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'Bed and breakfasts' -- the friendly alternative

The growth of bed-and-breakfast accommodation in Canada is such a recent phenomenon that tourism officials are hard pressed to provide inquiring travelers with information about them. But word about the "friendly alternative" has been moving through the country as B&B homes have been moving into the cities -- Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, and Winnepeg, to date.

As in counterpart lodging in Canada's transatlantic cousin, the option offers more than money saving -- considerable money saving, with rates up to half those of hotels. For most hosts, bed and breakfast represents a means of extending hospitality to visitors as much as it does a profitable venture. For guests, that translates into availability of amenities not even the poshest hostelries proffer: opportunities to meet and talk with local people and gain insights into the history and attractions of areas being visited.

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If the published material reflects an understandably cautious reserve, with names and addresses often withheld, it makes up for it with quaint mood-setting tidbits reflective of the personality of engaging Canadians. The name of Montreal's bilingual Bed and Breakfast in French reads as "House of Welcome," a handsome greeting.

A professionally designed and printed questionnaire makes this local association of B&B proprietors the most sophisticated, as does its process of matching guest requirements with available rooms. Answering such queries as "Do you smoke?" "Do you dislike pets?" "Are there breakfast foods you dislike?," it also "ensures that you will not be a stranger to your hosts." It's a nice touch. A cheerful green-inked brochure provides all booking details and the information that most homes are in residential neighborhoods convenient to points of interest via public transportation. Specifics about the home chosen are forwarded to you once the reservation, with a $15 nonrefundable deposit, is made (deducted from rates, at $20 to $25 single, $30 to $35 double); write to Montreal Bed & Breakfast, 4692 Kent Avenue, Montreal, Quebec H3W 1H1; phone (514 ) 738-3859.

Ottawa's 33 hosts are "eager to meet you, make you feel at home, and provide you with helpful advice about their beautiful city" --and start by suggesting a few sights to see as a preface to the B&B listings. A reservation from asks for first through third choices, made on the basis of brief descriptions of settings , amenities, proximity to services, and proprietors. Many of the homes are within a 15-minute drive of Parliament Hill (downtown) and accessible via public transport, most within half an hour, four within a 45-minute drive. Among the accommodations are beautifully maintained older homes, bungalows, self-contained units, a town house, and a condominium. They are run by a woman who makes crafts in her home studio, an architect, a policeman, a schoolteacher, and a gentleman collector of ornaments.

Such descriptions help you choose not just a house, but a host who might share your interests, combining a bed-and-breakfast stay with a kind of "meet the Canadians" experience. A number offer the use of pools and TV and some access to saunas and golf courses. One includes a kosher kitchen (from $15 single through $25 double; some family rates available). Write to Ottawa Area Bed and Breakfast, PO Box 11263, Station H, Ottawa, K2H 7T9; K. Bovell at (613) 820-0367 or K. Sutherland at (613) 828-9502.

Two teachers, Randy Lee and Ilene Campbell, organized the Toronto Bed and Breakfast booklet listing 16 homes with a map locating them, for the most part within 15 and 35 minutes of downtown. Hosts have provided their own descriptions, including access information, style of the house, and proximity to shopping, exploring, and tourist facilities, along with quaint tidbits: "Breakfast can be enjoyed in the garden or coach house . . . ducks, geese, rabbits, and a swing . . . all floors are exposed oak." Hosts invite guests to watch their TVs, dip in their pools, tan on their sundecks -- and insist on house rules, many of them stipulating "no smoking, no drinking, please." Pets are generally off limits, too, and children might be! From $15 single through $ 40 double. Write to Toronto Bed & Breakfast, PO Box 86 Station T, Toronto Ontario M6B 3Z9.

The Guide to Canadian B&B in Manitoba, "Your Economy Travel Package," lists names, addresses, and phone numbers of 23 hosts, by area in the city of Winnipeg , each charging between $15 and $25 a night. Travelers are to contact homeowners individually to obtain detailed information, reservations, and street directions, but are promised "a learning experience of Manitoba people and attractions from Manitobans who are proud of our province and our heritage." Write to Burgess & Organ, B&B, 35 Pontiac Bay, Winnepeg, Manitoba, Canada R3X 0S 6.

Numerous bed-and-breakfast homes scattered throughout the countryside from Newfoundland to British Columbia, many of them farms, have been compiled by John Thompson. "Country Bed and Breakfast Places in Canada" was actually written by the people who provide "the warmth and hospitality along Canadian highways and byways," and by the people who have been treated to them.

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Reflecting the charm of the accommodations, the proprietors, eager to share with and learn from their guests, tell how to find their homes and describe not only what they offer but, by inference, the kind of experience a stay with them provides, attested to by "a couple of good things others [read guests] have said" about each place ($7.95, published by Deneau & Greenberg, available in US bookstores or through the Berkshire Traveler Press, Stockbridge, Mass. 01262). Rates for country B&B accommodations are comparable to those in the city homes.

The networks of private home hospices continue to expand and, by their manner , to add to the pleasures and value of travel. The Connells, new members of the Toronto B&B, sum up the prospects perfectly: "Friendly atmosphere -- a rea l home away from home!"

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