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Manitoba couples open the barn doors for AirBnb seekers

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If you take a trip to Morden’s downtown, a barn with nearly 100 years of history is offering a unique place to stay in the city of discovery.

“We love it, we want to keep Morden as historical looking as possible,” said Sandra Wiebe, owner of the Gables Barn Airbnb.

On the corner of 11th and Stephen Street, Wiebe has enjoyed owning a barn that dates back to 1925. Originally built on a farm in nearby Roland, Manitoba, the barn was transported to its current location in 1985 to become a quilting business.

Wiebe and her husband Bevan, bought the building two years ago and converted the first floor into offices for their Gables Realty business. A family had been living upstairs previously and the real estate agent saw an opportunity to transform the space.

“We thought of maybe doing apartments at one point but it was a lot of work and it has a grand staircase that we didn't want to start messing with so we decided to do AirBnb, we weren't sure how it was going to go but thought we'd give it a shot,” Wiebe said.

The majority of the work that needed to be done for the AirBnb portion of the barn were kitchen renovations and refurnishing the entire space.

In the two years since operating the rental space, Wiebe has welcomed people from across the prairies and guests as far as Mexico, Hawaii and Texas to visit family in the community.

"It's great to meet people from all over the world and it's great to be able to use a building like this that is an older building,” Wiebe said.

“My husband and I are very much into the historical part of Morden and preserving history and we're really happy to be in a historical building here and I think that adds the flair for people coming into the community as well that want to stay at an Airbnb.”

Over a long period of time, the Wiebes have purchased and restored a number of buildings and homes downtown. In recent years the couple has restored Rendezvous Brewery and Taproom and Stephen Street General, an antique store with a large number of knick-knacks for sale.

Despite the challenges that can come from working with older buildings, the couple has not stopped.

“People often ask when we buy these buildings do you ever find any surprises, well hello, it's one big surprise after another but we already know that before we start,” said Bevan Wiebe, owner of Stephen Street General.

“You just kind of have to dive in, take one day at a time and whatever you find, you fix.”

Wiebe said it’s been a pleasure to give Stephen Street General a return to the turn of the century look it once had when it served as the community’s hardware store. The store features a portion of the original hardware store’s sign hanging up above inside and remodeling was a lot of work.

“We totally gutted it, rewired, replumbed, built a new roof, and stripped out all the renovations that had been done in the past 50-60 years and we’ve gone back to original,” Bevan Wiebe said.

The store’s walls are all original tongue and groove board and Wiebe said the front of the building was restored with big windows an indented door matching the style of the early 20th century. Downstairs, the couple dug out a field stone basement which is accessible to the public.

“We’re caretakers of these buildings, so we’re going to manage them and enjoy them as best we can while we’re in possession of them and hopefully when the time comes that we sell it’ll go to a person who will appreciate it as much as we did,” Bevan Wiebe said.

The Wiebes are not the only ones with a passion for repurposing barns and older buildings. If you drive 15 minutes east to the Town of Reinfeld, resident Aiden Brook has little vacancy since opening the barn on his property to Airbnb guests five months ago.

He estimates the structure was built in 1921 when the Calder School District opened a school house in the community before the school was renamed to Reinfeld School in 1957. He said it’s been fun to see couples wanting to experience a taste of prairie life.

“Passing down things that can last is incredible and it feels very cool to be in a building that used to be used as a common place to park a horse and wagon and now it's a living quarters for people to spend time with their family,” Brook said.

“It was surprising to see how much people wanted to slow down. I think the idea that it’s more than just prairie fields as well as the serenity that comes from being out on your own in the south, it’s pretty quiet and fantastic.”

The family that previously owned Brook’s house and barn had done some interior renovations inside the structure so they could live in the space before selling the property to Brook last year.

His fiancée Jayda Wall gave the barn a touch of paint and refurnished the first and second floor to give it a modern look inside the older space. Brook installed baseboard heaters throughout the barn after pipes burst outside earlier this winter to ensure guests would stay warm.

Unlike the City of Winnipeg where short-term rentals cost owners money, rural properties like these do not pay any fees. However, according to Morden Mayor Nancy Penner, that those fees could be applied to rural owners at a later date.

“At this time, Morden does not impose a licence fee for those operating a short-term rental such as an AirBnb or a bed and breakfast,” Penner said.

“As for an Accommodation Tax we are currently discussing this with the hotel owners in the area, but it is still in the early stages. We are always supportive of individuals who are creative and draw tourism to the city.”

Brook said it’s seeing all the little imperfections while staying in a barn, from the studs in the walls, the uneven finish and the old wooden beams that give the place all the more charm for guests planning their next stay.

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