Mike Holmes never set out to be a TV star and media mogul… it just turned out that way. As a profile in Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail recalled, Holmes started off as a contractor in his hometown of Toronto, leading construction crews since he was 19. A twist of fate put him in front of the camera and his world changed, transforming a blunt, opinionated homebuilder into a television phenomenon whose fame extends far beyond his native Canada.
In his first (and most iconic) HGTV series, Holmes on Homes, he rescued harried homeowners by repairing the shoddy work of crappy contractors and amateurish DIY jobs, exuding so much personality it could be barely be contained within a TV screen. More shows followed, making Holmes a constant presence on television and, in the process, a bona fide celebrity; among his many accolades, Holmes is a 2012 recipient of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, and in 2015 was named Patron of the Royal Canadian Regiment.
Yet that success has not come without some bumps along the way; to find out more about his journey from Canadian contractor to hammer-wielding hero of home repair, here’s what really happened to Mike Holmes.
Here’s how Mike Holmes came to be on HGTV
Mike Holmes’ foray into television was not by design. Holmes was a full-time contractor when he was hired to do some building work on the set of a Canadian TV show that shared tips on DIY home repair. While working, noted The Globe and Mail, the ever-opinionated Holmes began telling the people who hired him that they had it all wrong. Holmes went into one of his trademark rants, explaining that encouraging homeowners to do their own DIY renos was a bad idea, since they usually did a lousy job. In fact, he pointed out, a huge portion of his business came from repairing the botched home-reno experiments done by people who had no idea what they were doing.
After Holmes apologized for his "diarrhea of the mouth," his screed gave the producer an idea: Holmes should star in his own TV show, repairing homeowners’ DIY disasters and the shoddy work of shady contractors. Holmes on Holmes debuted on HGTV Canada in 2001; by 2004, the show was averaging 250,000 viewers an episode, a considerable number for a Canadian specialty channel. The beefy, tough-taking contractor had accidentally become a TV star.
Mike Holmes ditched his original producer for not thinking big enough
The success of Holmes on Homes kept growing, as did the popularity of its star. Already a hit on HGTV Canada, the show was eventually picked up by HGTV in the U.S., expanding his reach considerably. By 2005, Mike Holmes should have felt like he was on top of top of the world — yet he was dissatisfied. As Mike Quast, the TV exec who’d first discovered Holmes told The Globe and Mail, Holmes had become disenchanted with his producer.
According to Quast, Holmes invited him and crew member Pete Kettlewell to his home for a meeting. Holmes laid out his vision to expand his brand; the TV show, he explained, isn’t the be-all and end-all, but one prong of a larger enterprise, all with a goal of educating homeowners about the importance of hiring skilled tradespeople to ensure they wouldn’t be begging Holmes to fix lousy work down the road.
During that meeting in Holmes’ garage, the idea formed for the Holmes Group. Quast designated himself vice-president of business development, with a goal of building Holmes’ brand, while Kettlewell became vice-president of production, responsible for managing the TV show.
Mike Holmes ventured into the coffee business with a bold new partnership
With Mike Holmes’ media-and-construction empire beginning to take shape, 2006 brought him a huge opportunity. As The Globe and Mail recounted, Nestlé Canada was in the process of launching a new brand of its Nescafé instant coffee, and commissioned a poll asking Canadians to name the celebrity they most trusted. Holmes’ name was at the top of the list.
The company wanted Holmes to be at the center of an advertising campaign for its new product launch. Holmes Group VP of business development Mike Quast, however, wasn’t sure if Holmes would go for that, given that shilling coffee was a bit out of his wheelhouse. To feel him out, he asked Holmes what kind of coffee he drank. The answer: Nescafé’s instant coffee. The ensuing campaign was a massive success, with Holmes’ partnership with the company renewed multiple times.
As Holmes later told Sudbury.com, "When they approached me about the commercial, I said if they can relate the commercial to what I do and keep it real, I’d say yes to it, because the real truth is I drink Nescafé and have for years."
Mike Holmes launched his own line of workwear
In 2009, reported The Globe and Mail, Mike Holmes’ brand exploded. Not only was Holmes on Homes now being seen by American HGTV viewers, the Holmes Group also began an ambitious expansion that included an "ultra-green housing development," a Canada-wide home-inspection service, and a line of Holmes-branded workwear.
However, the latter didn’t have an easy path to the marketplace. According to The Globe and Mail, the Holmes Group partnered with a Winnipeg-based manufacturer. A stickler for quality, Holmes was insistent that he had final say on the design of products, rather than just slapping his moniker on the company’s existing merchandise. Once the Holmes Workwear products hit shelves, however, they were being marketed as "a premium version of the existing line," as opposed to its own standalone brand. Those issues, however, were ultimately sorted out.
