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Island of Bryan escapes disaster but HGTV contractor pitches in anyways

Bryan and Sarah Baeumler from the HGTV show Island of Bryan.
Bryan and Sarah Baeumler from the HGTV show Island of Bryan.

The plan was for a family summer vacation out West, visiting the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, strolling Calgary’s riverfront and breathing in some fresh Rocky Mountain air.

Instead, Bryan Baeumler spent much of this past August feeling anxious, nervous and worried, as Hurricane Dorian made its way to the Bahamas. “It was stressful beyond belief,” says Baeumler, the HGTV celebrity contractor who was with his wife Sarah and their four kids, ages six to 14, on a two-week holiday when the category-5 storm hit the 700-island nation Sept. 1. “Then we saw we dodged a bullet and felt immense relief.”

It didn’t take long, though for Baeumler’s relief to transform into action. Seeing that Hurricane Dorian had obliterated Great Abaco Island and flooded much of Grand Bahama, he quickly set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to help with relief efforts, even offering to match the amount donated through the Baeumler Family Foundation for Kids. To date, the fund, with an initial goal to raise $10,000, has grown to nearly $170,000.

Baeumler, who will be in Calgary on Sept. 20-21 for the Calgary Fall Home Show (calgaryfallhomeshow.com) at the BMO Centre at Stampede Park, has good reason breath a sigh of relief. Two years ago, he and wife Sarah purchased an abandoned boutique resort on the Bahamian island of South Andros. Island of Bryan — his other shows include the hits Life of Bryan and Disaster DIY — chronicles his time there, as he has spent the last year-and-a-half overseeing a crew in the ambitious renovation of the property that boasts 22 small villas and 22 hotel rooms.

Over that time, he has come to know the locals well, with many working for him both in construction and now in the running of the Caerula Mar Club resort, which is set to open late November. “We’ve made great friends and have an incredible group of employees,” he says. “Bahamians are very caring and giving people.”

While South Andros was spared, several of Baeumler’s employees’ lives changed on that fateful day. “Twenty of our people had 74 relatives on the two affected islands,” says Baeumler, speaking Tuesday from his resort in the Bahamas. He flew back there just four days after the hurricane which brought 300-kilometre winds. “One of the gals in our office lost three family members.”

Along with flying employees to be with their families, he is helping to fund the relocation of 20 families to Great Abaco and used his sponsorship connections to supply some of the tens of thousands of Bahamians affected with everything from mattresses to clothing. “Sarah funded a flight full of onesies and diapers,” he says of his wife whom he met in high school. “This so easily could have been us. It’s such immense destruction for these people to deal with, they need our help.”

When asked if he ever planned to be a humanitarian aid provider, you can almost hear the immensely likable man shrug his shoulders. “You just do what needs to be done,” he says matter-of-factly.

“If a disaster happens in Canada or U.S., we have the opportunity to drive up the road and evacuate, to get access to emergency services. Here, we live and die by the mailboat that shows up once a week.”

He’s clearly doing what his heart — and his gut — tell him to do, an approach that has served Baeumler well throughout his life. After graduating from the University of Western Ontario with degrees in business and political science, it wasn’t long before the native of Oakville, Ont., was wearing a tool belt and hammering nails.

“My dad was a blue collar guy but he sent us to private school,” he says. “I’d spend my days looking out the classroom window, thinking I couldn’t wait get to get out, so I could go drive a tractor, fix some fences, build infrastructure.”

Looking to promote his fledgling contracting business, he approached a producer friend about letting him do some work, free-of-charge, on a show. “I told him some of my guys might not be pretty to look at, but they’re funny and they know what they’re doing,” he says with a chuckle. The rest, as they say, is history. Today, Baeumler has his own production and media company, a busy construction business and the Baeumler Family Foundation for Kids ( bryanbaeumler.com ).

He admits that some close to him worried that buying a hotel in the Bahamas was a risky endeavour, partly due to the hurricanes that blow through. “Hey, I could have bought a hotel in British Columbia and then the big earthquake hits,” he says. “What if I spent my life running on a hamster wheel, then I retired and got sick and died? When I turned 45, I told Sarah, ‘I’m playing the back nine now, it’d better be good.”

Along with continuing to help Bahamians post-disaster, Baeumler says he’s proud to be encouraging visitors to return to the tourism-dependent country.

“Come down, enjoy yourselves, get a piece of paradise, help the local economy,” he says, noting he’s already seen the lives of his employees change for the better with this new opportunity.

“There are a lot of things that can really get in the way of your plans … but the seed has sprouted and we intend to stay.”

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019


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