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Charlie Donevan & Landon Bay… April FAB Community Profile

The FAB Community profile series features people who are prominent and involved members of the Frontenac Arch Biosphere region. Many residents of the FAB region are very passionate about the area and what makes it so unique. TI Life suggests you review their past profiles and be sure to sign up to learn more. 

Q. Tell us a bit about how Donevan’s Hardware got started.


It's kind of interesting... my grandfather was a farmer, and he used to walk from Fairfax - which is a little corner just north of Lansdowne. He walked to Gananoque with a sack of grain on his back. It must have weighed a couple hundred pounds - he was a big man. He got it ground at the grist mill in Gananoque. This would have been around 1860. He got to be friends with the owner of the grist mill, Mr. Britton. Eventually, Mr. Britton asked him to work for him in his general store. They got along so well that Mr. Britton took him on as a partner. Then in 1872, my grandfather bought out the business, and it became Donevan’s Hardware.

My grandfather had four children. When World War I came, three of the boys went overseas. One was a doctor, Fred, my father was Charles, and my other uncle was Keith. The other boy stayed with my grandfather to help with the store. All three brothers came back from the war, and the one brother who stayed home, died of the flu in 1918. So, when my father came back from overseas, he took over at the store to help my grandfather. Then I came into the business in 1947, after I graduated from Queen’s University. Right now my daughter Mary is working in the store, and I have some great grandchildren that might be interested in it.

Q. What do you enjoy about running a business in Gananoque? And what challenges do you face?


One of the nicest parts about doing business in Gananoque is that you get to meet so many people. We are the oldest family business in Gananoque. We are serving 3rd and 4th generation customers that come in from the islands every summer. Quite often I'll have an elderly man come into the store and say “I was in this store with my grandfather, when I was six years old”. It brings back memories for people, so the association is pretty nice.

We are in a big transition period right now, with the big box stores and dollar stores. It has changed the way business is done. Big changes. If you look at the main street, there's hardly anybody there, very few people. It’s the same all over the place. It means that we have to make big adjustments in business today.

Q. How did you become involved with Landon Bay?


A few of my friends and I, pretty well all church-connected, were very impressed with the lookout at the Landon Bay property. So, we thought ‘Gee, wouldn’t it be nice if we could have a family vacation centre, right here in the Thousand Islands.” We were interested in making the property available to anyone.

I think there were six of us initially, sitting around a table. Joe Galloway said we better get started, so he threw ten dollars on the table. Then we each threw down ten dollars. Then Joe said to me. “Take that to the bank and start an account”. And that was the start of the Landon Bay Vacation Centre.

Sixty dollars started the whole project. Eventually, we formed a limited company. It was a long process, but it was worthwhile, and I’m glad it worked out the way it did. Landon Bay was never intended to be anything other than non-profit. Everything done there was driven by volunteers.

Q. How was the Barbara Heck Foundation [now FAB Foundation] formed?


A. When the DuPont Company, near Maitland, bought the property on which the Heck house was sitting, they went first to the United Church of Canada, to see if they were interested in the house because of its historical value - Barbara Heck was the founder of Methodism in North America. The church declined, because they weren't too interested.

Two of the people involved were Rev. Newton Reid and Rev. Bill Lamb, and they both eventually came on the Board of Directors, of the Barbara Heck Foundation, which we formed. The long and the short of it was that the house was brought to Landon Bay, and it was eventually going to be rebuilt, as a historic site. It was a stone house, but the interior was all pine boards and pine trim - beautiful stuff. It was stored in a barn on the property. They got all the stone, and had architect’s drawings to put it up and rebuild it. But. some vandals decided, on the May 24th weekend, that they’d like to have a bon fire, and set the whole barn on fire.

We carried on with the Barbara Heck Foundation, and its main function was the programming at Landon Bay. So we carried on programming there from about 1960;  now John McLeod has carried on the programming, with his outdoor education (Nature Camp). He does a really good job with that. The Foundation is carrying on as well. Our charter has been transferred to the Frontenac Arch Biosphere (as the FAB Foundation), and the work will be carried on, I’m sure. So, it’s been a long process, but it all came together nicely.

