Parking Not Included

May 5, 2014 § Leave a comment

There’s a little white houseboat with a red tin roof about 200 metres from the shore of Yellowknife Bay. It has no sign out front, no house number, and if you knock on the door, a frenetic couple inside will throw it open and ask, “How in the world did you find us?”

Daniel Gillis and Monique Robert have been running the Yellowknife Bay Floating B&B out of their custom-made boat home since January. It’s an off-grid, unmoored house-and-deck combo, permanently stationed in the
harbour between Old Town and downtown. In summer, visitors arrive by kayak; in winter, by ice road. “The people who find us,” says Gillis, “they’re braver than your average hotel guest. They’re not your usual need-to-be-toured kind of person.”

But aside from the list of instructions taped to the wall in front of the toilet, the digs are surprisingly luxurious. Fox, wolf, cow and muskox pelts line the walls. The bedsheets are 300-thread-count. There are skulls drying in corners, many of which Robert incorporates into papier maché collages that exhibit in New York and Ottawa. Full breakfast, Wifi and picture-window aurora views round out the $150-a-night package, which the couple says is so popular they could be booked every night of the year if they wanted.

“We didn’t even think of [opening a B&B] when we built the place two and a half years ago,” says Gillis. Robert adds, “But while we were building, people came up to us, asking if there was a place where they could stay overnight … We really didn’t know about anything open to the public. So a seed was planted, but we didn’t venture near it right then.” Robert and Gillis are both experienced house-builders who may have designed their boat too perfectly: “We had all this space that we weren’t really using,” says Gillis. The houseboat’s base is only 720 square feet, but the couple found space for all of their belongings, plus all of the tools they’d used to build the house, and still had a room to spare. “That’s when we thought, ‘Hey, the B&B would be a good idea.’”

They established a high-calibre reputation quickly – their first guest was Fortune 500 photographer Brian Small – and have already made a name for themselves as one of Yellowknife’s must-see stops. When virtuoso violinist Timothy Chooi performed in Yellowknife last summer, his guided tour of the city included a duet with his accompanist at Gillis’ electric piano. They’ve travelled to France on an invitation from past guests from Bordeaux and impressed Asian visitors with an antique Japanese pinball machine hanging on the guest room wall. Their biggest asset? “We’re just friendly,” says Robert. “It’s not hard. You just treat the guests like they’re friends who are visiting.”

Whether they’ll ever expand is a different question. “Yeah, sure, we’d love to build another one,” says Robert. But there are complications to running a houseboat year-round. The couple doesn’t take guests during freeze-up or break-up. They also don’t accommodate children under 10. “And if anyone gets sick or hurt, we can’t call an ambulance,” says Robert. “We’re doing our thing here on a very small scale and that feels good for now.”

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