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Photo credit: Portraits by Johanna

So thankful

We had our 8th annual McDonah family Thanksgiving celebration yesterday, and it was quite possibly the best celebration yet. We had 52 McDonahs around the table, including D’Arcy’s parents and my parents. Our kids countdown to Thanksgiving with more enthusiasm than they do for Christmas. I think it’s safe to say that Thanksgiving is the favourite holiday for each of the six of us.

Prep happens early. Pies were made with Sarah’s and Olivia’s help last weekend and put in the freezer. D’Arcy made the bread for the stuffing. I do the planning. The boys mowed the lawn and helped with the physical setup.

I verbalized to D’Arcy on Saturday morning as we were a beehive of activity, “Do you ever think about how lucky we really are? Not only are we fortunate enough to have the skills, the space, and the resources to host our large family for this dinner, but we have fun while doing it!” There is very little – I can’t say there is none – stress.

We did have one of my students here at the beginning of our celebration to take some photos, which I will post later. However, in the meantime, here are some of the candid/phone photos from our weekend, plus our first time lapse of our setup.

Our candid Thanksgiving photos.

A few details (to remind me for later years…):

  • 52 people, aged 8 months to 89 years (BIG birthday coming up in December)
  • 62lbs of chicken/turkey
  • “Kathryn’s” potato casserole; squash casserole; zucchini casserole; dressing; frenched green beans, peas, peppers & basil; bean salad; rolls; orange jello salad; gravy; cranberry sauce; apple pie (3); apple crisp; pumpkin pie (4).
  • 2.5 cases of wine; keg of Uncle Leo’s Beer; non-alcoholic punch
  • Score of Evan’s Saturday football game: 54-7; #82
  • Brian & Morag biked the 102km to be with us
  • All six of us went to Mass together, so the table was set after we got home
  • Evan made me cry at church when he leaned in and said, “So this is my last year at home for all of this…” (break your mother’s heart!!!)
  • Things members of our family our thankful for: being present, not on military tour; family; friends; uncles; new babies (expanded family); food; where we live; health;  good grades; good times; freedom; travel; family gatherings; our health care system; clean water; connections; we love AND like one another.
  • Largest food bank contribution to date – all going to the NSCC Pictou Campus food bank (You can’t learn when you’re hungry!)
  • Karaoke party is part of the new tradition

So much to be Thankful for!!! (Professional photos in a separate post.)

Happy New (School) Year!


The McDonah family 2016-2017 First Day of School Photo

As happens in many households with teachers and children, the first day of school is more our “new year” than January 1st. We had a productive summer, and although we were sad to see it end, there is an air of excitement about getting back to school. From what we can tell, it’s going to be a busy, exciting year with many changes.


Two years ago, we finally realized that the first day of school is much less stressful – fun even – when we close the B&B the night before. It’s our tradition to take a photo on the stairs on the first day, so everyone was up early (Olivia’s school bus arrives at 7:15 a.m.), the music was pumping, there were people in multiple bathrooms getting ready, and lots of laughter. Despite the excitement, I couldn’t help but be a bit wistful knowing, that in all likelihood, Evan will be away at university next year and it will just be five of us.


This year, Evan is in Grade 12, so will be graduating from high school. He is running with the cross-country team, and has made his high school football team. Their first game in tomorrow night in Halifax. He will be curling competitively again on his own team, and also on the school team. In addition, he is working part-time at Wendy’s restaurant.


Alex is starting high school today (Grade 10). He’ll be keeping himself busy also running cross-country, curling competitively, playing clarinet & saxophone in concert & jazz band, auditioning for the musical, and preparing for Confirmation. Alex is intending to take the full International Baccalaureate program in integrated French, and I have no doubt he will find other activities at his new school to join.


Sarah begins Junior High today (Grade 6). She will be highland dancing twice a week, taking jazz and ballet, and is so excited to be in an intro-pointe class. She also is curling competitively, taking piano lessons, and playing the trumpet in concert & jazz bands. She auditioned for “The Nutcracker” earlier this week.


Olivia is in Grade Four and nervous about being alone at her elementary school this year. Luckily, Sarah’s godmother is Olivia’s teacher this year, so I can’t imagine the nerves lasting very long. Olivia will be taking jazz and step-dancing, playing the flute and the fiddle, and curling competitively. She told us in the spring that her wish is to curl “every day of the week”.


D’Arcy is getting back closer to his roots, teaching Grade 8 Science in addition to English Language Arts this year. He’s planning to start a debate team at his school, and will continue to coach his school curling team and his daughters’ curling team. (That should be interesting!) He also is on the board of the curling club and will curl recreationally.