A decade later, Holmes Workwear continues to be a successful venture, consisting of a wide array of items ranging from canvas work pants to tool belts to fire-resistant coveralls for welders. The reach of Holmes Workwear is wide, sold by retailers such as Amazon, Costco, Home Depot, and more.
Mike Holmes lent a hand in New Orleans after Katrina, all because of Brad Pitt
Mike Holmes lent a hand in the wake of the devastation that Hurricane Katrina unleashed on New Orleans. As Holmes told the Toronto Star, it all started when Brad Pitt founded his Make It Right Foundation, with a mission to build new homes for residents of the Lower Ninth Ward whose domiciles had been destroyed. There was one issue, however: Holmes holds the trademark to Make It Right, and even has it tattooed on his bicep.
Rather than seek an injunction, however, Holmes offered another solution: Pitt could use the name, and Holmes would provide his expertise. "He had his vision of doing it when I talked to him," said Holmes. "But he [knew] he didn’t know enough about it." That’s where Holmes came in, bringing his crew to the Big Easy to rebuild a home, which was filmed and aired as Holmes in New Orleans.
According to Holmes, if there was ever a city in need of his Make It Right philosophy, it’s New Orleans. When it came to home construction, he recalled, "so many people down there didn’t know what they were doing."
Mike Holmes became a leader in green building techniques
During Mike Holmes’ sojourn in NOLA, he became downright evangelical about the advantages of eco-friendly building products and techniques. "Everyone’s talking green," he told The Globe and Mail. "Well, let’s really go green! Why don’t we change the building process? If no one else is going to do it, I’m going to do it. Build a home that won’t burn, won’t mold, that’s termite-resistant."
In fact, Holmes went on to become a big proponent of net zero homes, houses that are "sustainable and energy efficient," as he wrote on the HGTV Canada website. A net zero home, he explained, "produces its own energy locally," with an end goal of producing as much energy as it uses, if not more.
In order to achieve this, Holmes wrote, "the building envelope must be highly efficient, with all cracks and gaps completely sealed to ensure there’s ‘virtually no air leakage,’ especially crucial with windows and doors. Building a green, energy-efficient home ‘requires an investment up front,’" Holmes concluded. "But it’s an investment that will pay you back every month for as long as you live in it. It really is the future of housing."
Mike Holmes launched his own magazine, but it didn’t end well
In 2009, Mike Holmes ventured into the world of publishing with the launch of Holmes: The Magazine to Make it Right. "This is the magazine homeowners need to help them with their renovations," Holmes said in a press release. "It’s the magazine I was searching for and couldn’t find. So, I had to make my own magazine, and Make it Right."
The magazine didn’t last long. According to the Toronto Star, Holmes got into a dispute with the publisher, Dauphin Media Group, which led to the magazine folding in 2011. Things became even worse when the publishing company ceased operations in 2012, leaving behind unpaid rent and ticked-off subscribers who’d been waiting to be reimbursed.
As Mike Holmes Group director of communications Liza Drozdov told the Star, their sole involvement in the magazine was "regulating a portion of the editorial content," meaning Holmes himself didn’t really have all that much to do with the publication. It was Dauphin, not the Mike Holmes Group, that was responsible for paying back subscribers. "Mike feels terrible about it," said Drozdov. "But it’s not his fault… he didn’t get any of that money."
Holmes on Holmes made Mike Holmes a homegrown hero in his native Canada
As Holmes on Holmes maintained its massive popularity with viewers in both Canada and the U.S., Mike Holmes continued to remain a wildly popular TV presence in his home and native land. In fact, a 2010 feature in Reader’s Digest listed him as among the 10 most trusted Canadians.
The list put Holmes in some pretty celebrated company. Other Canadians to earn the trust of their fellow citizens included Back to the Future star Michael J. Fox (a native of British Columbia), Queen Elizabeth II (who, while technically isn’t Canadian, is the country’s constitutional monarch), and celebrated CBC News anchor Peter Mansbridge.
In fact, Holmes took the No. 2 spot on the Reader’s Digest poll, with the publication noting that his "straight-forward approach" to fixing the botched construction projects of far less competent contractors "brings a sense of security that people appreciate." Topping the list, by the way, was Dr. David Suzuki, renowned "eco-champion," founder of the David Suzuki Foundation, and veteran host of long-running CBC nature documentary series The Nature of Things.
Mike Holmes was sued for millions by the CEO of his own company
In 2012, the Holmes Group lost one of its three founding members when Brian Quast — who was then CEO — parted ways with the company. According to a news release about his departure, the split was an amicable one.
