For someone working in Ottawa, Ross Pattee’s commute time is unusually long. None of his colleagues from the public service drive for an hour home like he does.
But he doesn’t mind, as no one else heads home to a luxury hotel.
Mr. Pattee, the executive director of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, and his partner, Dominique Primeau, bought a 10,000-square-foot presbytère (clergy house) in Montebello, Que., in 2015. They’ve fully renovated the property into an eight-room boutique hotel east of Ottawa called the Manoir Chamberland, and the couple – who got married on the property – lives in the former nun’s quarters above the kitchen.
“It was pretty fascinating for two guys to be buying something from the Roman Catholic church. It’s not your average business transaction,” Mr. Pattee recalls with a laugh. “But the problems were just in my head. The community has been supportive and there’s just a delightful irony in my view for two guys, a couple, buying [a home] from the Catholic church and making a go of it.”
The couple bought their first home together in Vancouver, a century-old property that Mr. Primeau, a former employee of fashion-industry heavyweights such as Christian Dior and owner of an interior design shop, fixed up on his own.
Mr. Pattee’s job brought them to Ottawa and they bought another home from the early 1900s to renovate in New Edinburgh – close to the Governor General’s residence.
They attended a wedding in Montebello in 2014 and, while taking a walk in the village, saw the church property for sale. The following year they attended yet another wedding and saw the property was still for sale. They jumped on it.
“It was huge and we thought, coming from Vancouver, this would have been $10-million,” Mr. Primeau says. “We went online, checked the price and thought, ‘Oh my God that’s so cheap.’ We made an appointment, visited the place, and we thought, ‘why not?’”
The church – which has a vocal committee but a small congregation of about 20 people who attend Sunday service – tried to sell the home, built in 1935, on its own. It was listed for three years before being sold to the couple for just $315,000.
“The purchase price wasn’t the challenge – it was the restoration price,” Mr. Pattee explains. “We got it for a very, very fair price given that it’s a 10,000-square-foot mansion.”
Nathalie Laflamme, a real estate agent with Re/Max Vision Gatineau, helped the church list the property. Most potential buyers didn’t propose to do something beneficial for the village as a whole, but Mr. Primeau and Mr. Pattee had a unique vision, she says.
The church had dropped the price by the time they came to look at it and Ms. Laflamme says all parties were excited when they heard the couples’ pitch. But part of the condition was that they had to sell their house in Ottawa first.
“The market was not like it is now … it was pretty slow. The house they were selling was in a bracket where there were a lot less buyers,” Ms. Laflamme says. “But we had lots of conversations with the church committee and had a meeting all together and … Dominique and Ross did a nice presentation. They had 100-per-cent support from the church.”
The church, Mr. Pattee says, was very particular about who it would sell to and they refused other offers. The couple has respected the heritage aspect of the home and say they have restored it to last for another 100 years.
They sold their home in Ottawa and restoration began right away. It took two years to complete, although Mr. Primeau is continuing to work on smaller projects inside and is putting the finishing touches on a 1,500-square-foot pool house now.
The hotel rooms include antique decor mixed with modern amenities such as flat-screen TVs, rain showers, heated marble floors in the bathrooms and a fully landscaped backyard with a heated pool and hot tub. A spa is on the way, they say, for their adult-only clientele.
In another piece of irony, the lone piece of furniture kept by Mr. Primeau from the presbytère itself was a large cabinet, which now houses a robust selection of liquor for the hotel bar. Antiques from a similar era have been brought in from Ottawa and the surrounding areas, and Mr. Primeau leaned on some extras from the nearby Fairmont Le Château Montebello (built in 1930) to complete the look and feel.
“When you see an old building and you go inside and see a modern interior, that’s a disappointment,” Mr. Primeau says.
While they prioritized the comfort of their guests, they worked on their own residence at the same time.
A chef makes a buffet breakfast each morning, but guests are on their own for lunch or dinner unless otherwise arranged, so the renovated restaurant-style kitchen is the couples’ for the balance of the day. The set of stairs that takes them home is just off the kitchen.
With the hotel, they aim to offer accommodations based on the luxury Relais & Châteaux rating system used in Europe. But their private living area in the old nuns' quarters is more humble, with millwork and ceiling height scaled back.
There was a bedroom so small they turned it into a walk-in closet. Mr. Primeau tore down a wall to make one large common room, where he’ll add a staircase to a loft. He’s hopeful that addition will be completed by mid-January.
He’s also working on a sitting room so the couple can watch TV (all the TVs are currently in guest rooms) and although there is just one bedroom, they’ve got everything they need, Mr. Primeau says.
In the hotel, they’ve added seven bathrooms and 17 toilets, rewired the whole place, fixed the plumbing – but Mr. Primeau says not much has changed from his original vision to how the property looks now.
“I came here and I saw it finished,” he explains.
And while Mr. Pattee’s commute has actually gotten shorter since they moved – his office moved to Gatineau – it never felt all that long anyway.
“It’s like living a fairytale life,” he says. “We’ve got a gardener and a chef and a housekeeper and I haven’t cleaned a toilet in 3 1/2 years. I love it!”
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