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Retirement Want to retire near water? Try Brockville, the river city

Lifelong sailing enthusiasts, Patricia Capitain and her husband Francois Lacroix moved from Montreal to just west of Brockville, to a hamlet called Ivy Lea where they enjoy their retirement on “the wonderful river.”

This is the sixth of seven articles about Canadian communities that may appeal to 50-plus people – readers' picks of seven great places for retirement. Do you have a favourite place for retirement? Tell us in the comments section.

It was the river that first drew Patricia Capitain to Brockville, Ont.

A lifelong sailing enthusiast, Ms. Capitain, 73, and her husband Francois Lacroix, 72, would spend summer holidays sailing down the St. Lawrence River from their home in Montreal to Brockville and the Thousand Islands region of eastern Ontario (near the northeast corner of Lake Ontario). They always hoped to move to the area someday, Ms. Capitain says.

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Then one rainy summer in 1998, when everything was soaked on the boat, they went to look at property.

The couple met a Brockville real estate agent and found eight acres of waterfront land just west of the city, in a hamlet called Ivy Lea. They bought it, built a house on the property and began spending weekends at their waterfront retreat while living and working in Montreal where Ms. Capitain was a psychotherapist and Mr. Lacroix was an engineer.

In 2009, the couple retired, sold their Montreal home and moved permanently to Ivy Lea.

"It is an ideal retirement place for people who like slow-paced living along our mighty river and the vast areas of farmland," Ms. Capitain says. "We have the Brockville Arts Centre, we have nice restaurants around. We have a lovely library, which is important for me, because I am very much into writing and reading."

The move to Ivy Lea even inspired a new occupation for Ms. Capitain. In her 60s, she started taking creative writing courses at Brockville's St. Lawrence College. She met four like-minded women and co-founded a writer's group called Writer's Ink that is still going strong. She also had a children's novel published.

"I had a very busy practice in Montreal, and suddenly here I am in Ivy Lea, with a wonderful river in front of me and eight acres behind me with a cliff and a marsh," she says. "I needed to fill my time, make a new life for myself, so I took some courses at the college and fell into writing. It was my favourite hobby, I would say."

Ms. Capitain says she also appreciates that Brockville is so close to bigger urban centres.

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"It takes just under three hours to be in downtown Toronto, just over an hour to Ottawa, two hours to Montreal," she says. "It's so easy to get to any one of the big cities, so we can still take in what we want there, go to museums or restaurants or whatever we want."

Brockville's proximity to major cities is one of the reasons it's become so attractive to the over-50 crowd, says David Paul, director of economic development for Brockville.

"I can be at the Ottawa Senators game in an hour, and I can also be at the airport in Ottawa in an hour for a flight out, so it's pretty civilized from that perspective," Mr. Paul says.

The city has seen an influx of "zoomers," says Mr. Paul, referring to people older than 50 who aren't necessarily fully retired yet, but are interested in establishing a home-based business or telecommuting, with an eye toward finding a place for retirement.

"Some of our metrics have identified that people from the National Capital Region, the Ottawa-Gatineau region are coming down here," he says. "We've had quite a few people relocate here from Quebec in the last 15-20 years when there was a bit of unrest politically in the province."

Brockville is one of Canada's oldest cities, first settled by English speakers in 1785 by American refugees. Though historically it's been known as a manufacturing town, tourism is a major industry, with visitors wanting to sail, kayak or cruise the vast network of picturesque islands in its waters, or do some of the best freshwater shipwreck diving in the world (the region is located in the UNESCO Frontenac Arch biosphere site).

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The city owns 16 islands with beaches, docking, picnicking and overnight camping facilities, Mr. Paul says.

"You can leave work at five and be sipping wine, enjoying a barbecue, watching ocean liners and having a campfire. Then you can be home by 11 p.m.," he says.

Waterfront homes can run to more than a $1-million, and waterfront condos (like the new Tall Ships Landing complex) start at $300,000, running up to $1.25-million for a penthouse.

Inland homes are decidedly more affordable – the average price of homes in September in the Rideau-St. Lawrence area (which includes Brockville, Kemptville and Smiths Falls, plus the towns of Athens, Merrickville, Lanark, Perth and Prescott) was about $217,936.

"We are steeped in history and heritage, so we have a lot of architecture that is very inviting," says Mr. Paul, noting the circa-1858 Brockville Arts Centre and the Brockville Public Library, built in 1904 with a grant from Andrew Carnegie.

When Chris Stesky, 67, and her husband Bob, 69, moved to Brockville in 1989, they were hoping to tap into some of that history. They sold their house in Mississauga and bought an 1840s stone farmhouse in a rural area just north of the city.

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"We had lived in a planned community called Erin Mills, designed to be beautiful and convenient. But it was not real. We wanted a place that was real," Ms. Stesky says.

She found a job at the Brockville newspaper, while Mr. Stesky did computer programming out of their home. Ms. Stesky joined the local Women's Institute and the couple wrote the Brockville Museum's newsletter for nearly a decade.

"Bob and I came from small town backgrounds and then we spent all our adult lives in cities, Boston and Toronto," she says. "I think we were both looking for something like our childhood in small towns, and that's why Brockville appealed to us."

Now that they have retired, Ms. Stesky says they enjoy the local arts scene, the farmers' market, and the fact that Brockville is a walkable city with plenty of parks.

To keep pace with aging zoomers, Brockville is investing in health-care infrastructure including a $120-million expansion for the Brockville General Hospital, Mr. Paul says.

"We are going to have some minor cancer treatments that can be handled right here in the community," he says. "Another key carrot is we're between two major world-class health and cancer centres in Kingston and Ottawa, so the advantage is you can get a time for an operation or treatment much more quickly because you have two options.

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"They can also pop across the river at Ogdensberg, N.Y., and get an MRI or a hip replacement quicker," Mr. Paul says. "They will have to pay a bit more, but the option is there to do it."

Ms. Capitain says she has been impressed by the availability of medical services during her time in Ivy Lea. "Brockville has its own hospital with many specialists who do not have a six-month waiting period."

Though she and Mr. Lacroix are content to stay in their Ivy Lea home for now, Ms. Capitain says that in 10 or 15 years down the road they may move to a condo on the water.

"It's the closest thing to having the feeling that you are living on the river, but you don't have to do all the work any more."

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