A new CEO, Julius Brinkman was hired; when he left a mere two years later, his exit was far more acrimonious — and actually led him to sue Mike Holmes and two Holmes Group co-directors for a hefty $3.1 million. As the Calgary Herald reported, Brinkman alleged that his contract had been breached when the company failed to pay him five percent of the $15.5 million he’d raised, and also didn’t reimburse him for expenses that were "reasonably incurred." Other allegations in the suit included claims that Holmes’ company had allegedly "failed to establish a benefits program in which he could participate," as well has having "created a working environment designed to frustrate his efforts."
Holmes himself never commented on the lawsuit; given that the legal action didn’t generate any further news reports, it would appear the matter was settled privately, outside the courts.
Mike Holmes shared his wealth of knowledge in a comprehensive how-two manual
While Holmes magazine proved to be a bust, that didn’t deter Mike Holmes from making further attempts to set down his philosophy and knowledge in print. In 2006, he published his first book, Make It Right: Inside Home Renovation with Canada’s Most Trusted Contractor. He followed that up with a 2011 tome specializing in attics and basements, and another in 2013 focusing on kitchens and bathrooms.
In 2015, Holmes unveiled his magnum opus, The Holmes Manual, described as a "must-have guide for homeowners" that answers their "most common questions." Holmes dropped by Canadian talk show George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight to promote the book, and explained that the impetus for his manual emerged after spending years of being stopped by viewers in airports and gas stations or wherever they would happen to encounter him, asking him questions about the specific issues they were having with their homes. "It just made sense… let’s do a manual… this way, instead of reading the whole book — which a lot of people seem to not want to do anymore — they want an answer now," Holmes explained.
Mike Holmes’ recent shows have been all in the family
Mike Holmes’ children, Sherry Holmes and Mike Holmes Jr., first started appearing onscreen in 2013’s Holmes Makes It Right. The siblings have been a part of their father’s myriad television shows ever since, including the likes of Holmes Next Generation, Holmes 911, and Holmes and Holmes. Mike Jr. took center stage in 2014’s Mike’s Ultimate Garage, a two-hour special that put him in the driver’s seat to build his dad a sweet 1,800-square-foot garage/man cave; Mike Sr., however, was on hand to oversee the construction and offer advice, but stay hands off.
As Mike Sr. told the Ottawa Citizen, relinquishing control to his son took a Herculean effort. "It was very hard," he admitted. "I’m the guy that’s on a site from beginning to end. It’s the first time I’ve walked away and had someone else finish it." Meanwhile, Sherry accompanied her dad when he went to New Orleans, serving as a member of his construction crew. As she told the Times Colonist, the experience was "phenomenal," adding, "I would do it again in a heartbeat." Added Mike Sr., "I love working with my kids, watching them build on what they know and get better every day."
Make Holmes made his primetime debut on U.S. network television
Mike Holmes and his various TV series had been a staple on HGTV for years, in both the U.S. and his native Canada, but he had the opportunity to broadcast to his biggest audience yet with Home Free. That’s because the 2015 feel-good series didn’t air on HGTV, but on the Fox network.
In its review of the series, The Hollywood Reporter outlined the premise: nine couples competed to build "the ultimate dream home," restoring a ramshackle house in Atlanta for a needy family, with the poorest performing couple eliminated. Or so they thought; what actually took place was that the eliminated couple won the house they’d just renovated.
That wasn’t Holmes’ only experience with U.S. network television. In late 2020, a press release announced Fox was picking up Holmes Family Effect, a "heartwarming" new series in which Holmes and children perform surprise home makeovers for people who are leaders in their respective communities. "I am absolutely thrilled about bringing Holmes Family Effect to Fox," said Holmes, noting that it "was a very special series to film." And in 2021, Holmes teamed up with Windy City Rehab‘s Alison Victoria for Rock the Block‘s second season.
Mike Holmes built a TV empire with the motto Make It Right
Since first entering the realm of television back in 2001, Mike Holmes’ shows may have evolved, but his message has remained remarkably consistent. That shouldn’t be surprising, given that message is one he’s actually trademarked and sports on one of his biceps: Make It Right. Holmes’ commitment to quality workmanship has been unwavering, and is woven in the fabric of all his shows — and there have been a lot of them over the years.
In 2019, Holmes took another big step when he parted ways with HGTV and inked a big deal with Canadian media conglomerate Bell Media, corporate owner of Canada’s CTV network. "I’m absolutely thrilled about this new partnership with CTV," Holmes said in the announcement. "I look forward to bringing new content to CTV’s portfolio of networks and spreading the ‘Make It Right’ message with even more Canadians across the country."
While financial details of the deal weren’t publicized, it’s safe to assume it took big bucks to pull him away from HGTV, his television home of nearly 20 years. According to Celebrity Net Worth, Holmes’ wealth is estimated to be in the $30 million range.