Q. Is there a reason that you never left Gananoque?


St. Lawrence Skiff, when I was 2 months old. So, I’m a river rat. It gets into your blood. I still have a nice piece of property on Stave Island. I just love the river. It’s pretty hard to find any place as nice as the 1000 Islands. People tell me that when they travel. They come back and say “Well, it’s nice to be home, there’s nothing nicer than this area, anywhere”. So I guess that’s really what drew me in. Also, my grandfather was a pretty good citizen. He was mayor of the town at one time - pretty highly regarded. He was treasurer of the United Church for 30 years. He left a good legacy.

Q. What is your favourite place in the Frontenac Arch Biosphere?


A. It has to be the lookout at Landon Bay. It’s very inspirational. When you look out at the islands and river, you can't help but be inspired by the natural beauty of the area. It’s pretty unique, because of the diversity of the flora and fauna and the topography. The glacial action over a period of a few million years has really made a big impact on the land here.

Valleys and mountain ranges from the Laurentians to the Adirondacks. It was quite a big mountain range, and glaciers left the islands as stubs of mountains. Of course, it provides a wonderful habitat for birds and animals. The Landon Bay property has great biodiversity.

Originally published in the FAB Network, Amazing Places, FAB Experiences.   The Frontenac Arch is the ancient granite bridge, from the Canadian Shield, to the Adirondack Mountains. It’s incredibly rich natural environment and history was recognized in 2002, when it became a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, part of a world-wide network of 610 Biosphere Reserves, in 117 countries. FAB is dedicated to protecting globally important heritage, through sustainable community development.

By Hillary Hone

Hillary Hone, GIS Technician with the Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve, contributes to the series, Amazing Places, FAB Experiences.  A graduate with a Bachelor of Science, Environmental Science, from the University of Ottawa and has continued her studies with certificates from Sheridan College, Algonquin College and St. Lawrence College. 

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W. McGowan
Comment by: W. McGowan
Left at: 7:05 PM Saturday, April 18, 2015
Many memories of going into town with my Dad and stopping at Donovan's to get charts and hardware for various projects and repairs. Last time I was in Gananoque with Dad (2004?) we stopped at Donovan's and Mr. Donovan (Charlie) spent time talking with us. He remembered helping our family at the store when he was much younger. That was really special to have someone who knew family that I only knew through stories. Any rate on hot days after doing errands in town (as kids), we often could talk Dad into getting us an ice cream cone just before returning to my aunt's island. Those ice cream cones came from somewhere close to the docks and cost 5 cents well after cones elsewhere cost a whole lot more.
Jack Patterson
Comment by: Jack Patterson
Left at: 2:04 PM Monday, April 20, 2015
Lovely I also one who came as a six or so year old with my grandfather (Frank Breyer) into Donovan's. They, these 1,000 Island grandparents, came from New Castle (spelling?) Delaware- two days journey ... that first summer in 1924. Rented in the Lake Fleet Group. Then 2 years later, purchased an island. No boat- Joe Pulaw graciously and with a gratuity, likely- Joe knew what he was about, provided the Dorothy for transportation and took on this new family as summer guests for whom he lead the way whether, to the and around the, dock, in the garden or in avoiding shoals, etc. He a caretaker/Doctor of all water born needs. Bampy, as we called our grandfather, was at one time chair man of the summer resident's association. Wore his 'commodore' cap always when he went to town (which back then was mostly to Gan). Was even written about in an article in the fifties in the Gananoque Reporter, say- "The Mayor of the Thousand Islands". He/we ... liked that. So when we went into Donovan's one day and Charley you apparently were in the back and the front was otherwise uncovered, Bampy announces straight faced to the few customers thereabouts, "Folks, everything is free today!" Yikes. I looked around and didn't know whether to run or load my pockets. However, you knew your man and you came back to the front and quickly set things, including Frank Breyer, a-right. But I still have that memory and it wasn't the first time my grandfather pulled some such similar trick in my presence which often involved me a ten or eight or so impressionable boy ... or a brother ... or a cousin. Thank you so for more about Charley. He, all of our favorite.
Patrick Donevan
Comment by: Patrick Donevan
Left at: 5:29 PM Wednesday, February 10, 2016
Charlie is my Great Uncle, his brother was my grandfather, but not sure we've ever met. I think I need to pay a visit to Gananoque this summer to see the store and say hello to some relatives.
Truly aspirational to think of the dedication to the store and the community over so many decades.