I am teaching all new subjects this semester – Marketing, Organizational Behaviour, and Business Consulting. I will continue to be the faculty advisor for our campus Enactus team and Challenge Nova Scotia, and it looks as though I will be traveling to Tanzania again in November to teach Entrepreneurship. The edits from the curriculum I wrote last year with my Academic Chair should be finished by Thanksgiving. My book club is a highlight of my month, and I am happy to have discovered audio books this summer which allow me to multitask.


We are fortunate to have my parents close by to help with chauffeuring, greeting guests until we get home, and serving breakfasts for us. September and October will continue to be busy as we transition in to school while still hosting guests. We have five time repeat guests (now friends) arriving from Germany tonight for a few days, so are back in business. I have a feeling it is going to be a fantastic year!



Our family keeps growing

The McDonahs are a large family. D’Arcy is number seven of nine siblings and there are 22 grandchildren (and now, six great-grandchildren). This summer our niece, Kelly, and our nephew, Patrick, each got married.

We were disappointed to miss Kelly’s wedding ceremony which took place in Ontario in August. We have heard from those who attended that it was a wonderful, happy, fun celebration which lasted until the wee hours of the morning. Kelly was a stunning bride, and her wedding to Stan was a celebration of blending their cultures. (Kelly’s mom is Mi’kmaq, her dad is Irish, and Stan is originally from Bulgaria.)

Last night, we were able to attend the wedding reception for our nephew, Patrick, and his beautiful bride, Brianna. They were married in the afternoon on the grounds of a beautiful property outside of Halifax. They had a fantastic meal, catered by Boneheads BBQ  of Halifax and Emma’s Country Kitchen of Toronto. (Rachel of ECK is the groom’s sister-in-law-to-be if the rest of us get our way!) After the meal, there were touching speeches and then the fire pit was lit and the dance floor opened.


Patrick, Brianna, and their daughter, Reid along with the LeBlancs, and the McDonahs. Photo credit: my sister-in-law, Seana

We are fortunate that we are a family who genuinely like one another in addition to loving one another, and we all have a fun time when we’re together with lots of laughter and hugging. D’Arcy’s cousins were there from New Hampshire, and we had nephews home from Toronto and Calgary. Unfortunately, we had to leave as the party was really getting going so that we could get home to our guests, but we’ll look forward to seeing everyone again at Thanksgiving.

An official welcome to the McDonah clan, Brianna & Stan! xoxo

20 years later…

Twenty years ago tomorrow (Monday), D’Arcy & I worked the lunch shift together in the downstairs bar at the Granite Brewery in the Henry House in Halifax. We were friends who had been working together for over a year. After our shift finished, we were counting our cash and D’Arcy offered to buy me a Keith’s (beer) for the first time. It still seems strange to me that it was a Keith’s; at that time, we normally would drink Ten Penny or one of the craft beers that were made on the premises.

We had our beer and were standing side-by-side playing the loonies from our tips in the video lottery machines, which was a common practice for waitstaff at that time. As we were playing, I casually mentioned, “I called of my wedding last night”. He was the first person I’d told, other than my parents. His head turned toward me and I’m sure he had a slight smile as he told me he was sorry…

We still refer to that as our first date, although we didn’t actually start dating until a short time later.

Since I go back to school tomorrow, we celebrated our 20 years together this weekend.

By the time school finished in June this year, we were both exhausted. For numerous reasons, last year was difficult and draining for both of us. As we began our vacation, D’Arcy mentioned to me that he needed to get out of his “funk” and that he wanted to use the summer to get back into shape. I constantly am preaching to my college students the importance of good nutrition and exercise on mental health, so readily agreed to support him.

He chose the Cobequid Trail 10km run this weekend as his motivation to get fit, and I volunteered that I would join him. (Misery loves company? I do not love running, but I do love him.)

D’Arcy has spent the summer moving his body – getting up at 5am to go running before we serve breakfast, painting and doing physical work around the house, and going on 16-24km bike rides with me when time allows us to get away. We’ve been eating our main meal mid-afternoon as much as possible with colourful veggies and a fair bit of fish. He’s stopped snacking and stopped finishing the leftovers on the kids’ plates.

I’m proud to say that my husband has lost over 20 pounds this summer and is down to the weight he was when we were married! He would still like to lose another five pounds, but is looking and feeling so much healthier, both mentally and physically.

