A History of Bed & Breakfasts
in Ontario: the Founding of FOBBA
by Debra Honor, Founding Member*
Back in 1987, Bed and Breakfasts were just becoming popular in Ontario. At the time, there was several B&Bs operating in the Maritimes, for solely economic reasons. Opening a home with a few rooms for the summer season was far more economical than opening up large hotels that would sit empty most of the winter season.
In Ontario, the bed and breakfasts were having great difficulty with Ontario Tourism. The government did not want to advertise any B&B’s in their publications and nor did the Convention & Visitor Bureaus. When asked, they responded that there was no place they could take any complaints from visitors. They needed some kind of Association that could regulate the businesses and guarantee some kind of quality control. As individual businesses, this was impossible.
Local Associations started to spring up to cover some of this problem. Advertising together as a group was the beginning but it just wasn’t enough. There still was no real quality control of what each B&B offered. Even though B&B’s are seen as a different and unique experience from hotels, some of the experiences at some B&B’s were not very positive.
Bed and Breakfasts fell under the legislation of the old Tourist Homes from the early 1900’s where a family could let out a room or two to tourists for extra money. This was also a part of the Ministry of Agriculture for farms to make more money by giving a “farm vacation” to tourists in order to experience farm life. There was to be four (4) rooms or less for this enterprise or the establishment would fall under the hotel and motel regulations. Four (4) rooms or less meant there were no regulations guiding the business - It was just your own home.
In 1987, John Milne from Parry Sound heard that the government of Ontario was being pressured by the Hotel and Motel Association to put the same regulations on all Bed and Breakfasts that hotels and motels ran under, which closed down many of the businesses. They did not want the B&B business to take away from their business. John called Elinor Bolton in Toronto who set up a meeting with any B&B’s interested from across the province. This meeting happened in October of 1987.
Robert and I were contacted by Aggie Thiessen who ran a B&B and a registration group in Leamington, Ontario. Robert contacted our MPP, Remo Mancini, to ask if he had heard anything about this. Remo said, “Yes, I can get you a copy of the discussion.” With a copy of the discussion paper in hand, Robert and I set out for the meeting at Elinor Bolton’s house.
The discussion paper was basically the government’s thoughts about the proposal by the Hotel and Motel Association to regulate any B&B with the same regulations as hotels. This would include: fire regulations and also Health & Safety regulations with kitchens to be more like restaurant kitchens. The paper noted the pros and cons for the government reactions. If they voted yes, the Hotel and Motel Association would be happy and vote for them in the next election. There would be no difference in voting from the B&B’s because they were not an organized group. So there was no opposition to the paper. If they voted no, the hotel and Motel Association might vote against them in the next election. But generally, the paper was positive towards keeping B&B’s in Ontario. They did see an advantage to having this new kind of accommodation. There just wasn’t any organization to protect the B&B rights.
If the paper had gone through, ALL bed and breakfasts at the time would have been shut down. To make a house fit all the hotel and motel regulations would have been too costly for anyone to consider. When a business had only two (2) or four (4) rooms for revenue, there wouldn’t have been the money coming in to cover the costs of changing the house.
That afternoon, in Elinor Bolton’s house, with maybe 12 people present, we decided that we needed an organization to protect our interests with the government. It needed to be a province wide organization, not several local organizations. We needed one voice to discuss our point of view with the government and to improve bed and breakfasts as a viable alternative to hotels and motels.
Our first point of order was to set up the organization. The first Executive included:
- John Milne
- Elinor Bolton
- Debra Honor
- Susan Oppenheim
We discussed our temporary bylaws and decided on an annual AGM meeting to be held in the fall after the summer season. We also discussed how to name the group. When we went to register the name, someone from the group had already registered several names we could have picked. She wanted us to pay her a royalty for using a name that she had registered. Needless to say, that person was NOT to become a member of the group. That is why our name became The Ontario Federation of Bed and Breakfast Associations.
Our 2nd point of order was to contact the Ontario Government and talk to the Minister of Tourism as a voice for the bed and breakfasts. The Minister met with John and Elinor a few weeks later. Things were very cautious with the minister until John pulled out the discussion paper. The Minister was very surprised that we had a copy of the paper. His comment was, “That is a confidential paper that you should not have.” It would be very detrimental for the government if the Hotel and Motel Association found out about the paper leaking to the B&B’s. The tone of the discussion changed and the Minister spoke with our new group in a much more positive manner. The government did not want to be the governing body to legislate bed and breakfasts. They wanted a provincial organization to regulate their own members. The Minister gave us advice on how to start our group and what the government would expect our group to accomplish. It turned out to be a positive start.
FOBBA started, with the 1st Annual General Meeting in Toronto in 1987, and have effectively represented B&B’s at a provincial level ever since. The Hotel and Motel Association has somewhat changed their tactics, but a strong lobby group representing the interests of B&B operators in the province, is of UTMOST IMPORTANCE.
 Later changed to “Accommodations”
 AGM held at the Roehampton Hotel on Oct. 24-25, 1987
*Debra and Robert Honor remain full members of FOBBA at the time of this update in 2015, and still regularly attend AGMs and Conferences.