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Happiest place on Earth: Alberta daycare captures magical dream of retiree

After a year of construction, using $3 million from his own pocket, Robert Chauvet turned a Morinville parking lot into a scene out of a fairy tale.

After a year of construction, using $3 million from his own pocket, Robert Chauvet turned a Morinville, Alta., parking lot into a scene out of a fairy tale.

Jason Franson / The Canadian Press

After a year of construction, using $3 million from his own pocket, Robert Chauvet turned a Morinville, Alta., parking lot into a scene out of a fairy tale.

MORINVILLE, Alta. — Once upon a time, in a town north of Edmonton, there was a man who dreamed of building something magical.

After a year of construction, using $3 million from his own pocket, Robert Chauvet turned a Morinville parking lot into a scene out of a fairy tale. There's a fantastical structure with a wavy roof, curved wooden doors and — as his story goes — a chimney squashed by a giant.

"I've always been fascinated by the imagination and creative minds of children," says the 71-year-old father, grandfather and retired owner of a construction company.

"Everybody builds houses. And whether you build 10 or 1,000, basically you're just a house-builder. It doesn't leave anything special behind."

Because Chauvet wanted children to enjoy his final building project in the town of 9,800, he had it designed as a daycare.

Kids play at Fable Child Care Centre in Morinville, Alta.

Jason Franson / The Canadian Press

Kids play at Fable Child Care Centre in Morinville, Alta.

He rents it out to the Fable Child Care Centre, which opened in June.

"The kids always seem happy here," says father Dave Brooks, as he helps two-year-old Hadley wiggle out of her jacket during a morning drop-off.

Brooks thinks the daycare resembles more of a hobbit house from "Lord of the Rings."

Most of the arched doors are adult-sized, except for one leading into the toddlers' room. Parents and workers have to duck to pass through. In another room, there's a cavernous children's bathroom and on the wall next to it a picture of a squirming raccoon waiting for its turn.

Fairies and bunnies are painted on walls, and tree branches stretch into clouds on the ceiling, perfect for nap time.

"It's a blessing to come to work every day," says daycare operator Bonnie Provost. "Kids and families love it."

With a capacity for 85 children, the centre is just over half full.

And by next year, it could also be bustling with brides.

Robert Chauvet and his wife, Hien Ho, hope to include a wedding and photo shoot space at the fairy-tale venue in the future.

Jason Franson / The Canadian Press

Robert Chauvet and his wife, Hien Ho, hope to include a wedding and photo shoot space at the fairy-tale venue in the future.

Chauvet and his wife, Hien Ho, hope an upstairs rental space and outside flower garden will make a happily-ever-after venue for weddings and photo shoots.

As the couple walk along the garden's path, they point to a waterfall and behind it a hidden door where a gnome lives.

Chauvet says he's especially proud of the roof's curvy shingles that workers spent seven months cutting by hand. He's also pleased with children's artwork that is outlined in the lead-glass windows and scratched into the cement foundation.

He recounts how one burly concrete worker happily spent time on his hands and knees stamping and painting bears and butterflies into the stone work.

Also along the path are sculptures of seven children Chauvet says helped make his dream come true.

"The kids built the daycare with the help of an old carpenter," he chuckles.

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