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” Mi casita mexicana”: the dream of a Canadian couple in Merida

- April 20, 2022

More and more Canadians are choosing to live in the sun for six months of the year. Some are even building the house of their dreams.

One night, after a long day at work, Rhoda Lordly Manser and Robin Manser were quietly watching television in their Toronto home.

The reality television series House Hunters International presented that day an episode set in the city of Mérida, in the Mexican state of Yucatán.

At the end of the show, the couple made a decision that would change their future plans.

We decided to come to Mérida to celebrate our honeymoon. And once we discovered the city, we chose it to build a second home where we could spend the winters of our retirement and vacations with children and grandchildren says Robin Manser

Malgré leur grand intérêt pour la ville, le couple a pris son temps pour bien choisir leur deuxième chez-soi.
Despite their great interest in the city, the couple took their time to choose their second home well.PHOTO: RCI / PALOMA MARTÍNEZ MÉNDEZ


Although Rhoda and Robin Manser fell in love with Mérida at first sight, upon their arrival not everything was as they had imagined.

The first time we came, we were walking through some areas of the city, there were abandoned houses and we thought: my God, we are in a dangerous one! And we weren’t sure of anything.

Rhoda Lordly Manser

“However,” says Rhoda, after a few days, “we opened our minds and participated in a tour of the historic district organized by the Merida English Library.”

It was this guided walk that changed his opinion of the city and its people. “We realized that there were surprises behind the walls,” says Rhoda, who is the Director of Risk Management at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto.

We found very friendly people who, even with our terrible Spanish, were patient. So we decided to go back every year, at least twice a year.

Rhoda Lordly Manser

The Minaret of Merida, in the Yucatan.
The Minaret is a mansion located on the Paseo de Montejo in Mérida. Built in 1908 by Dr. Álvaro Medina Ayora and his brother Miguel Medina Ayora, it has a 19th-century neoclassical architectural style and is one of the buildings that best preserves the splendor of the colonial era in the state of Yucatán.PHOTO: RCI

Mérida is the capital of the state of Yucatán, on the peninsula of the same name, in eastern Mexico. It has a population of about 950,000 inhabitants.

Considered a cosmopolitan city since its founding in 1542, as well as a nerve center for commerce in the region, Mérida is now considered one of the safest cities in the country.

The National Survey of Urban Public Security of the National Institute of Statistics and Geography determined that the security levels of Mérida are comparable to those of the safest European cities.

For the Mansers, the great city of Mérida always has something interesting to offer.

On the Friday of the week that RCI visited them, the couple attended a concert by the Mérida Symphony Orchestra.

There are many free things to do in this city. In fact, Mérida offers the same attractions as Toronto: like the zoo, the orchestra and the city center with its museums. So there is always something interesting to do.  

Rhoda Lordly Manser

However, the decision to purchase property in Mérida was not made lightly, says Robin.

Au Mexique, le processus d'achat d'une proprieté par des étrangers diffère des règles canadiennes.  Mais cela n'a pas découragé le couple.
In Mexico, the property purchase process for foreigners differs from Canadian standards. But that did not discourage the couple.PHOTO: RCI / PALOMA MARTÍNEZ MÉNDEZ

We do not own the house. It is placed in a bank trust for 50 years and for which we pay an annual fee of about US$500.

 Robin Manser

Under the Mexican Constitution of 1917, foreigners could not buy real estate in Mexico in areas considered critical.

But since 1973, the Mexican government has allowed foreign investment in those areas. The foreigner must make the investment through a bank trust or a Mexican company.

These zones, now called restricted zones, are located less than 100 km from state borders and 50 km from the sea.

Mexico is the number one sun and beach destination for Canadians, and their second favorite destination in the world after the United States.

In 2019, almost 2 million Canadians visited Mexico. In addition, tens of thousands of “snowbirds” travel to that country each year to spend the winter.

According to the Canadian Embassy in Mexico, more than 50,000 Canadians live on Mexican soil.


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Once the decision to buy a property was made, the next challenge was to choose the property.

“At first we were only looking for remodeled houses as it seemed like a simpler project,” explains Robin Manser.

However, none of the properties they visited convinced them. The couple decided to go ahead with their own house project.

Rhoda and Robin had recently finished renovating their home in Toronto and felt ready for the adventure of renovating in Merida, knowing that the process would be “completely different” than in Canada.

In Toronto, we live north of the Yorkdale Mall, and renovating a house there costs about 1.5 million Canadian dollars. So what we’re talking about here is very reasonable for us. So instead of choosing the house, we chose the area of ​​the city where we wanted to live and built the house we wanted to have.

Portrait of the Mexican architect Jorge Novelo Caamal.
Jorge Novelo Caamal is the architect who is accompanying Rhoda and Robin Manser in the creation of their dream house in a heritage building in their city.PHOTO: RCI / PALOMA MARTÍNEZ MÉNDEZ

Jorge Novelo Caamal is an architect based in Mérida. Even before graduating from university, this young professional wanted to work in the historic center to be able to intervene in houses with a heritage that he would preserve.

When he finished his studies, he worked in a workshop dedicated mainly to this field and it was there that he acquired the knowledge that allowed him to start his own architecture studio. Currently, 80% of his work is in the historic center of Mérida and foreigners are his main clients.

Most are American, but there is also a good proportion of Canadians, I would say around 40%. In fact, my first clients were Canadians who recommended me to others. a quote from Jorge Novelo Caamal

The 29-year-old architect explains that in Mérida there is an area delimited by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), in which most of the historical monuments are found.

For a project to go ahead in this area, it must be approved by INAH, regardless of whether or not it is considered a heritage asset.

However, if the property is outside the area and has certain heritage characteristics, INAH approval is not required, but the city council’s heritage department will continue to review the project.

Rhoda and Robin’s house is just outside the INAH boundaries, so you don’t need INAH permission. However, the couple chose to respect the original structure and its architectural heritage features.

That is why they chose to work with Jorge Novelo Caamal since it is his specialty.

Rhoda and Robin Manser
The architect has completed the plans. The couple must now wait for the decision of the municipality.PHOTO: RCI / PALOMA MARTÍNEZ MÉNDEZ


For some of the Mansers’ friends, Mexico is synonymous with drug cartels, danger, murder, beaches and tacos.

When his Mexican project was announced, the reactions were immediate: What? Why do they do that? says, Robin Manser.

“There are a lot of very negative stereotypes about Mexico,” adds Rhoda Lordly Manser. She says she’s realized that because of Mexico’s tropical climate, “a lot of people think people here are lazy when they’re not,” she says. .

They start work at 5 in the morning. They take a break in the worst heat hours and continue working until seven or eight at night. They work six days a week. Tell a Canadian to work six days a week and he will organize a protests says Lordly Manser

For his part, Robin Manser explains that, despite the preconceived ideas that friends and family may have when he and Rhoda retire, they will live in Mérida for six months of the year, and return to Canada for the other six.

So we will have the best of both worlds. And family and friends will certainly come to visit us.

Designs issus dude souhaits by Rhoda et Robin.  Ce n'est pas le design des architectes.
Models from Rhoda and Robin’s wish list. This is not the architects design.PHOTO: GRACIEUSETÉ BY ROBIN AND RHODA MANSER

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Source: ici.radio-canada.ca

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