Alberta seniors giving away historic, one-of-a-kind B&B in essay contest

When Ivan Negrych and his wife Marsha realized they were sick of the daily grind of life in the city, they decided to move to the country to run an historic bed and breakfast.

For a $100 entry fee, you could win the $1.7-million restaurant and bed and breakfast

Want to run an historic bed and breakfast in southern Alberta? Write a compelling essay and submit a $100 fee and it could be yours. (Cobblestone Manor)

When Ivan Negrych and his wife Marsha realized they were sick of the daily grind of life in the city, they decided to move to the country to run an historic bed and breakfast.

That was 17 years ago. Now ready for retirement, they want to offer people a chance to do the same and take over their dream property — for a $100 entry fee.

The couple are running an essay contest to win the Cobblestone Manor in Cardston, Alta., a nearly century-old restaurant and bed and breakfast that's designated as an Alberta Historic Resource.

Negrych first set eyes on the property in 1977. He was visiting Cardston from Brandon, Man., and wanted to check out the newly opened restaurant. He said he was taken by the building at first sight.

"It's all inlaid woodwork and stained glass and just really impressive. So, we had supper — I believe I ordered rainbow trout that night — and we talked with the owners after and they gave us a tour of the place and gave us the history of it," he said.

The property includes unique, inlaid hardwood details. (Cobblestone Manor)

"I signed a guest registry book … I found my name in it, dated Sept. 2, 1977, that I visited … twenty-three years later I bought it."

In 1889, Negrych said, the original log house was built by Joseph Young's family who were the first Mormon pioneers to settle in southern Alberta. 

In 1913, Belgian carpenter Henry Hoet arrived in the area by train.

"He was kind of a recluse and kind of an eccentric and he was just kind of unique, and he starts telling this story about a sweetheart back in Belgium and he's gonna build this rock mansion for her."

The original log house that was the frame for the Cobblestone Manor was built in 1889, and the building as it stands was completed in 1929. (Cobblestone Manor)

So, he bought the Young home for $200, and started to cover it with local river rocks, unique hardwoods and colourful stained glass, and adding new rooms year after year.

Fifteen years later, he had turned the 20 foot by 40 foot log cabin into a 5,000 square foot cobblestone mansion, with more than 200 tons of rock, inlaid hardwood from a Mormon temple, and Italian stained glass for lights, fixtures and cabinets.

The stained glass alone is valued at as much as $300,000, Negrych said.

The property has three fireplaces, more than 20 doorways — each a different size because Hoet built the entrances first and then cut the doors to fit, according to Negrych — 52 windows, 12 to 14 different rooms, and three grand rooms. The largest of which can seat 95 to 100 diners. 

The owners are hoping to select a winner who will keep the historic Cardston business open. (Cobblestone Manor)

Negrych said the bed and breakfast is often booked solid all summer, but he and his wife are ready for a break from running the business.

He said the Manor was listed on the real estate market for more than a year, but there were no strong offers. So when they heard about a Millarville woman who was giving away her home in a contest, they decided to do the same.

The Millarville contest was investigated by Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis, but wasn't found to contravene any lottery rules, and Negrych said his contest is in accordance with the law as well.

The property's located near a carriage museum and campground in Cardston, a town with a population of about 3,500 people about 24 kilometres north of the Alberta-U.S. border.

The contest will run from May 1 to Oct. 31 and entrants need to submit a $100 fee and a 500-word letter or essay about why they'd like to win the $1.7-million property.

The Negrychs will narrow the entries down to 100 finalists and an independent panel of judges will choose a winner.

Negrych said he's hoping whoever wins will want to keep the historic business up and running.

"We can't tell people what to do with it after we give it to them, but we're leaning toward someone that's going to carry on the tradition of the Cobblestone Manor," he said.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.