After two and a half years of sharing a home with three housemates in downtown Toronto, Kate Fincham realized she missed living on the water.
Her love for the lifestyle runs deep: She spent 10 months sailing on a tall ship during high school and another three years working on yachts after university.
It was pure chance that she stumbled onto a listing for three houseboats for sale in Bluffers Park Marina on Lake Ontario.
“And I had no idea — I’d never heard that we had houseboats or floating homes in Toronto. It was all completely new to me,” Fincham, 35, told BI.
She ended up viewing only one of the three houseboats. She liked the home, but wasn’t quite ready to take the plunge yet.
“I knew nothing about houseboats. I didn’t know anything about this specific houseboat or the community or what I would do,” Fincham, a marketing content specialist, said.
But on her second viewing about a month later, Fincham finally bit the bullet. She heard other parties were interested in the houseboat, which gave her the courage to take the plunge.
“I just thought, ‘No, this is my place.’ I’m positive. I’ve never been so sure about anything in my life,” she said. “It was just a gut feeling rather than a rational one.”
Fincham paid 342,500 Canadian dollars, or about $255,000, for her houseboat and moved on board in November 2020 with her two cats.
“It was like a pandemic thing,” she added.
30 minutes to downtown Toronto
The marina Fincham lives in is about a 30-minute drive from downtown Toronto.
There are 24 floating homes and about 15 houseboats in her marina, she said.
The main difference between houseboats and floating houses lies in the platform that they’re built on, she added: “In my marina, the floating homes are on floating concrete bases while the houseboats are mostly on pontoons.” Pontoons are floating devices that typically come in the form of hollow, airtight tubes.
Although it’s a houseboat, Fincham’s property isn’t equipped with an engine so the home doesn’t move around.
“In Ontario, especially where we are, I think the marina that we’re at is the only year-round marina that can have houseboats even throughout the winter,” she added.
Fincham’s houseboat is about 625 square feet. The loft-style design comes with one bedroom and one bathroom.
She says she pays about $660 in mooring fees each month, and that gives her access to the dock, a septic pump for her waste, and mail, among other services.
The houseboat is also hooked up to the grid for electricity, Fincham said.
“Electricity is extra, and that costs about $30 in the warmer months, and then about an average of $132 in the winter,” she added.
The houseboat was in good condition when she moved in, but she worked with her brother to make some minor renovations to make it feel more like home.
“He helped me create a hanging closet in the bedroom and removed this large closet in the living room, which kind of took up part of the living room,” she said.
Fincham wasn’t a fan of the kitchen either, so she retiled it and changed all the cabinets.
“I love to cook, so I wanted that to be a more welcoming space,” she added.
What it’s like to furnish a houseboat
One thing Fincham learned about living in a houseboat is that she had to be conscious of the weight of the furniture she brings on board.
“If you want to build something, you kind of have to take something else away,” Fincham said. “You have to be conscious of the balance as well, so that one side of the houseboat has to weigh kind of the same as the other side.”
While there are no real regulations around the weight limit of her houseboat, Fincham says she usually ensures that the water level comes halfway up the pontoon.
“You just have to go with what the lightest material is and really think about what you’re putting in and what you’re taking out at the same time,” she added.
A clutter-free life
“I think after working on the yacht I became more of a minimalist, but I used to be a complete maximalist,” Fincham said. “I had so much stuff, I kept everything. And then here I have basically one closet that I can put storage things in.”
That said, she has everything she needs in her houseboat.
“My house is very functional,” Fincham said. “I have a washer-dryer. I have a tiny stove and a tiny oven, but they work perfectly well. I really don’t feel that I’ve had to give up on anything.”
A change in lifestyle
Fincham says her lifestyle has completely changed since she moved into the houseboat.
“It’s a very serene and calm way of life compared to downtown, where there are always things going on,” she said. “There are lots of woodlands and trails by the water, and two beaches as well.”
These days, Fincham says she spends her mornings going for a walk in a nearby park. In the summer, she’ll go kayaking in the lake either alone or with her neighbors.
A tight-knit community
“The neighbors, we’re all very close, and there are always activities and game nights, movie nights, or people going for dinner together,” she said.
In fact, Fincham says her neighbors in the marina are a huge part of her life.
“I’m very close to my neighbors, whereas before I don’t think I knew my neighbors downtown,” she said.
The demographics of her neighbors in the marina are mixed. There are singles, couples, and families with small kids, and her oldest neighbors are already in their late seventies, she said.
Being a part of a tight-knit community has its own perks, Fincham said: “If I have an issue, there are so many neighbors who will immediately come to help me.”
That was one of the biggest surprises of living in the houseboat, she added, because she wasn’t expecting that amount of support from everyone.
“The community is so strong,” Fincham said.
Sharing about houseboats online
Fincham has been documenting her houseboat life on Instagram and TikTok. And it all started because her family and friends were curious about her new home.
“When I told people I bought a houseboat and I was moving on board, they were so interested because they’d never heard of anything like this before,” she said. “I mean, I’d never heard of it before either.”
By answering questions and giving people a peek into her day — including all the challenges she faces — Fincham hopes to inspire others to forge their own paths instead of doing things conventionally.
“I think it’s always kind of inspiring for people to think, ‘Oh, I don’t have to save up to buy a condo,’ or whatever. There are alternate avenues and ways to live too,” she said.
For those who want to live in a houseboat, Fincham says it’s crucial to research about the lifestyle before making any purchases.
“At the same time, unless you’ve lived on houseboats before, you’re never going to be a hundred percent certain,” she said.
Houseboats and floating homes don’t come up for sale all the time either, so potential buyers need to be ready to make the decision when the right listing shows up, she added.
“It’s not for people who are rigid in structure, you need to be able to roll with the punches,” Fincham said. “Sometimes it’s not the easiest way of life, but I always think it’s for me, the best way of life.”