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“I discovered boating when I was five years-old.”
“I’ll never forget the first fish my son speared.”
“We’ve never had a bad day on a boat.”
Such are emotional quotes from people living life more fully on our waterways.
For many wayfarers roaming the roads on our rivers’ edges, the tug of our waterways is unquenchable. It’s just a matter of time until they find themselves on a vessel one way or another.
OUR RENOWN WATERWAYS
The Thousand Islands dot the St. Lawrence like sprinkled gems–1,864 specifically. Not one island is like the other. Some appear lilliputian; others are majestic, their castles piercing the skyline. The Islands are legendary for good reason.
The Rideau River, a tributary of the St. Lawrence, is an entirely different experience. It is long and sinuous, equally beautiful; yet, more tranquil, more wild. Boaters travel its length crossing many historical locks disembarking to explore their attractions.
There is no question that boating in this bucolic region of Ontario is increasingly on travelers’ wish list. It brings families and friends together, far from the madness of modernity.
Once first-time boaters experience our waterways they tend to return. One of their first experiences may be as brief as a few hours on a boat line.
We present you three of the longest established and biggest marine players in our region offering afternoon delights up to the full boating lifestyle. A common thread among them is multi-generational family ownership.
We crown our story with a surprising woman, a tower of strength, overflowing with stories and facts with surgical detail on The Thousands Islands.
GANANOQUE BOAT LINE : McCarney Family
Tourists boarding one of Gananoque Boat Line‘s five vessels are handed free headsets. They can tune in with eight languages: Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, French and English. An audio presentation ensues triggered by GPS hotspots on the St. Lawrence.
This pristine boat line brings the world to Gananoque’s shores–a town with a population under 5,000. Visitors who embark quickly find themselves in and out of international waters, experiencing the famous, Thousand Islands.
The McCarney family owns and runs GBL. This writer enjoyed listening to Neil McCarney, General Manager, wax about The Thousand Islands experience.
“It is such a unique area, so beautiful, unspoiled,” McCarney shared, his voice softening. It seemed he was speaking of his first love.
Uncle Hal McCarney bought the company from its 1951 Founders in 1970 and began a transformation that had many saying, “He’s nuts.” His vision was larger than life; so, despite the scoffing, he built a ship for 372 passengers. He surely resonated with Noah.
He soon built a shipyard and expanded adding four more vessels–two with 500 passengers capacity. Ivy Lea is a second location that caters largely to Asian travelers. The Gananoque location caters to many Europeans; but, local visitors are no strangers.
McCarney and his son, Ross, are office bound these days, although both used to be at the helm. They rely on a hired crew to drive the boats and entertain guests.
Jaunts through the Islands can be as short as an hour or as long as five hours with a stop at the famous, beautifully restored Boldt Castle (when you disembark you need your passport.)
The evening opens a whole new experience. Out come the tablecloths, the dinner menu, musical performers and the dance floor on the second deck. It’s hard to beat this experience while floating into the sunset at 10 knots.
A Red Seal Chef offers a special menu on Friday night cruises accompanied by a musical duet performance–perfect for a special occasion. We’ve missed Valentine’s Day; but, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are on their way.
The Gananoque Boat Line experience is a catalyst for many, driving them toward a deeper marine experience, maybe renting, maybe buying. You could say, “they have dipped their toe in the water.”
LEN’S COVE MARINA : The Horsfall Family
About 45 minutes North of Gananoque, the charming village of Portland houses a considerable marine enterprise bubbling with all manner of services. Len’s Cove Marina is nestled in a quiet enclave on the Big Rideau, often overflowing with first-time visitors alongside perennial users.
The Village can supply all boaters’ needs from banking through liquor sales to groceries. The marina can feed its own, gas up its boaters, replenish ice and propane, and, always find a boat slip.
Fishing gear in its shop is a logical offer since fishing enthusiasts fill-up the marina’s cabins perennially, many from the U.S. A rare feature, a concrete salt-water swimming pool is encircled by the residences.
Boat rentals are the first step in exploring a new life adventure and Len’s Cove offers this by the hour, the day or the week. Up the road on Highway 15, Len’s Cove also stocks numerous new and used boats for sale, on a whopping 20 acres.
The aerial shot below shows the marina’s scale and dense activity at the height of the season. Sweep your eyes from centre left, The Galley‘s red roof, to the tree line on the right. This is the marina’s impressive breadth, all 15 acres.
Len’s Cove Marina is a third generation family business (MICD 5-star Certified Marina), headed by General Manager, Sean Horsfall. Grandparents, Len and Shirley Horsfall, founded the marina is 1958 (good story). As we spoke, Horsfall guided my eyes to the rooftop of his home on the lower right side of the aerial photo above.
“I can sit on my deck and see the whole marina,” he sparkles. His affection for the marina is palpable. “It’s not work,” he adds. Horsfall does not separate the marina from his personal life.
Horsfall pivots all day long from boat sales through boat rentals, slip rentals, storage space, service parts to Tour Host–an unwitting Concierge to all guests.
He is also a Restauranteur. The Galley hops all day and all night with a maximum 88 guests at any given time. The fare is comfort food. The dress code includes flip flops and swimming trunks. The Beach Boys quaffing their 1966 single, “Good Vibrations,” defines this place.
“You can see chairs lining the docks in the evening,” he adds. This too is vibrant social space–beyond The Galley. “It just happens,” every night.
The whole Horsfall family is engaged at Len’s Cove. Valerie volunteers when not leading Sweet’s Corners Elementary School as Principal. Horsfall’s tone becomes tender when speaking of his children–they are the 4th Horsfall generation.
