Casa Bianca is a stylish small Bed and Breakfast in Montréal, near the hippest culture, dining and entertainment neighbourhoods, the Plateau, Mile-End and Downtown.
How would you describe Shobac in a nutshell?
Shobac Cottages is a farm by the sea built on historic village ruins on Canada’s Nova Scotia south shore, offering vacation rentals of four unique cottages, several houses and an octagonal barn.
Please tell us a bit about the history of the farm.
My wife and I found this place 30 years ago on one of those Sunday drives. It was at the end of the end of the Earth, which turns out to be where Champlain made his first landfall in 1604. We found these ruins of French fishermen's houses probably from the 1500s and Swiss-German from the 1750s. They were all abandoned when we arrived. It was a farming and fishing village that had completely died, a ghost of a lost village at the end of the Earth, with just the bones left.
I began clearing the land with my own hands, which took me 20 years to do. It had a sense of inhabitation and was a wonderful revealing of what used to be a cultural landscape in the New World.
It’s a magical place. You can kind of taste that in the landscape through the stone walls, wells, and the ruins.
What was your inspiration to build those cottages there?
For an architect, building is a way of studying the land, by palpating, by proposing things. You study and understand it more that way. It started as a kind of international architecture laboratory. We built temporary buildings, recycling them, a little bit like Burning Man, and we’d have a huge community party with bagpipes, and as many as 1,000 people would come.
Then we thought about sustainability, so we thought to build some permanent buildings. We built the cottages, a tower, a studio and reconstructed a historic brown barn and other barns where we keep sheep and horses.
Like the historic extended family farm that was here, we now have barnyards and courtyards and microclimates made within the landscape.
What was your inspiration to rent it out to vacation guests?
It was a financial necessity. We rent to individuals, groups and the entire location for retreats. It’s absolutely protected. It feels like the end of the Earth because it’s the end of a peninsula surrounded by sea on all sides and rolling hills that wrap around it. It’s both a prospect and a refuge.
Sustainability also played an important role in the design of the vacation rentals?
Yes, we’re very eco-conscious. We have the sheep running freely and they eat the salt grass here and that’s all they eat. We have our own organic vegetable garden and trout ponds that make it a working farm. Kids love the farm aspect of the property. They love to feed the sheep and horses.
Everything here is run on passive solar. That’s like breathing, something everybody should do.
How is Halifax?
Halifax is just under half a million people. It’s a peninsula, so it's very walkable and has some density. It’s kind of a poor man’s San Francisco. They call it Seattle East. It was a garrison town, so there was a fortress and things like that.
A bit further is also Cape Breton, which is magnificent. It’s one of the great landscapes in the world. You can be on the river and hear Medieval French on one side and Gaelic on the other. It has a kind of music tradition, which is amazing.
We are also located close to Lunenburg, which is a historic UNESCO world heritage town — one of only two in North America — full of great restaurants and good festivals and beautiful wooden architecture. And there are yacht clubs nearby.
What has been your biggest reward about renting out the cottages?
It attracts interesting people like a Grammy award-winning trombonist, famous painters and architects, the founder of Cirque du Soleil. A lot of interesting people come here. They’re like kindred spirits, and they’re always nice. We’ve never had a complaint in the five years we’ve been open.
If you’re looking for Motel 6, you don’t come here. If you’re looking for nature and a physical relationship to nature — kayaking, swimming, surfing, fishing — you come here. If you want to be alone and write a book, you can do that as well.