Last night, we took the night off so that we could leave for the run first thing this morning and not worry about serving breakfast. It was also nice to have a night as a family before I return to school. We walked to one of our favourite restaurants, Bistro 22, for dinner and it was AMAZING!

Although you will never find our meal in any pre-run training manuals, we did not regret it one bit! D’Arcy had a local beer and I had a martini to start, followed by the most delicious mussels we’ve had in years, and spicy lobster cakes, which were the appetizer special. We devoured them so quickly I forgot to take a photo. We ordered a bottle of Blomidon Winery’s “Tidal Bay” white with dinner. I had ordered the halibut which was served on a medley of fresh veggies and potatoes, and D’Arcy had the pork tenderloin special, served with blueberry and hot pepper jelly, potatoes and local veggies. It was all so delicious! Although we refrained from licking our plates, we did clean them as well as we could! We don’t normally order dessert, and we debated whether or not we should… but ended up ordering butterscotch pie and blueberry shortcake – thank goodness we had the (short) walk home to walk some of it off.

The food & service were fabulous, and we had a chance to chat with Chef Dennis when we finished our meal and the restaurant was clearing out. This restaurant in Truro continues to be one of our favourites, where we know the food and service is consistently exceptional.


Our children were waiting for us when we arrived home (They’d had pizza for supper which they were happy with!) to have a campfire. We lit the fire and sat around, talking, laughing, and star-gazing. It was a beautiful, clear night.


We were up early this morning to go out and run the Cobequid Trail run. We all had goals, and I told D’Arcy I was sure we could finish the 10km in under 1:10, despite the fact I hadn’t specifically trained and we had eaten all that food the night before. I knew I was fit enough to run it since we rarely sit down, have been biking up to 24km at a time, and bend and stretch all the time while cleaning rooms.

The boys were running together and Sarah decided last week that she also wanted to run the 5km since she was unable to run the Bluenose 5km with us when she had mono last year. Olivia did not want to run the 5km so she was able to volunteer at the finish, handing runners water and congratulating them as they crossed the line.

I won’t go into too many details of the run, which would probably be boring for anyone who wasn’t there.  We ran it non-stop (except for when grabbing water at the water stops), we ran it together, and my husband – a true gentleman – allowed me to cross the finish line first. Our 5km racing children were finished long before we were, so were close to the finish line to cheer us along. I loved it, but it also impacted me emotionally (I was already pushing myself) and I found I couldn’t look at them or I was going to start to cry, which made me start to wheeze.

When it was tough for me along the route and I wanted to slow down and walk, I channeled my friend, Kirby Coolen, who is currently hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain, on a pilgrimage as he transitions from teaching to retirement. I will miss him so much at school, and figured if he can hike almost 800km, I could dig deep and run 10km!

It was fun to cross the finish line and have Olivia hand me a glass of water and give me a kiss. Our chip times ended up being 1:05:35 and 1:05:36. The boys were disappointed with their times as neither had a personal best. Sarah, on the other hand, was thrilled with her time and her experience running her first 5km.

Alex left us shortly after the finish to go zip lining with his friends, and we capped off our 20 years together celebration weekend by renewing our life-insurance policies for another term. So romantic!

Here’s hoping that at 20 years together, we’re not even half-way!





Check-in and Check-out times

Today was my final weekday of summer vacation; I am back at school full-time on Monday. I spent the afternoon with my B&B ladies, having a wonderful lunch at Lokal Resto & Market. We get together as often as we can (about once a month at this time of year) to take a quick break, get caught up, problem-solve, and support one another.

A disconcerting trend we have all noticed in past weeks is the number of early check-ins this season. If you book over the phone with us, we normally ask whether you are planning to arrive in the afternoon or evening, and will tell you that check-in time is anytime after 3pm. If you book online, the confirmation you receive via email clearly states that check-in time is after 3pm on the day you have booked.

A bed & breakfast in Nova Scotia is defined as being four rooms or fewer, must be owner-occupied (it’s our home), and breakfast is included in the price of the room. 

Because it is our home, the time between check-out and check-in is our window of time to get things accomplished – room cleaning, laundry, ironing, shopping, appointments, maintenance… It’s during that time we allow our kids to have friends over, or practice their music or dance, or for us to get out – together – for a run or bike ride… if there is time. The five B&B’s in the Truro area are one or two person operations, so it becomes difficult when we lose that small window of time. In a one-person operation, especially, they need that time to get groceries for breakfast.

