An Ontario woman is packing her belongings and preparing to open a more medieval chapter in her life as the owner of a castle in a small Nova Scotia community.
The 10-bedroom, 18-bathroom fortress is situated on 163 acres of land in Bucklaw, located along the Trans-Canada Highway in Cape Breton. In addition to the stately building, the property offers private access to a Bras d’Or lakefront. It was listed in November with a price tag of $999.999.
Elaine Knight, who finalized the purchase in December, said she’s spent the last few years looking for a location to retire in Cape Breton where she could also set up a spa or an Airbnb retreat. When her niece brought the castle listing to her attention, her search immediately came to a sudden conclusion.
“When I opened it up, I just said ‘Mine!’,” Knight said, laughing. “Now the planning is in place to get the place up to par. I’m going to want it to be perfect as people come into it.”
As for the purchase, Knight said, “I just went in with ‘This is what you’re asking? I want it so bad.’ I don’t know if there were other offers going back and forth, but I understand there were three. I paid a dollar more than what they were asking.”
Previously known as Castle Moffet, the colossal building operated mostly as a bed and breakfast since opening in 1992 and was listed as “single-family” property when posted online.
Knight, who suitably plans to rename the fortress “Castle Knight,” said she plans to offer more than to visitors and the surrounding community than when the building operated as a bed and breakfast.
“My vision is to open it up to the public, not just to do Airbnb but weddings, conventions,” Knight said, adding that she expects renovations will be completed in the spring. “I do want to do ‘extreme detoxes’ where you go somewhere for a couple weeks and you end up juicing, you do meditations, enjoy the nature and ground yourself again.
“I also want to be able to share the property with events. So doing some Ceilidh’s, some fundraisers… I want the community to be able to enjoy the property instead of just driving by and going ‘Oh look, a castle.’”
Knight also said she wants to “promote local” to future castle visitors, directing guests to restaurants in the Baddeck area.
In addition to offering up the eye-catching structure for others to enjoy, Knight said she’ll also be making the castle her primary residence by June.
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“My room’s going to be there. A friend of mine is going to come and live there as well. Together, we’re kind of changing gears — I work in healthcare here, so, I’m just going to be doing that business and being able to live here and enjoy it as well.”
Once some minor touch-ups are completed and the castle is re-opened for business, Knight said she plans to open the floor to the community to find out what they want.
“(I want to know) what’s happening in town in the Baddeck area. Is there something with the arts? Is there something that we can offer our property for with events that other organizations want to host,” she said
As the property’s listing explains, after passing through the roadside gates, a visitor drives along a lengthy cedar-lined driveway before parking their vehicle in a cobblestone lot.
Upon entering the stronghold-lodge via two large oak doors, they are greeted by a slate-floored, a two-storey main room with floor-to-ceiling windows and two stairways.
A nearby hallway leads to a commercial kitchen, breakfast and dining room, and three guest suites. the second and third floors contain the remaining seven guest rooms. A “caretaker’s office” on the castle’s lower level provides entrance to a walkway that faces a babbling brook and garden.
“Each room features propane fireplaces, beautiful furnishings, Bras D’or Lake views, and spa ensuites where you’ll find bidets, walk-in showers, and jet tubs,” the listing noted.
“Throughout the home are ceramic and marble floors, 10-foot ceilings, and ample storage.”
The building’s lower level also comes equipped with a bar, wine cellar, sauna, and exercise and massage rooms. It also came fully furnished with the purchase.
Getting it ready
Maggie O’Liari — Knight’s niece and project manager for the castle renovations — said her aunt’s intentions to buy the property were pretty clear after she passed along the listing.
“She immediately fell in love. I remember her text was, ‘We need that castle’ in capital letters,” OLiari said, laughing. “It went so smoothly. We looked up and a month later, we had it.
“It’s such a huge potential item and we all wanted to be involved in it. We’re so excited. The more we get to know the people around the island that want to work with us, it’s just so amazing (to meet) people that are interested in it as well.”
OLiari, who was born in Ontario, moved to Cape Breton with her family when she was nine and grew up in the area. She said renovations for the castle are already underway, and she’s recruited a construction crew and contractors who previously helped her with a separate cottage venture nearby.
“There’s some structural stuff that needs renovation, but we’re really excited about the idea of turning it into a green castle,” she said.
“There’s this amazing brook running right through the middle of it, which gives us the potential for micro-hydro, which is basically, just using the brook as energy. And solar energy. So, those ideas are being thrown around and estimated… It just needs some love and some time, and we got that.”
OLiari said it’s been a while since the castle’s received this type of attention.
“We want to see it back to its old glory sooner than later,” she said, adding that her team looks forward to allowing the community to explore the building’s wonders.
“It’s one of the most amazing things to drive past. Everybody has a connection to that castle in one way or another. We’ve all been faced with the gates at the bottom that say ‘Private’ or ‘Under construction.’ We want to make it open so that people know they can book an event there or do photos outside the castle.”
OLiari also said that if she and her aunt can get into the business of restoring old properties, perhaps they can offer something larger to the community.
“If we get into the business of making things beautiful… we can maybe (help) in the future with the housing crisis. We can put our skills together. It’s not just this one castle project. I think we’re like-minded in that we can improve properties around the island and give them back to people who can sustain them.”
A Knight moving into a castle
Knight said she’s kept her title as the castle’s new owner private, until now.
“I had no clue this would’ve happened. It came out of the blue for me,” she continued. “A couple years ago, I was thinking ‘Maybe I’ll just get a little log cabin, or I’ll find a place and we’ll make a little business out of it.’ But when this came up, it just seemed like, ‘This is it, this is more than what I could ever dream of.’”
Knight said she just “followed the pattern,” with the castle now about to undergo its third name change and ownership since construction in the 1990s — from Castle Moffet, to Castle Gracie, and now, finally, Castle Knight.
“Luckily, I’m a Knight,” she smiled.
For now, Knight is still working in the healthcare field, running a homecare company and a technology business that helps homecare professionals provide “real-time data and delegation of practice.”
“I might even talk to the healthcare system there (in Cape Breton) about how I could possibly help,” she said.
“I’m kind of like a pioneer in the telemedicine industry and I think Cape Breton and a lot of rural places are suffering right now because there’s not enough personal support workers or nurses that are out there.”
Telemedicine is an “interconnected platform that allows data to be exchanged in order to provide medical care for patients in remote areas,” according to Doctors Without Borders. It provides medical specialists access to data to diagnose and treat patients who otherwise wouldn’t be able to access proper healthcare facilities in their community.
Knight also operates an international charity that helps offer telemedicine services through doctors in Haiti. It was launched in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that struck the Caribbean nation in 2010.
“I’ve run two telemedicine clinics (in Haiti) for the last 13 years, one in the south and one in the north,” she continued. “We’ve had hurricanes, gangs, there’s all kinds of difficulties, but a testament to telemedicine is we’ve never had to miss one (clinic) because nobody’s had to travel, everything’s really close.
“So, it made me think, if we can do it in Haiti, we can do it here.”
As for the castle, Knight said she caught wind of a “whisper campaign” during the time she recently spent in Baddeck examining the newly purchased residence, which included an amusing rumour she saw circulating online.
“There was a rumour on Facebook, somebody asked ‘Does anyone know who bought it?,’ and somebody said, ‘I think it was Justin Bieber’,” she laughed.
“Until we make it an announcement… let the whisper campaign happen.”
Knight said she plans to officially open the newly renovated castle in June.