Liveaboards escape Toronto's sky-high rents with a life on the water

The relentlessly increasing cost of living on land in Toronto has some looking to the lake for a differently kind of lifestyle.

Some residents are shunning life on land to live aboard boats in GTA marinas

The Nuttall-Sloane family lives aboard a 47-foot, steel-hulled vessel with two bedrooms. They moor at Toronto Island Marina in the summer time and stay in the inner harbour during the harsh winter months. (James Morrison/CBC)

When Donna Creighton retired from her career as an elementary school teacher, she faced a difficult choice. 

She loved her North York townhouse, but the relentlessly rising costs of living in the city meant she would need to supplement her pension income with another job to make her mortgage payments. 

"The reality of retirement is that your income shrinks exponentially … so I knew that downsizing was going to happen. The question was where and when. And then I quite accidentally saw an ad for a houseboat that was up for sale," Creighton says.

And so, without any experience at all, Creighton became a liveaboard — one of about 150 GTA families who live permanently on a boat. 

Now she calls Bluffers Park Marina in Scarborough home. For about $850 per month in the summer months and $950 per month in winter, she lives on a houseboat. There's also a "surprisingly inexpensive" $700 per year cost for insurance, she explains, a requirement of living in the marina. 

"I would encourage people to embrace this lifestyle. The cost of living in Toronto is just out of control," Creighton says. 

She's hardly alone in ditching conventional living for a more affordable option. 

The Nuttall-Sloane family lives on a 47-foot, two-bedroom steel vessel moored at Toronto Island Marina during the summer, and at the harbour front during the punishing winter months. It costs them about $2,000 per month. 

Donna Creighton moved to her houseboat after realizing that her retirement pension income would not be enough to pay off her mortgage on a North York townhouse. (James Morrison/CBC)

Cheryl Nuttall and her husband Gordon Sloane have deep roots on the water. Both have ventured extensively around the globe aboard tall ships and tugboats. And they plan to someday sail around the world with their young son, Strummer. 

They admit that while it's undoubtedly a "lifestyle choice," they wouldn't trade the deck of their ship for a high rise condo.

"We've never found space to be an issue. Really, at the end of the day, we have equal space as someone living in a small condo on the waterfront," Nuttall says. 

The latest data from the Toronto Real Estate Board suggests that the average monthly costs associated with owning a two-bedroom, downtown condo are about $2,930. There are some other advantages to boat living, as well. The city does not consider boats to be immovable dwellings and therefore they are not subject to property taxes, although marina users do pay moorage fees.

'Some people revel in it'

Granted, living on the water comes with a host of unique challenges, both expected and unexpected. 

"There can be tough days, especially if you're new to boating. Because when things go wrong, they can go wrong quickly," says Nuttalll, adding that there will assuredly be a steep learning curve for anyone who doesn't have experience livingaboard. 

"After a year or two, some people get tired of it. And some people revel in it," Sloane adds. "There are trying aspects that you have to be prepared for that are just part of living aboard."

It's a reality that Creighton knows well.

"Problem solving is a way of life down here," she says of her days at Bluffers Park Marina. But for those experiencing the trials together, there's a strong sense of community.

Strummer Nuttall-Sloane in the living quarters of his family's floating home. (James Morrison/CBC)

"If we don't work together, literally, we can all sink," she says only half-jokingly. 

Despite the difficulties, neither the Nuttalll-Sloanes nor Creighton would trade life on the lake for a more traditional living arrangement. 

"Obviously, living on a boat, we live minimalist," Nuttalll says.

"For me, though, the experience and what we're able to give to our son living on a boat is greater than, or of far more value to me, than the experiences we could have given him living in a condo."

With files from Stéphany Laperrière


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