We recently had a day when all three of our rooms (travelling separately) had arrived and settled in “to rest” between 1-2pm, without making prior arrangements. That meant the scraping of the house for painting stopped, as did the hammering and sawing of shelf-building. One day this week, we had a couple show up to check-in shortly after 11 am. Our check-out time is 11 am, so the prior guests had just departed! One operator in this area had a call earlier this summer from booked guests at 8:05 am looking to check-in at that time – some of their guests were still in bed at that point!

Earlier this summer, we went to the afternoon funeral of a neighbour and left as soon as the service was finished, skipping the reception, so we would be home in time to greet guests at check-in. When we arrived home at 2:40, the house was full and guests were resting, having arrived at 2:00. Our kids welcomed them and got them settled, so they were looked after, but not necessarily to the standard we try to uphold.

I honestly think that the issue of early check-in stems from the perception we are the same as a hotel and have unfilled rooms we can slide people into, or staff on-call 24-hours per day. In essence, we do; it’s just always us. Many people are surprised to learn that we live here.

We want to be clear: if you have an event, an early flight, or an appointment, we are happy to make arrangements ahead of time to be here to welcome you, so you are not sitting in our driveway wondering if we are ever going to show up.

As I mentioned earlier, I return to school on Monday (August 29), and D’Arcy returns to school the following week (September 6) which means my dad, Dave, comes to the house on weekdays to welcome guests and get everyone settled in until we arrive home at suppertime. If our guests show up early, he is not necessarily going to be here yet, which doesn’t make for a great first impression – which is important to us to avoid.

September is one of our busiest months, and historically we run at close to 100% occupancy. While chatting with the other B&B operators at lunch today, I decided that perhaps the best thing to do is to send each confirmed guest a welcome email the day before their scheduled arrival to explain our policy and tell them we look forward to meeting them the following day, any time after our 3pm check-in.

We’ll see how that goes.

One of our many issues, solved!🙂

We’d like to say “thank you” to our attentive, knowledgeable, and friendly server, Courtney (and super-talented chef, Brad), for the outstanding experience at Lokal Resto and Food Market today. Your chowder is now being marketed to guests at the five Truro B&B’s as one of “the best in the province”!

Belgravia Bed & Breakfast website


A new driver in the house

Gone are the days of worrying whether our toddlers were getting enough to eat, or whether they would trip and scrape their knees, or fall off their bikes, or miss us when they went to school. With teenagers come a whole new set of worries!

Alexander turned 16 last week. He took the classroom portion of the Young Drivers program in July so was ready to write the test for his beginner’s license as soon as possible. D’Arcy took him to the Registry of Motor Vehicles on Monday where he had a vision and written test.

We were all apprehensive about his vision test since he only sees out of one eye, despite wearing a patch for almost six years and having eye surgery when he was seven years old. As it turns out, the rule about getting your license in Nova Scotia with a visual impairment is that you must be able to see 20/60 in your good eye with correction. His good eye sees perfectly with his glasses on, so he passed! As for the written test, he got only one question wrong – about when to report an accident. He said all accidents needed to be reported when, in Nova Scotia, it’s any accident causing injury or damage over $2,000.

Because he has the Young Driver’s course, he’ll be eligible to test for his “full” license in nine months… just as he finishes his first year of high school…


I have no doubt that he will be a cautious, responsible driver – like his older brother is.


Lemon zucchini muffin recipe

It’s zucchini time in the garden and wild blueberry time in Nova Scotia, and what a fabulous combination!


We had a request for D’Arcy’s lemon zucchini muffin recipe this morning. The original recipe came from Anne Lindsey’s “New Light Cooking” cookbook (which is one of our favourites – our focaccia with scrambled eggs and smoked salmon comes from the same cookbook), but we tweak it to accommodate for food allergies. All of the muffins we serve are egg-free so our daughter can take the leftovers – if there are any – to school in her lunch.


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup shredded (unpeeled zucchini)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • Coarsely grated rind from 1 large lemon
  • 1 tsp each baking powder and baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • egg replacer to replace one egg
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk (we often sour rice or coconut milk for dairy issues)
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup wild blueberries
  1. Lightly spray nonstick muffin pans or line with muffin liners.
  2. In a large bowl, stick together flour, zucchini, sugar, lemon rind, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine egg replacer (or lightly-beaten egg), soured-milk, oil, and lemon juice. Pour over flour mixture and stir just enough to moisten, being careful not to overmix.
  4. Add blueberries and combine.
  5. Spoon into prepared pans. Bake in 190*C oven (375*F) for 18-20 minutes or until tops are golden and firm to touch. (May take longer if using real egg.) Makes 12 muffins.


Belgravia Bed & Breakfast website