This is my story. I grew up in Toronto, went to Queen’s University in Kingston, graduating in 1962 in Engineering. My first job was at GTE Automatic Electric (Canada) Ltd. in Brockville. My wife, Mavis, grew up near Athens Ontario and also went to Queens. We married in 1963, and started life in a second-floor apartment house on Havelock Street under the Brockville water tower. In 1966 with some parental help, we bought a house on Butterfield Place. Our two boys were born there six years apart. After 13 years at GTE I moved to Ottawa to work at Nortel.
In 1967, we started boating in the 1000 Islands. A 16 ft. fishing boat was followed by a 17 ft. outboard Starcraft Cuddy Cabin Cruiser. I built a galley for it and we cruised the Trent-Severn Waterway to Georgian Bay (see photo). I joined the Brockville Yacht Club and have maintained membership ever since. In 1971, we bought a 26 ft. Fjord cabin cruiser we named Seawon (after the C-1 EAX system I helped develop at AE) and we cruised both the Trent-Severn and Rideau waterways. Many weekends throughout the summer were spent on the Islands and we made many friends from Brockville.
Ten years later in the summer of 1977, my Nortel boss said we want you to move to Nashville, Tennessee. My first reaction was “Where’s Nashville?”
I started work in the Nashville office right away and had time to look for a home. Homes were less expensive than in Brockville and large houses readily available. I looked at 45 houses and bought the 45th. On the day in early December, when we were to move, there was a snow storm in Ottawa and the company plane couldn’t land there. We took a taxi to Montreal and met the corporate jet on the tarmac. We loaded the family including our dog, into the plane, and one hour later, we landed in Nashville and were met by the company office manager. Surprise, it was a nice warm day.
However, it was a sad day when we put the Seawon II up for sale in 1978. For the next 22 years we were boat-less. Some of the pain was alleviated by building a swimming pool in the back yard of our second Nashville home. It was beautiful to look at but rarely used as the kids had left home for college. In 2012 we downsized to a home in a 1928 subdivision with sidewalks close to downtown.
Back to Boating
In 1999, I decided to buy a Grand Banks Trawler, so we could do the Great Loop (see Bob Duthie story in TIL) and get back to boating. For 17 years since 1999 we kept our boat, Katy Leigh, a Grand Banks Classic 36 ft. trawler at a marina on Kentucky Lake, also known as the Tennessee River (see photo). After completing the Great Loop, [How the Thousand Islands Inspired Me to Cruise America’s Great Loop] we spent most weekends from March 15th to November 15th on the boat. We would drive 110 miles from home Friday afternoon, live on the boat, and come home Monday morning.
Retirement is an Obsolete Concept
I am a great believer that retirement is an obsolete concept. It is better to think about changing your career rather than sitting around watching TV. I am now on my 3rd career. The first was 13 years with AE developing a computer-controlled telephone system. My second career was 14 years with Nortel in product line management and general management.
In 1989 I started my third career as an entrepreneur. My company is now called Duthie Learning. I am still at it after 28 years. Duthie Learning began before the Internet and worked with, Economic Developers to build marketing presentations on why a given community could be the right place to locate a business. Today we do Content Marketing
Time for a Lifestyle Change
In 2016, we needed a lifestyle change. I woke up one morning and the plan popped into my head. We would sell the Katy Leigh and buy a condo in the new Tall Ships Landing building in Brockville. In 2008 we attended a reunion of people that had worked for Automatic Electric. Mayor Ben TeKamp, a former AE employee, had arranged a breakfast meeting where the vision and plans for Tall Ships Landing were unveiled. I was very impressed and learned there would be a sort of science center (Aquatarium) with an auditorium I might use to give talks. There was also an architectural quirk in Tall Ships; each bathroom throne had a window that looked through the bedroom and out over the River. Who would ever think of that?
In 2016, Tall Ships Landing was finished, so we could buy a condo unit that would be our summer home and an investment. We had a number of investments that mailed statements every month and showed whether the balance was going up or down. Buying a condo would diversify our investments with property we could enjoy, which would be a lot more interesting than reading bank statements.
Mavis was overjoyed with this plan for three reasons: first we wouldn’t be spending so much time in boats. Second, we would have cooler summer weather than Nashville, and third, we would be near the town (Athens) where she grew up. I was thrilled because we would be on the water and in the town where my career in computers and communications started at AE. We still had friends living in Brockville whom we knew in the 60s and 70s, so we would renew those friendships. We would travel back and forth from Nashville to Brockville in our motorhome.
Implementing the Plan
In September 2016, we toured the available units. We chose a one-bedroom unit on a north east rear corner with a good east view of the River and a wide view of the Brockville downtown skyline. The deal was closed in October. Having never bought a condo, I learned it is not like buying a house. Buying a new condo is far more complicated. You get two inches of legal documents at the closing. Residents with experience told me it takes a minimum of five years before all the battles between the condo owners and the developer of the building work-out who pays for what.
