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Kate Fincham, 34, grew up on boats. She used to sail as a kid and later worked as a sailing instructor for a year. After university, she spent three years working as a stewardess on a privately owned 150-foot sailing yacht, part of an 8-person crew. Being on water makes sense to her. But now instead of just working on a boat, she lives on one.
Like many in Toronto, Kate wasn’t aware that there were houseboats or floating homes in the GTA until she came across an article about it. She was intrigued by the lifestyle and went to see a houseboat that was for sale in the summer of 2020. The second time she viewed it, she was positive that she wanted to take the plunge.
She was living with two roommates at Dundas/Ossington and felt it was time she had her own place, but also knew she couldn’t pay Toronto’s rent prices every month.
In November 2020, Kate moved into her current home: a one-bedroom houseboat at Bluffers Park Marina in Scarborough. She is part of a small community of about two dozen houseboats and floating homes. Her home sits on steel pontoons, and, like all houseboats, is docked but able to propel through the water and steer to another location if needed. Some of her neighbours have floating homes, which are homes that are built on concrete barges and docked at marinas, and that would need to be towed to be moved.
This floating home community was built around the year 2000, with ensuing debates at that time about whether they should be allowed to remain. It was decided that they would, but no further floating homes are allowed in Toronto.
With the assistance of her brother and other handy family members, Kate made small changes to the houseboat to maximize storage space, such as changing out the old kitchen cabinets for recessed ones. The whole space has an uncluttered, cozy feel, especially when the wood stove is burning and you’re gazing out at the winter landscape. Kate works from home as a marketing content supervisor at a corporate interiors company, so she spends a lot of time facing that view.
Some of Kate’s neighbours use their homes as cottages, but others like her live in them year-round. This means keeping firewood in her living room, and other little necessary tasks. She uses dock bubblers, which keep the ice away from her houseboat by bringing warm water to the surface.
It’s only occasionally that she forgets to put the bubblers in, and then it’s time to get out the axe to chop the ice. Although inclement weather might be a concern for some, Kate says that they don't get huge waves where they’re docked. When the wind blows from the east her houseboat swings a lot, which she describes as being gently rocked to sleep.
The first year Kate moved into the houseboat, her pipes froze. She ended up having eight people from the community come by to help her defrost them. Kate has come to know their little community as kind, helpful, and even “bustling.” They do activities including Christmas carolling, potlucks, New Years and Thanksgiving parties, weekly games nights, and drinks around the fire. In the summer, there is an ongoing group text for when you’re heading out for a kayak and want to invite others. The community also recently started a soup group, which Kate is a part of. They cook in groups of three and distribute the soup to everyone, so that every week residents have a soup on their doorstep.
The community’s age range is from 30s to 70s, and Kate has noticed more younger people moving in. She shares her houseboat life on an Instagram account called @mylittlehouseboat, and receives a lot of messages from people in their 20s and 30s asking her about the lifestyle. Kate attributes this to Canada’s unaffordable housing market and younger people seeking different housing alternatives.
"If we had the infrastructure for this, it could be a very affordable living situation. To me it feels like a huge opportunity, and also a miss for the government to not support it.”
Follow Kate Fincham and her houseboat life on Instagram at @mylittlehouseboat