Pharmacist, baker, now B&B makers French-born Christiane and Jean-Marc Champeval are carving out a niche in highend wilderness accommodation In France, they were paragons for running successful small businesses.
Christiane Champeval ran a thriving pharmacy in the quiet, Alsatian town of Colmar. Her husband Jean-Marc owned a pair of bakeries pumping out
and then B.C. (we'd seen it on TV and knew it was a beautiful place) . But B.C. was too expensive, so we found something in the Yukon. We visited the terrilory twice, and we just fell in love with it - it's very hard to explain. It'sjust thatwe felt at home. We feltwelcome, which was a totally different experience from what we found in Sweden.
traditional French baguettes by the thousands. But after a fateful trip to Finland in 2oo4,the pair ditched the businesses, sold their house and set off for snowy climes. A combination of cheap land, French-language services and the immigrant-friendly Yukon Nominee Program eventually led them to On the value ofthe Yukon Canada, where the pair built a high-end inn on a 40 acre plot of land on the Nominee Program: outskirts of Whitehorse. UHB joined the ebullient pair attheir lodge. J-M:Ifyou go by the French embassy, it takes at least two
the Yukon's dearth of private, luxury accommodation:
also provided evening classes in English as a second language. When we went to stores,
Jean-Marc: U sually what we found in the
the federal government or the Yukon government, we always found someone who speaks French. If it wasn't for the territory's French services, I don't think we would have come here.
Yukon is that wilderness accommodation is more likely to be a cabin, sometimes withoutwater and the washroom is outside. And when you stay in a bed and breakfast, it's usually one or fwo rooms shared in the owner's house. The idea here was to create a small inn. There are five rooms here and we live in a separate house. Here, it's only for the guests. Christiane:There are luxurious bed and breaKasts in Whitehorse. but if vou want to be out of the city, it's more difficult to find something.
On the Yukon's profusion
J-M:We arrived onlywith the English that we had learned at school. Our English was just good enough to order a beer or to buy a sandwich at McDonald's. The Association Franco-Yukonais helped us with the immigration process and they got us in touch with the Yukon government. They
falling in love with the Yukon,
not Sweden: ,I-M: It started in2004,I went to Finland - and I just fell in love with the North. We tried to open a bakery in northern Sweden. We met the chamber of commerce and some other bakers, but it was tough to get past the language. They speak English in
or three years. Through
the Yukon Nominee Program we had a work permit in two weeks. It's especially hard to immigrate through the French embassy if you're looking to open a bed and breakfast. You are not considered a real entrepreneur or a real businessperson.
On becoming a baker:
in marketing, I worked with Belgian sports company, but eventually I decided to get my own company. I knew marketing and I knew business, but I had no specific skills. It was then that I saw an advertisement for a private baking school. I finished the school six months later, in February 1994. I started my first bakery by August 1994.
.iI-M: I worked a
Sweden's big cities but in the North it's only Swedish - and it's very hard to learn.
On discovering the Yukon: ,I-M: When you are French and you want to immigrate somewhere, you think about Canada. I don't know why, but there is still some kind of connection between the two countries. So Christiane got on the Internet. We started out by looking at Quebec,
./-M; There were engineers from Air France, toy company marketing directors, engine designers - a very diverse group ofpeople. The idea of the school was to bring in new blood, with new ideas and new dynamics. We were more professional, notjust bakers who knew how to make bread. but businessmen.
