THIS BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT SHINES ON
Brought to you by this community-minded organization because they recognize that
good business is good for everyone:
Long before there was Airbnb, there were—and still are—bed and breakfasts with hosts who welcome travellers into their own homes, providing a place to sleep, a home-cooked breakfast, and deep knowledge of local sights.
The prospect of being ambassadors for Muskoka is part of what drew hosts Pam Carnochan and Jamie Honderich to open the Morgan House Bed and Breakfast, just off Highway 60 east of Huntsville. Twenty-five years later, they’re still at it and still loving it.
Way back in the early 1990s, Jamie (known to most people as “Hondo”) was in town for an interview for a short-term occasional position at the high school. He felt good about it, enough so that he stopped in to ask a local real estate agent to show him some properties in the area. The Morgan House was the first place he saw, but when he took Pam on a tour of local homes a few days later he saved it for last. With its history and surrounding farmland, he knew she would fall in love with it.
Pam grew up on a farm. She was a cartographer by trade, and knew that her profession wasn’t transferable to Huntsville—she’d have to make her own employment if the couple moved here. She had already been investigating the idea of owning a bed and breakfast elsewhere, and so already armed with information about the best types of location and layout she knew instantly that Morgan House was it.
“This place had it all,” she says. “It had good bones and at a price we could afford.”
The Morgan House was built in 1903—”We believe it was the same builder that built the Anglican church in town. It’s the only other building around with the same pink mortar,” says Pam—and the surrounding land once settled and farmed by the family encompassed most of what today is the Hidden Valley subdivision, Hidden Valley Highlands Ski Area and Hidden Valley Resort.
Morgan House Bed and Breakfast sits on 77 acres—47 of the farm’s original 100 acres, along with 30 acres from a property that was adjacent to the Morgan farm. All of it is accessible to their guests, including some woodland hiking trails and paths around the ponds and through the pastures. They fondly call one of the pastures Stanley Park, after their Norwegian Elkhound.
When Pam and Hondo first moved in, their elderly neighbour was Lawrence Morgan and he spent many hours sharing details about his family’s property, along with an album of old photos.
After a year of renovations, Morgan House Bed and Breakfast was ready to open.
They opened just after Labour Day and had guests almost immediately. There were 45 in the first month alone—at that time they operated with three guest bedrooms, and have since reduced that to two. “I had stupidly taken employment at Muskoka Heritage Place, demonstrating the heritage lifestyle, and I would dash home and change beds to welcome people an hour later,” says Pam. “The whole experience was a bit of a blur because it happened so fast.”
Pam’s farmer dad thought they were a bit crazy. “Farmers just invited people to stay so he didn’t know why anyone would pay to stay,” she says. Later he told her, “‘well, that’s as good as beans’ and if you’re a bean farmer, that is high, high praise.”
To add to the flurry of their new business, six weeks after opening Pam and Hondo learned they were expecting their first child. Eli arrived a month early and the night he was born they had a house full of guests. “Jamie had to knock on their doors and tell them they would have to get their own breakfast,” says Pam.
They raised two children at Morgan House—Eli and his sister Sadie are adults now—and it meant that Pam could have her own career at the same time. At first it was just the bed and breakfast and later she returned to her artistic roots as a fibre artist.
Within the first year of owning Morgan House they had acquired sheep, but with no barn as yet, they lived under the porch. Pam and Hondo later relocated an old barn from Burk’s Falls. “It was important to us to have something authentic to go with this historic home,” says Pam.
The sheep were joined over the years by chickens—which provide eggs for Morgan House guests—horses and a donkey. Seasonal ingredients from the farm’s garden and apple orchard complement what’s on the menu for breakfast. They make their own maple syrup, too.
“We take great pride in making a great breakfast that is also customized for our guests,” says Pam. “I like being creative in the kitchen. I like to roll out a Canadian-style breakfast but with more seasonal products. It’s homemade and fresh every day.”
And they love getting to know their guests.
“We get to have lots of fireside chats,” says Pam, adding that their guests have come from all over the world and appreciate the advice and insider information they learn about the area. “I’ve had several guest say to me that they purposefully choose to stay in a bed and breakfast so that they can learn what to do quickly and efficiently, especially when they are passing through for a short time.”
In addition to that local intel, bed and breakfasts like Morgan House offer a unique experience.
At Morgan House, guests can roam the property and add to their visit through Hondo’s adventure company, Find Your Wild. On the property he offers axe throwing and archery in the woods, as well as an escape room-type firefighter challenge. He also offers a variety of outdoor adventures in the region, including hiking, paddling, and snowshoeing.
And guests at the Morgan House are often intrigued by Pam’s art work. A fibre artist, she uses fleece from their sheep to create ‘watercolours’ out of wool. Thanks to the addition of a beautiful sunroom for the occasion of the Morgan House’s 20th anniversary—space that also functions as a gallery—Pam is now part of the annual Muskoka Autumn Studio Tour.
Now that their children are grown, the couple are also opening their doors to more events like weddings and anniversary parties. “We have the space here and with the beautiful landscaping, it lends itself to events,” says Pam.
The advent of Airbnb and some of the controversy surrounding short-term rental properties hasn’t changed how B&Bs like the Morgan House operate, but Pam says it is important for people to know that a bed and breakfast is a legally recognized accommodation business. “We have to follow all of the codes—the fire code, the building code—we have to have our water tested, and we pay fees to be registered every year,” she says. “We are an established accommodation business and we are proud to be part of that.”
And they plan to welcome bed and breakfast guests for many more years. “We get to meet people from all over the world. It’s kind of like armchair travelling to hear their stories,” says Pam. “Twenty-five years in we are still happily hosting the world.”
Don’t miss out on Doppler!
Sign up here to receive our email digest with links to our most recent stories.
Local news in your inbox three times per week!