Like many of us, David Mancini first learned about Bitcoin after reading a sensational news story, in this case a story about an early Bitcoin adopter who threw away a hard drive with thousands of BTC on it and no backups.
While that user’s grave misfortune hooked his interest, it was the opportunity inherent in digital currencies that caused him to become “obsessed with Bitcoin ever since.”
In late October 2013, Mancini began accepting Bitcoin payments at his bed and breakfast, Gîte TerreCiel, in Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec. It’s a cozy late-19th Century house just a few minutes from the St. Lawrence River, and it is the first lodging anywhere in Canada to accept Bitcoin.
To date, only a single guest has paid in bitcoins, but Mancini recognizes that cryptocurrencies are still novel to most people, and he is patiently working toward a wider level of adoption.
But this isn’t really a story about Bitcoin. It’s a story about opportunity and hope in which the technology plays a supporting role. And there’s a certain irony to that.
Mancini, who is originally from Philadelphia, met his now-husband, a Québécois, seven years ago.
“I was on vacation in Montreal with friends,” Mancini recalls. “It was really a love at first sight. We have been together everyday since.”
Shortly thereafter, Mancini left his old life behind, moved to Quebec, got married, then began learning French (and how to adjust to the cold). The idea to open a B&B took root, as well, but he had yet to discover Charlevoix — the region that encompasses Baie-Saint-Paul as well as the surrounding fjords and mountains — at this point in the story.
This was still the adjustment period, and in that interim he learned how to bake bread and took a job in a bakery.
It was in 2010 that Mancini discovered Baie-Saint-Paul and the house that would eventually become Gîte TerreCiel, which translates as “EarthSky B&B.”
Baie-Saint-Paul is a tourist-friendly town full of artists (Cirque du Soleil was born here) on the main stem of the St. Lawrence River; it’s about an hour upriver from Quebec City. In the mid-1700s, wealthy colonists in the New World first started taking their vacations in this area, where old, rounded-top mountains plunged straight down into the water.
The fjords and the river make for some spectacular views, which is why nearby winter sports destination Le Massif brings travelers all the way up to Baie-Saint-Paul even during the cold winter season.
With the winter season approaching, I asked Mancini what that meant for business.
“I like to consider Baie-Saint-Paul as winter's playground,” he said.
“The snow is really high, and it is white all winter. It is possible to snowshoe, cross-country ski or snowmobile to the top of the mountains. Skiing at Le Massif offers breathtaking views of the Saint Lawrence River. You can be pulled through the woods by a dog sled or luge down the mountain with your friends. Baie-Saint-Paul has some of the best restaurants in all of Quebec, and there are festivals like the Christmas market (Marché de Noël) and the festival of music, ‘Hivernal.’"
Mancini tells guests they can save 10% by paying for their stays with Bitcoin, but most often he says he finds himself explaining what Bitcoin even is.
“I explain that it is an international currency that is accepted here, and at many other businesses around the world. For tourists, the advantage is they do not have to pay a conversion fee from euros to Canadian, and that it is a more secure way of paying.
“I always add that the number of bitcoins in circulation is maxed out at 21 million, so it is a better guard of value than other money.”
- David Mancini
Mancini has even gotten a handful of other local businesses on board with the currency. These include business owned by Mancini’s husband, Nicolas Pelletier — Espace TerreCiel, a school of Tai Chi, Qigong, meditation and yoga; and the Clinique d’Acupuncture Baie-Saint-Paul, both of which share a homepage with the B&B.
Elsewhere in the village, businesses that Mancini has helped set up with Bitcoin payments include
La Lavandiere, a boutique soap maker;
Salon Bouchard et Tremblay, a hair salon.
“If you have bitcoin, you can come on vacation in Baie-Saint-Paul and survive just on bitcoin,” he says. “Lodging, eating, souvenirs, activities, acupuncture, and even get your hair cut.”
That doesn’t extend to the ski resort, though … at least not yet.
“I tried to get Le Massif to accept bitcoin, but for the moment they are not interested,” Mancini says, though he has hope for the future. “As more services are built on top of the blockchain, it will make sense for everyone to accept bitcoins.”
For now, though, Mancini seems content to introduce travelers both to his adopted home and to a new way of thinking about money. It’s just a little ironic that this former computer programmer from Philly arrived at Bitcoin by first leaving his old job, learning bread-making, then moving to the country.
“Meeting new people from all over the world and working with my hands to make breads is a big change from staring at a screen.”
- David Mancini
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