It was back in 2008 that I met Ian Coristine and Mike Franklin, and they asked if I would consider helping keep Paul Malo’s “Thousand Islands Life Magazine” going. By February 2009, I was well at it; four issues completed, a new website, and having met one of the most prolific and best writers on the River – Kim Lunman.
Kim’s first article was titled: Important News for Brockville and the Thousand Islands,
“Canada’s federal and Ontario governments announced on Friday, February 13, 2009, they will pay $11.4 million to fund two-thirds of the construction cost of an $18 million Discovery Center in Brockville, focused on the Thousand Islands region of the St. Lawrence River. “ Kim went on to explain the project was “to be built as part of the Fuller Group's Tall Ships Landing, a $60 million condominium project, by Ottawa developer Simon Fuller, which also includes a waterfront restaurant, a boutique hotel and a marina for residents and visitors….. ”
Soon after I learned about the early stages of the project and how much help was provided by the vision of the former Mayor, Ben TeKamp.
Once the approvals were in place, I was asked to attend some of the early planning meetings in Brockville, to discuss what this Discovery Centre might contain. I wondered why me, but as I attended these first meetings, I was struck by the passion and vision that members of the committee had. Led by Simon Fuller, and championed by many, suddenly this project took on a special meaning for me.
Over time, the planning continued and soon the most supportive of Brockville’s area residents, headed by Paul Fournier, took on the responsibly to fundraise, for what would certainly be a shortfall, between federal, provincial and municipal government funding.
And as with all projects, there were nay-sayers, and passionate disagreements – but all the while the planning kept happening. Thanks to reporter, Ron Zajac, from the “Recorder and Times,” all aspects of the project were reported – positive and negative – in print, to the public.
The name was changed to better describe what was going to happen inside the building, and over time, that building, Tall Ships Landing, was constructed.
In January 2013, the Aquatarium published this video, describing what was to come. The Video was made by the McLellan Group.
One very different approach to this project was spearheaded by Simon Fuller. One day Simon and Ian placed a conference call to me, “Susie,” started Simon, “I have been thinking that there are too many SEPARATE attractions, museums and non-profits in the region, to make a marketing impact. What if a number of them came together and worked to promote each other?”
It was like a light coming on… Of course, that would make a tremendous difference.
Suddenly RiverQuest was created. Not everyone thought RiverQuest was a good idea, but when those on the planning committee took the time to meet each other and learn about each important part of the Thousand Islands, many came on board. Soon meetings were held with municipal leaders in the US and Canada – all agreeing that working together was prudent. (See http://www.1000islandsriverquest.com/)
All the while, Brockville’s Aquatarium was taking shape. Rather than trying to define a role for the Aquatarium, the planning committee took what was already a success – the story of the Thousand Islands - its history, its culture and its people - and told that story through the RiverQuest partners. Yes, the Aquatarium could showcase exhibits, describing all that is good and exiting in the region.
But how do you take a library from Singer Castle, or the Magedoma, a famous yacht, and put it in an Aquatarium? Simple, you turn to technology. It was then, back in summer of 2012 that the McLellan Group from Toronto, joined the team and started by producing videos and interactive exhibits.
But it did not stop there. The planning continued with the hiring of staff. Each member of the team has made a difference. Bill Rogerson, the Executive Director of the Aquatarium, proceeded to put together a remarkable group of talent, all working towards the construction, opening and ongoing success of the region’s Aquatarium.
In June 2015, Kim Lunman and I were invited to take a hard-hat tour. There were still workmen in every room, but the exhibits were taking shape. I found the visit an emotional experience as I could see, first hand, what was going to be spectacular.
And now we’re here: The Aquatarium had a soft opening on March 1st. Since then, over 15,000 visitors have been through. On May 6th, the doors officially opened and the project starts a new phase of operations.
Ian Coristine wrote a tribute note to Simon Fuller on March 1st, the day he visited the Aquatarium. He thanked Simon for his concept and vision, saying, “My old friend Paul Malo, (Professor Emeritus and Dean of Architecture at SYU) is now gone, but he devoted many years and wrote three books about the Gilded Age of the River, also founding thousandislandslife.com magazine with the express purpose of reminding people of what this place had once been, in hopes of restoring its celebrity. Paul would be even more grateful than I.”
I am so proud the Aquatarium is now open – I am also proud to be part of RiverQuest – the friendships I have made will last forever. But most of all I apologize for doubting this would ever be completed. Thank you everyone!
By Susan W. Smith, email@example.com.