"Brockville’s Waterfront" first appeared in the Brockville Recorder and Times on August 30, 2008 and subsequently was published in the September 29th issue of “Island Treasures”, distributed in the Canadian Sector of the Thousand Islands by Sun Media. Kim Lunman, staff reporter for the Recorder and Times, captured the spirit and enthusiasm of Simon Fuller, the Tall Ships Landing developer, and we at TI Life thank publisher, Bob Pearce for permission to reprint this story.
Brockville's waterfront with the Tall Ships Landing project superimposed.
Photo courtesy of Brockville Museum.
Although not dated, this photograph was probably taken in the early 1960s.
One of its most important features of the new building project, will be the creation of the Maritime Discovery Centre of the Thousand Islands (MDC). A public meeting was held in Brockville on October 23rd, hosted by Brockville’s Mayor David Henderson. A decidedly pro-MDC crowd converged, voicing their support for the Tall Ships Landing project being built on the riverfront. TI Life will report in future issues on the progress of this regionally important development. – stay tuned…
The model of the Tall Ships Landing, City of Brockville.
by Kim Lunman
The City of the Thousand Islands may soon be known as something else: Niagara-on-the-River.
Today, Brockville's waterfront - once an industrial site better known for its smokestacks and coal dust than its view - is being internationally touted for its natural beauty and potential as a jewel destination in the Thousand Islands. While the manufacturing sector in eastern Ontario and Brockville continues to suffer a downturn from plant closures, many say the key to the local economic future literally lies in our own backyard: the St. Lawrence River.
The man behind Brockville's largest downtown development project - Tall Ships Landing and the Maritime Discovery Centre - said the city's waterfront has been a well-kept secret that needs to be shared with the rest of the world.
Photo Kim Lunman © Recorder and Times
Fuller is creating a visionary project on Brockville’s Waterfront.
"I never really thought I lived an hour away from one of the country's most vibrant coastlines," said Ottawa developer Simon Fuller. He sailed as a youth in tall ships along the St. Lawrence River past the Brockville waterfront on voyages through the Thousand Islands. But he really discovered Brockville several years ago when he learned the heritage building designed by his great grandfather Thomas Fuller - once Canada's chief architect - on the city's historic Court House Avenue, was up for sale on eBay.
Simon Fuller renamed the heritage building the Thomas Fuller Building after his great grandfather. Thomas Fuller designed Parliament Hill's Centre Block and Library of Parliament, New York State's capitol building in Albany and more than 160 government buildings across Canada, including the 1884 Brockville building used as a post office and customs house.
The building had fallen into disrepair and in its later years was even being used as a flea market when the architect's great-grandson came to the rescue. The Fuller Group of Companies bought and restored the building.
Impressed by the results, civic officials and politicians took Fuller around the city to look at other opportunities. That kindled an interest in building something important of his own here.
It made perfect sense to him to build on property across from the city's landmark Blockhouse Island next to the marina.
"To me, it was the logical gateway between the city and the river," he said, noting downtown buildings on King Street face the street instead of the waterfront.
"The city never did have a front door on the river," he said. "There really needs to be a sense of place. Like Niagara-on-the-Lake, we could be a Niagara-on-the-River."
Tall ships and buildings are an integral part of Fuller's past and future. He is the descendant of four Thomas Fullers. His great-great-grandfather, Thomas Fuller, was the mayor of Bath, England. His grandfather Thomas W. Fuller also served as Canada's chief architect in his father's footsteps. Like him, Simon Fuller followed his own father's path with a passion for tall ships and the family's construction company.
His father, the decorated naval officer Thomas G. Fuller, was known as "the Pirate of the Adriatic" for his small boat warfare during the Second World War. The late Capt. Fuller built a successful construction and real estate business, the Fuller Construction Group. Fuller founded Bytown Brigantine in Ottawa with two tall ships, Black Jack and the Fair Jeanne, that operate sailing programs for youth. The 41-year-old father of two himself once sailed the St. Lawrence River as a 17-year-old captain of the Black Jack.
The Fair Jeanne will be moored when in port in Brockville, at Tall Ships Landing.
His family business intersects all generations it seems. In 2002, the Thomas Fuller Construction Company was awarded a contract to renovate the Library of Parliament.
