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May. 28, 2022 | Saturday
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Jamie Mainprize: Acting career brings character to quarter-century of B&B hosting
Jamie and Virginia Mainprize celebrate a wonderful spring afternoon in the award-winning garden of their Niagara-on-the-Lake bed and breakfast. (Tim Taylor/Special)

A prominent filmography website formally describes Niagara-on-the-Lake’s James Mainprize as a film and stage actor with over 40 career film and television credits.

But he’s best known around town as Jamie, dapper bed and breakfast host, occasional thespian and consummate raconteur.

The 82-year-old Mainprize and Virginia, his wife of almost 50 years, share the workload of their Simcoe Street bed and breakfast.

Virginia is the cook and gardener. Jamie plays host, sets the table and does the marketing and the books. They both share the housekeeping duties.

He chuckles: “I wait the (breakfast) table and bore people with stories about the theatre.”

And he’s got lots of stories from an eclectic career as teacher, book editor and, for much of the last 30 years, stage and film actor.

“I went to school at UTS (University of Toronto Schools),” says Jamie. “I was 12. I had a wonderful English teacher — a frustrated actor who produced a Shakespearian play every year. That was my introduction to the theatre.”

Even after achieving a history degree from the University of Toronto, he just wanted to pursue acting.

After a stint at the Central School for Acting in London, he returned to Canada. “I was actually getting both film and stage work.”

But bowing to pressure from his father, who did not support his penchant for acting, Jamie applied for a history teacher position at St. Andrew’s College, north of Toronto in Aurora. And to his surprise, he was hired. “I was just playing the role of a history teacher,” he says.

It was almost 20 years before he returned to acting. In the meantime, Jamie dabbled again in the teaching profession and ultimately became a history editor for a major Canadian publishing house.

But he was never far away from his love of acting. By the middle of the 1980s, having shifted his editing career to freelance, he secured parts in a number of film and television productions: The Magical World of Disney, Street Legal and Cocktail, to name a few.

“I was fortunate,” he muses. “There was a lot of stuff going on in those days. American companies were doing a tremendous amount of filming in Canada.”

Then he smiles: “I played a lot of lawyers and butlers.”

One of his personal film highlights was the 2003 film, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. “It was an improbable plot line, but somehow it worked.”

Much of his burgeoning career was accomplished while he and Virginia were developing their new bed and breakfast in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Both had thriving careers in Toronto. She a book editor and he, editing and acting. “We were both freelance people. It didn’t really matter where we lived.”

“We came down to the Shaw Festival to see Pygmalion. We were driving around town and saw a for sale sign on a B&B. One thing led to another …”

They’ve been at it for almost 27 summers. Three bedrooms, swimming pool and an award-winning garden.

And they must be doing something right. They no longer advertise, gaining almost all of their business from referrals and satisfied guests returning.

A recent five-star TripAdvisor rating just couldn’t say enough: “If you are looking for a charming B&B, beautiful gardens, and intellectually stimulating conversation, you’ve found your place. The house is absolutely beautiful and the garden is a gorgeous Zen oasis.”

When they moved to Niagara, Jamie thought it might just be possible to do some work for the Shaw Festival. But other than one season-long last-minute role substitution for Shaw, his acting work has focused on film and television.

If the bed and breakfast has given him the freedom to pursue his acting career, his acting skills, in turn, have paid off in creating a memorable experience for his guests.

“My acting experience has helped. I’m really on stage performing from first thing in the morning.”

(Reporter’s Note: Jamie’s acting voice is so wonderful, they could sell tickets just to listen to his soothing, dulcet tones on the B&B’s telephone answering message. Really.)

He admits the hospitality industry isn’t as easy as it looks.

He remembers 20 years or so ago, when there were as many as 400 B&Bs in town. He believes the dramatic decline in those numbers has been caused by two factors.

Firstly, “it was the rapid rise in the price of local real estate. People thought they could by a house and have the B&B revenue help pay off the mortgage. That just doesn’t work now.”

And some people went into it without understanding how much work the business is.

“They think, ‘I’ll serve people breakfast in the morning, make a few beds and be finished by 10.’ No. It is a 40-hour-a-week job. And that doesn’t count the smiling part.”

Jamie says he prefers the stage to film. “There is a consistency to it, moving from one scene to the next, in order. In film, you might be shooting the last scene of the story today and the first scene tomorrow.

“And more importantly, on stage you can really feel the audience reaction.”

That’s true for the bed and breakfast business, too.