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What started out as a search for a modest apartment turned into the purchase of a 10-bedroom Edwardian mansion for Candace Cooperrider and Ted Gornall.

When they were moving to Victoria from San Francisco in 1989, the couple had two young children and thought taking on a home renovation would be out of the question. But when their real estate agent stopped to have a peek at a 8,270-square-foot home at 620 St. Charles St., in the Rockwood district, the couple tagged along.

"We saw that it really needed work but something grabbed us," Ms. Cooperrider recalls. "We thought we could convert it to condos, which was a popular thing to do with homes like this because people couldn't afford to maintain them.

"Then in negotiations, the notion of a bed-and-breakfast came to us and that was a much better idea."

The couple requested a heritage designation for the 97-year-old home, thus creating the "only four diamond/ five star rated heritage inn in all of British Columbia," she says, and generating the revenue needed to maintain it.

"We needed this home to pay for its restoration and that was the five-year goal of this bed-and-breakfast idea," Ms. Cooperrider says. Twenty years later, both the Prior House Bed and Breakfast Inn and the heritage restorations are still going.

The couple first tackled rooms that would be used in the B&B. Most of the restoration work was done by 1995, but they have continued in bits and pieces over the years.

"Expenses for heritage restorations are about 10 times the average restoration costs," Ms. Cooperrider says, not to mention the upkeep: "This place has 14 fireplaces. That's 14 cleanings, 14 flues that need maintaining, 14 chimney caps that need maintenance, and that's just one tiny aspect."

But, she adds, "It is a joy."

The house was designed by William Ridgeway Wilson and built in 1911 for Edward Gawlor Prior, an infamous B.C. premier and lieutenant-governor. Since then the building has seen six owners, and spent time as a girls' school from 1958 until 1965. While Mr. Prior used the Edwardian home as a stately residence for himself and his wife, it's time as a school meant years of maximum use and little upkeep. The home's fifth owners later divided it into suites, creating a massive restoration project for the couple.

For example, the original oak panelling throughout the entire main floor had been painted many times since the second owner coated it in turquoise. Mr. Gornall's uncle spent more than two years restoring the panelling by himself. "He was like an archaeologist, working down layer by layer," Mr. Gornall remembers. "And you can't just sand it, so he used all kinds of specialized solvents and fine tools, dentist tools."

The house also has old-growth oak and fir flooring throughout, and quarter-sawn white oak in the entrance halls and dining room. The home's original fixtures and fittings have been retained.

The restoration went far beyond the finer details, of course. "Some of the biggest, most expensive and most complex jobs were things like the fire alarm and sprinkler system," Mr. Gornall says.

"This is the challenge in complying with city regulation with a heritage home, where clearly a fire alarm and sprinkler system were not thought about in 1912: We had to dismantle walls and full rooms and then resemble them seamlessly."

The couple believes that all their work on Prior House has not only enhanced the mansion itself, but also the neighbourhood.

"These homes mean something to neighbourhoods," Ms. Cooperrider says. "When people here describe the neighbourhood they live in they say, 'It's a neighbourhood of large, old homes with beautiful gardens.' Their house may be a postage-stamp infill, but that's the way they describe the neighbourhood," she says.

"We really felt like we were giving something back to the city of Victoria, especially when we did the heritage designation," Mr. Gornall adds.

"If these types of homes are not restored and maintained then they're torn down. So, we thought, 'Here's a gem by Ridgeway Wilson, let's have it appreciated by the neighbourhood, the city and travellers.' "

Now the couple are ready for a new life phase, and have listed Prior House for sale at

$3.9-million. Along with the grand mansion, the property boasts an award-winning English garden, ocean views, large patio space in a private fenced yard, and granite and stone terraces.

The couple decided to sell because they believe there is now a market for heritage single-family homes - albeit, for big families.

Moving on was necessary on personal level, Ms. Cooperrider adds, noting that restoring and maintaining such a home and business takes a lot of energy, even if it is a labour of love.

Meanwhile, they have purchased a new home - right next door, which could present a new kind of challenge. "Can you live next door to something you've put 20 years into and not come knocking on the door saying, 'I really don't think you should be painting it pink,' " Ms. Cooperrider laughs.

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