Banette baking school:
ridingthe ctest of Fance's chango in baking: On
During the Second World War, to account for a lack ofingredients, French bread was made to be very large, very light and very white. During the 1970s, with the arrival of machines and mass distribution, French bakers continued with this system: Producingwhite bread in large quantities, butwith low flavour and quality. In the 1980s, an initiative cropped up - mainly among flour companies - to resurrect pre-war bread quality. It's then that we returned to recipes thatwere more traditional, breads that had more colour, variety and taste. I entered the marketjust as this trend was starting, and I exited the market justwhen itwas starting to go mainstream. ../-M;
attracted to a place with French services. C: German people usually speak English well, but it's easier for them if they know they can ask me something in German. It's a good idea to speak as many languages as you can. For us,Japanese is next.
savinf youl marfiage with a bed
and blcaldast: ,l-M: Christiane was working 15 hours per day; I was working 15 hours per day. You make some money, but there was really no time to be together, to have children. Why the bed and breakfast? Because it's somethingwe can do together. The idea has never been to make a lot of money with the business. Our goal, even before we left France, was to be able to work together.
multilingtralign as a businesstool:
J-M:The French has helped us; we've got some people from Quebec, others from
Canadians. The force that French Canadians put into defending their language
France. Generally, French people from France are not good at English, so they're
and culture here, it's hard for us tojoin in with the same 6lan because we come from
It's hard for us to understand because don't have the same history as French
countrywhere that isn't a problem. Living French in France and living French in Canada are two very different things. a
On comingl from Alsace, a
stagFnâ‚Ź glround for Flenchâ‚Źerman langluagle and telritorial strugfilles: G Mygrandmother didn't speak French, she only spoke German. It was
them because itwasjust after the war, and there was plenty of tension through the 1950s. Now, that tension has passed. Language conflicts in Alsace have disappeared. On the Yukon's most unexploited tourism niche: 3[-MrWinter, for Europeans. We have more reservations for next winter than for this summer. During the summer, the appeal of the Yrkon is large spaces and canoe trips, but those are features offered in plenty of other locations. By contrast, during the winter, the \fukon is unique in offering Northern Lights, large wintry scenes, and temperatures of negative 40. We've had travellers come here specifically for the
cold weather. Around the globe, those winter highlights are available in fewer and fewer locations. Northern Europe is well populated. Siberia is unaccustomed to tourism. What's left is the Canadian North. C: In the winteq the Yukon is more inaccessible to Europeans, since there isn't a direct flight from Frankfurt. That's probably why our winter market is mostlyJapanese.
from a bed and breakfast into a mini-resort: J-M:ln Sweden, I stayed in a hotel that offered different activities every day; that's what we're trying to reproduce. The idea is by offering a rotating schedule ofactivities, guests will be motivated to stay here for lonOn turningl Takhini River Lodge
ger periods. The trick is attracting people less inclined towards adventure tourism and more inclined towards activities of discovery. People that don'twant to pack their way down a river for eight days, butwould prefer one day ofhorseback riding, one day
little bit of everything.
On building a luxury inn in the Yukon
wilderness, while speakingl only rudimentary English: J-M:T}le most difficult part was having to bring materials to the North from the South. We are not used to doing that and it was very frustrating sometimes. When you order some furniture or kitchen cabinets, you have to plan one or two months ahead, and when it arrives, maybe it has the wrong cover - there's always some surprise like
that. It takes more time and more patience.
longdistance supply runs:
a lot of people drive 2,000 kilometres south with a trailer and purchase
their furniture in Vancouver or Edmonton. That's not our culture. If you don't find what you're looking for in a store in France, youjust have to go to another store at the other side of the road. On Ganada as a
J-M: It's much easier to have a business in Canada than in Europe, especially when it comes to taxes. For entrepreneurs or people earning above average in Europe, taxes are very heary. Those are things I've already started to forget about since coming here, but it was one of the largest factors behind leaving France for Canada.
On bed and breakfasts as a conduit to meeting people:
J-M: One of the perks of thejob is being able to speak to people from around the world. It's always very interesting for us. I hope it's interesting for them, too. GYou don't share too much with your customers as a pharmacist. When people arrive here, they're on vacation, which means interactions are much calmer and less anxious. In France, I had customers who were sick, anxious, stressed. That makes a big difference. ./-M; I shared a lotwith my customers ar the bakery. There's something mysterious about bread. We make it at night and it causes people
BUstNEss . JULy
Published on Jul 15, 2010