Visitors to Yellowknife have been able to experience life in the city’s unique houseboat community for the last two years thanks to the owners of Yellowknife Bay Floating Bed and Breakfast.
The operators, Daniel Gillis and Monique Robert, decided to extend their business this year by opening a second floating home, a one-storey bungalow that sits anchored next to the original two-storey building.
“We really wanted to expand it and also make it more private so if people wanted to come and just be on their own they could,” Gillis said. “We love meeting new people and chatting over the breakfast table, but not everyone wants to do that and we don’t want to do that every day either.”
The couple still has visitors who stay at the main house in what’s called the “Northern Room,” but according to Gillis, about 70 per cent of people opt for the brand new space, which is equipped with one queen-sized bed, one fold-out couch, an ensuite bathroom and a kitchenette. It can accommodate up to four people at one time.
Robert, a full-time painter and sculptor, also uses the building to carry out her creative work. The Studio, as it is called, is divided into separate work and living areas with an insulated, almost entirely soundproof wall creating a barrier to maintain privacy.
In order for the addition to be up and running for the 2014 summer season, Gillis and Robert initiated construction before freeze-up last year.
“We built the floatation out of four 16-foot propane tanks and we had a friend help us weld them all together,” Gillis said. The process took about three days, after which the float was launched and settled in for the winter freeze up. Construction on the house itself began in February, with the owners working long days in temperatures around -30C.
“It was hard and it was slow and our tools didn’t work very well from the cold,” Gillis said, “but we were determined to build it and get it done by March. We built it in about two and a half months.”
Since opening the new accommodations in April, Gillis said they’ve had guests almost every evening.
B&B business on hold for freeze-up
The floating B&B is currently on hiatus until this year’s ice freeze is complete, which Gillis hopes will finish by the end of November.
“We actually close it for up for three to four weeks. We don’t even think of having guests at this time of year,” Gillis said, explaining that seasonal weather like thick sleet, rain, snow and unevenly formed ice provide difficult and dangerous travel conditions for even the most experienced houseboaters, and the liability risk for a few extra guests isn’t worth the trouble.
Gillis said he and Robert have never fallen through the ice, but as an extra precaution they wear fully protective immersion suits when they cross, a task that can take 15 to 45 minutes depending on the conditions. For the first few weeks of the winter, the duo pulls along a canoe while making the journey to land, a backup safety line in case the ice gives out as they march along.
Though living off the grid has its challenges, Gillis said he enjoys the lifestyle and sharing it with newcomers.
“When I first moved to Yellowknife six years ago I met the houseboat community right away,” he said. “They’re really interesting folks and I realized that the lifestyle is pretty awesome and the view is full and very peaceful.”
After building up a nice nest egg of funds while working for Arctic Energy Alliance, the pair decided to build their own floating house over the summer of 2010, a job that took about 10 weeks total. They decided to turn the house into a B&B in 2012, after seeing how much visiting family and friends enjoyed the experience.
With shows like Ice Lake Rebels giving somewhat dramatic representations of life on a Yellowknife houseboat, Gillis said he looks forward to giving his guests a more realistic experience.
“I have only watched a little bit of it, (but) I’ve heard that they make houseboaters look like redneck people who don’t really know what they’re doing, who live dangerously and are living a subsistence lifestyle,” he said. “It’s not reality, and I think anybody who knows anything about anything will realize that.”