Photo by Ian Coristine, courtesy Tall Ships Landing
We spent a lot of time trying to decide what to do about a car. We had to have a small car because of the size of the parking space we bought. However, after learning about all the complications of buying and owning a car in Canada that you are going to use for just three months per year, you conclude it doesn’t make sense. It is much better to just rent a car from Enterprise. The breakeven point between buying or renting is seven years.
After 4 months experience living in our condo, I have found we prefer to walk everywhere and King Street has everything we need. It is rare, now that we have our unit furnished, that we need to drive up to the malls on Parkedale Avenue. In one month, I used less than $25 for gas.
Mavis decided we should have a Before Dinner Party for all the residents on our floor and a few other people on other floors we knew. It turned out this was the first-floor party held in the building in the 3 years since the first residents moved in. Everyone on our floor and more from other floors came. We all had a great time getting to know our neighbors. Many had moved from Ottawa as Brockville is a great place to retire.
A Day in Our 1000 Islands Life
Most days I go to Buds on the Bay for breakfast with the Geezers networking group. Then I walk up the hill to King Street and buy a paper or two at Ritchie’s Retail Wholesale. There are three more great breakfast places. Boboli’s has really fresh toasted bread with jam and decaf coffee. Tait’s Bakery sells fresh bread in the store, provides breakfast and lunch, and has donuts. If you wait till after 1:00PM the donuts are half price. The third store, Cosies, opened last year and offers lots of tea choices and marvelous scones with jam. It is packed every day from 9-4 but closed Mondays.
The beauty of living in Brockville is that it hasn’t changed much since the 1960s (aside from plant closings). Tall Ships Landing is probably the biggest change along with the Railway Tunnel reopening. (Grand-reopening-of-Brockville-railway-tunnel) Just about everything we need, we can walk to on King Street. There are several clothing stores and Limestone & Ivy imports clothing from England. I bought an all wool sweater which is the warmest sweater I have ever owned. Another small store on the north side of King Street, Dollar Bazaar Plus, has an unbelievable collection of low cost goods, from plumbing, to hardware, to electronics, to fake flowers.
Heading west on King Street is the CIBC bank, right where it was our bank in the 60s. It is so great to walk to CIBC from our condo unit.
A little farther west is the Public Library, with all kinds of books and DVDs you can borrow. There is a large drugstore, Shoppers Drug Mart, that takes up a whole block on King Street. Farther West is Chumleigh’s, selling used movie DVDs. We watch a lot of movies on TV.
The Brockville Arts Center shows recent movies and offers live entertainment. The building was beautifully restored a few years ago. The only downside is you can’t get popcorn. When desperate we drive to the theater in the shopping mall that does have buttered popcorn and drinks
Next to the Arts Center is Metro. This is one of the best grocery stores we have ever shopped at. It takes a while to find everything, but it is all good. We bought Metro’s plastic bags to carry our groceries back to Tall Ships Landing.
There is a network of paved trails that loop around Brockville, almost without breaks. You can go as far as 6.8 miles or 11 km, one way on these trails. On the way east to Tall Ships Landing, we can stop by the Brockville Yacht Club, for a simple sandwich lunch or go to the Mill. The Mill is one of the best restaurants in Brockville. It is in an old mill building that dates to 1852 beside the mill stream. The Brockville Museum is on our way west and well worth a visit showing the history of Brockville. The Brock Trail now runs right beside the St Lawrence River and there are two public boat launches there with parking. The trail runs beside the River and Hardy Park. There are three restaurants in the Tall Ships Landing, a shop, and the Aquatarium. This is an adventure science center for all ages with rope climbing, films, aquariums with local fresh water fish, a boat simulator, rowing race simulator, and a group of otters!
What’s Next for the 1000 Islands
We have covered a lot of my history since I first lived in Brockville and after we moved to the USA, in 1977. The world has changed a great deal with corporations becoming global and the power of the Internet. People are living longer, and the old norm that you had to retire at 65 is obsolete. Now you can work as long as you want and do the kind of things that you enjoy.
Attracting industry is an economic development strategy that doesn’t work well any more for small towns. Every year we read about former industries in Brockville closing or moving. The large AE plant I started work life in is now a large warehouse and distribution center for the LCBO and office space for start-ups. Brockville and the 1000 Islands have become retirement communities and tourist attractions.
Tall Ships Landing, the Aquatarium, and Tunnel are bringing busloads of visitors into town. Many stores on King Street are thriving, and the empty spaces are filling-in. Two hotels are being built on King Street in restored buildings. More events such as the spectacular hydroplane races will bring in more visitors. Our condo has a magnificent view of the fireworks on the 1st of July that we will enjoy for years to come. In Nashville, we have to go downtown with 150,000 people, pay $25 to park, and walk a mile or more to see the fireworks.
What’s next for the 1000 Islands? I don’t know, but I do know that we have a good life and enjoy it as we know life here doesn’t get any better.
By Bob Duthie
Bob Duthie is a writer and photographer for Heartland Boating Magazine, and a speaker at Passagemaker’s TrawlerFest. He maintains a membership in the Brockville Yacht Club and the Antique Boat Museum, in Clayton, NY.