There’s no doubt that Merrickville has history. From the old downtown, to the Blockhouse, to the ruins of the old mill, there is no end to the stories that could be told, if these buildings could talk.
What is most interesting, perhaps, is the way these buildings are being used now. The buildings that house the Baldachin Inn and The Goose and Gridiron get a lot of attention, being popular watering holes and located on the main street. However, just over the bridge, there is a unique business that is located in one of the oldest parts of Merrickville.
Aylings Boatyard was founded by Peter Ayling in 1963 in one of the old mill buildings, dating back to 1840. From the mid-1880s to early 1900s the building was part of the Percival Plough and Stove Company premises, which employed many people in the area. Peter Ayling was known for his expertise in wooden boat-building and restoration, and drew people from all around Canada and the U.S. to his shop. When he retired, he sold the business to Steve and Linda Flewitt, who were looking for a new challenge and direction in their lives. Steve was coming out of a long career with Snap-On which had brought them to Winnipeg, and they were looking to come back to their home province of Ontario to be closer to family.
“I started looking for a small business,” Steve remembers. “I saw the marina in the Globe and Mail and got my dad to go take a look.” Being a recreational sailor himself, Steve says his dad immediately took an interest in the place. “You’ll never have nothing to do,” he told Steve.
Steve and Linda have been running Aylings Boatyard for 23 years now, and the business has had to twist and turn with the times. The Flewitts took over Peter Ayling’s wooden boat business and, from 1995-2005, the backbone of their business was building and restoring them. “We were the place to go for wooden boats,” Steve says, noting that many of the boats they worked on went on to win awards in boat shows in the surrounding area. Over the past ten years though, the number of people who have an interest in wooden boats has started to dwindle, as more modern boats that are easier to maintain became more popular.
With the boat work they still do, they work closely with Andrew Lee, the young owner of Sirens Boatworks, which is just east of them along the water. Andrew is passionate about the work that he does building and restoring wooden boats, and believes there is still a market for it as older shops are winding down. “It’s a painful amount of work, but, when you’re done, there is a great sense of accomplishment.”
Aylings Boatyard also offers storage and dockage at their marina, has boats to rent, and owns a tour boat called the Rideau King, which takes people through the locks to Ottawa and Westport in the summer. One of the most challenging things about operating the boatyard over the past few years has been competition with Parks Canada. When they put electricity in for boaters at the top of the locks, Aylings lost 15-20 boats-worth of business every night. The prices that Parks Canada charges for dockage is also extremely cheap and something that Aylings Boatyard cannot compete with. “When you have competition with Parks Canada, you’re not winning,” Steve says.
That being said it is clear that Steve and Linda still love what they do. “It hasn’t been a get rich deal,” Steve says. “It’s a family business. We live here, we work here, it’s a lifestyle more than anything.”



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