hi Jim,

    Sorry, I must have missed the point totally (cry, sob). I am a fast reader (xlate: skip a lot). Feel free to guest post on my blog (just send me an article and pics if you wish).

    I was in Toronto a September ago (from Vancouver). Next trip to Europe, France. Looking into B&B’s perhaps not in Paris, but in the vicinity (ideas?).


  6. Think you might have missed the point here Steve … unless your point was to spam this blog with a link to your Cancun Travel tips, in which case you’ve succeded quite well! 😉

    I only approved your comment so I could reply and point out that we have not “taken on to be a B&B operator” … we were only discussing how it may be a choice quality of life decision (if) when we settle down again.

    I do recommend, however, that you check out Melfort Cottage if you’re ever looking for a quaint B&B owned by a friendly local in the Toronto area. Happy travels …

  7. Hi Rene,

    It is delightful, as a guest, that you have taken on to be a B&B operator. For a wary traveler, there is nothing like spending time with the locals and abosorbing the culture. And for you, I hope this has its own rewards as well. Looking forward to coming to your B&B when in/around Toronto.


  8. Hey that may be a really great idea for you guys. Jim loves to cook. You could plant an organic garden in the rear. With your remodeling experience of the building in Eureka, you would have no problem. I have to admit, it is something I have thought about for retirement too. Sounds great! I know a great place in New Jersey you could open up shop…..


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