“Lera is my marketing genius,” he gushes. “My children are growing up on the lake–without cell phones!” Lera, 12, is “big” in gymnastics while Nathan, 14, plays with the Renegades football team. Will they carry-on the Horsfall legacy?
ED HUCK MARINE : The Huck Family
“Hucks” is how locals tend refer to this seven-acre patch of land on the St. Lawrence. This portends, Ed Huck Marine is more than a big player in the sale of recreational vessels. It reaches beyond its physical boundaries in the village of Rockport. It’s a community of mariners and friends.
This village may be tiny but in season it swells with a melting pot of cultures, visitors and locals.
“You want to see this place on Wednesday night,” Scott MacCrimmon exclaims, referring to the neighboring, Cornwall Pub. “Everybody wears a pair of jeans on “wing night”. It’s a real mix of people. The place is packed.”
This writer confirms the river’s magnetism once again. It doesn’t hurt that Ed Huck is ideally located in the heart of The Thousand Islands, a few breast-strokes from Tar Island and 1.5 miles from U.S. land.
Fred Huck founded the boat building business in 1889. It evolved into a key North American purveyor of vessels, “Sea-Doos to 55-footers.” Among their stock, the Mercedes of brands, Boston Whaler, places Ed Huck in a premium position in Canada.
Ed Huck’s relationships are all long-term, whether buying a boat, looking for a seasonal slip, service or storage. It’s not a place to park for the day and sip a margarita. Their stock-in-trade is realizing your dream and getting you safely into the waters. One anomaly to their offerings is the Scenic Lodge, a large home for short-term rental; this is handy for overseas customers.
MacCrimmon is accredited as “Certified Professional Yatch Broker” dealing with well-heeled customers worldwide; but, he is equally enthralled to sell a used boat or rent boat slips.
“Peter is the tech between the two,” MacCrimmon qualifies. Johnston had the smarts to book an impressive, high level web domain long ago, “Marina.ca.” Not to be outdone, the three live webcams on their site make for an amusing peek at the river and the marina. Click here and watch live 24/7. Hucks had to increase bandwidth as the high traffic to its webcam page, used to crash their site. It’s a rare opportunity to view the conditions on the St. Lawrence.
The business passed down four generations, to great grand daughters, Heather and Jody Huck, now married to Scott MacCrimmon and Peter Johnston respectively. The two brothers-in-law were former marine dealers and met at Ed Huck–where they met their brides. Today, they run the operations. Peter’s son, Sam works the summers, priming a fifth generation.
Every morning and evening they make their way home along the 1000 Islands Parkway t0 Mallorytown. It is a scenic commute like no other.
In 2017, a third owner bought into the business, their long-standing contractor in long-term boat storage, Mark Dalton; so, the gene pool is diluting a little.
For many, it starts with dipping their toe in the water, a non-committal few hours of pleasure on our waters. As the experience gnaws at their memories, renting a vessel seems the next best thing. Finally, purchasing one is a natural outcome. These three families are inextricably connected in this evolution–a yearning to be water borne again (an allusion to our amniotic beginnings.)
DOCKSIDE LIVING The 1000 ISLANDS SHOPPE : April Fraser
This story would not be complete without April Fraser, Founder, Dockside Living, The 1000 Islands Shoppe, a purveyor of all things boating at Brockville’s renown, Tall Ships Landing. Fraser opened the shop March 22, 2015. This concluded its owner Simon Fuller’s search for an entrepreneur to serve boating enthusiasts with unique nautical artifacts.
It was Thousand Islands photographer, Ian Coristine, and his partner, Lynn, who introduced Fraser to Fuller. Small world.
Fraser speaks of Fuller fondly, “I could not have a better partner and friend.” She met Fuller a few years into her battle with a rare cancer, the same which took Rob Ford’s life. This beautiful woman, wife, mother to three children, was given a month to live four years ago. Her faith and her attitude helped her sail through these difficult times. Starting a business is counter-intuitive; but, this may have offset her dire prognosis. Fraser is a pillar of strength.
Fuller completed his father’s request that he leave a legacy; so, Tall Ships Landing was conceived. It is a colourful, aesthetically pleasing and large presence on Brockville’s waterfront. It includes a marina, 21 floors of condominiums, a hotel, a private club, a restaurant, a cafe, the famous Aquatarium and finally, the large shop, Dockside Living. Fraser switches gears on occasion, showing the condominiums to potential buyers. Evidently, Fraser is a key figure at Tall Ships.
“We have a canoe couch and a show-stopping stateroom bar,” the ebullient shop-owner exclaims. As Fraser runs through the shop’s prized items, it becomes clear, that Dockside is the only one of its kind in the region.
“We are the largest bricks and mortar seller for Authentic Models in the Western Hemisphere,” states Fraser. “For high-end boaters, they define grandeur and elegance.” The company aims to challenge the mind as well as the eye, with nostalgia, intrigue, and beauty.
The shop is stuffed with quality gifts under $100: nautical pillows, gourmet foods in the pantry, linens, classic boat cribbage boards, nautical jewelry by Kiel James Patrick, non-slip wine glasses, Ian Coristine books, prints and post cards, books about the river…
Fraser is a valuable promoter of the Islands. She seems to know them all. Her Membership at the exclusive Grenadier Island Country Club is a great resource. If you want to learn a thing or two, pop-in and discover the Islands between throw pillows and ship models. Then, grab a cappuccino next door and enjoy the spectacular view under an umbrella.