But today he is turning his attention away from the past to the future of Brockville's waterfront. He is marketing Thousand Islands living with advertisements for his upscale Tall Ships Landing condominiums in newspaper and magazines across North America, even trademarking the term "cottage-iniums." www.tallshipslanding.com
The 18-storey 72-unit condominium opposite Blockhouse Island is being marketed as much for its suites' casual elegance as its backdrop of the river and as a destination for a laid-back waterfront lifestyle with private boat slips and a restaurant.
Despite several years of negotiations and a failed challenge by opponents to the Ontario Municipal Board, Fuller is confident the development of Tall Ships Landing and the Maritime Discovery Centre (MDC) will result in a revival of the riverfront.
Proponents believe the $60-million development is the cornerstone in the city's future as an anchor to attract other businesses to the downtown.
"The waterfront is the main feature of the city," said Paul Fournier, a Brockville lawyer who also serves a member of the MDC steering committee. "We now have a vision for developing the waterfront and a market for it. It's the first time I've seen the will and the means to make it happen."
The condo units range in price from $375,000 to $1.1 million. The development will include a 33-suite boutique hotel, a restaurant, as well as retail space while the MDC tourist attraction is expected to draw an estimated 40,000 people a year. Construction could start as early as next year.
"The really good news is Brockville can now look to the river to help replace industry," said Fuller, citing tourism and the downtown renaissance with other residential developments including the retirement resort The Wedgewood.
While Fournier said it's important to protect the Brockville waterfront, he said development is also needed for the downtown's revival.
"You don't get many chances like this, and this is a chance we have to take. The momentum has been put in place."
Tall ships will also play a prominent role in the attraction with Fuller's Fair Jeanne being based here and other tall ships visiting when on the river. Unlike a museum, the MDC wants to position itself as a place that is very much a showcase for this unique region with an aquarium and interactive exhibits highlighting Thousand Islands' history such as shipwrecks and the Gilded Age.
Artist’s rendition of the Maritime Discovery Centre of the Thousand Islands, located on the complex of Tall Ships Landing.
"We also want Brockville to be an ambassador port for tall ships," said Fuller, who has donated $1.5-million to the tourist attraction. He said the area has many selling points, including the fact it is located in the Frontenac Arch Biosphere, one of only 14 UNESCO-designated biospheres across Canada.
Meanwhile, Tall Ships Landing is targeting three markets: Brockvillians, including those who have moved away and want to return; Toronto, Montreal and New York residents already familiar with the Thousand Islands; and those in Ottawa who may not be aware of the region despite being a short drive away.
Brockville Mayor David Henderson, who rowed on the river in high school and swam at Centeen Park as a child, says there has to be development downtown for the city's future but there must also be a balance to protect its waterfront parks like St. Lawrence Park, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. "We could in 10 years time have this really dynamic downtown core with access to the waterfront," he said. "I want it to have the benefits of Niagara-on-the-River for the people who grew up here."
The city is offering tax incentives and property tax rebates to encourage redevelopment of old industrial sites. The Moorings and Downtown West are two other residential developments underway downtown.
The developments mark a turning point in the waterfront's history and quite a change from its days as an industrial magnet for plants such as the Central Canada Coal Company, Smart Foundry and St. Lawrence Boat Engines.
"Blockhouse Island has changed the most of any of the waterfront parks," said Bonnie Burke, curator and director of the Brockville Museum.
It was once an actual island with a blockhouse on it but was never used for military purposes, she said. It was also known as Hospital Island in the 1830s for people on ships with cholera who stayed there in an isolation hospital. In the earlier part of this century, factories lined the waterfront.
"I remember when there used to be a pickle factory down there," said Burke. She said an attraction like the MDC will be a boon to the downtown, including the museum, Canada's oldest railway tunnel, the Brockville Arts Centre and other tourist attractions. "We need them as a drawing card to bring more people into the community," said Burke.
The city is also hoping to have some kind of partnership with the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, N.Y., the largest freshwater nautical museum in the world. Similar plans in Gananoque fell through but Henderson said there is a potential for some kind of cross-border initiative between Brockville and the Clayton museum, which displays Canadian boats in its exhibits.
"It would be a one-two punch for bringing tourists in," said Henderson. "We really want to focus on downtown and the waterfront. It could be the envy of everywhere."
Kim Lunman is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose work has appeared in The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Reader's Digest, The Calgary Herald and other newspapers. She has returned to her hometown of Brockville, "City of the 1000 Islands," where she is a staff writer and photographer for the Recorder and Times.