2017-08-09

Floating a new life in Chester

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Piers Baker&#8217;s Third From The Sun DJ company covered 400 events a year in Toronto. His move to Chester and taking on the Kayak Shack was part of a decision to &#8220;decompress.&#8221;</p>
  • <p>Piers Baker&#8217;s Third From The Sun DJ company covered 400 events a year in Toronto. His move to Chester and taking on the Kayak Shack was part of a decision to &#8220;decompress.&#8221;</p><p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p>
  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Piers Baker&#8217;s Third From The Sun DJ company covered 400 events a year in Toronto. His move to Chester and taking on the Kayak Shack was part of a decision to &#8220;decompress.&#8221;</p>
  • <p>CONTRIBUTED PHOTO</p><p>A long way from the &#8220;rat race&#8221; of Toronto, Baker&#8217;s wife Katherine Gleason and children Isabel and Max, take time to enjoy kayaking in Chester Harbour.</p>

As someone who had a roaring DJ business spinning tunes at parties of the Who's Who in Toronto, Piers Baker was told he was "crazy" in 2013, when he and his wife pushed the off button on their life in the big city and moved to Chester.

Referring to the Jack Nicholson film, he laughs and recalls friends asking incredulously, "'Do you know how small that place is? It's going to be like The Shining in the winter.'"

"But when we came it was completely the opposite. I felt like I was finally where I was supposed to be," he says.

It's a long way from the exclusive homes of Toronto's Rosedale neighbourhood where Baker grew up. He rubbed shoulders with offspring of Canada's elite at Upper Canada College, and drew upon his connections to eventually shape his DJ company, Third From The Sun Ltd., into the music company of choice, according to Baker.

Its website reports that clients include the Toronto International Film Festival, CBC, CTV, "and many of Canada's largest banks, just to name a few."

Chalking up 400 events a year, Baker slips in there were also "the Westons, the Rogers, the Eatons."

Previous to that, he ran the music at some of Toronto's biggest nightclubs including RPM, where he would be working until three or four in the morning, "And there are 2,000 and 3,000 people in front of you every night."

The 50-year-old is quite convinced he would have had a heart attack in Toronto, or at best missed out on his growing family, if he continued in his all-encompassing career there.

Baker welcomes the contrast with his new occupation as owner of the seasonal rental and tour business Kayak Shack. Based in Chester, the company promises customers a peaceful and inspiring experience on the languid South Shore.

And add to that his other business as an agent for Duckworth Real Estate selling waterfront properties.

Seeing the Kayak Shack's revenues grow exponentially, while enjoying spectacular sunsets from his family's harbour-front estate in town, spending time with his kids, and becoming a part of Chester's tight-knit community, he has no regrets.

"I feel like my life started when I got here. That it was just a rat race until that point."

Baker and his wife Katherine Gleason had no concrete strategy in rebooting their lives in Chester, other than to "decompress."

It helped that they had illustrious family connections with property in town. Baker is the grandson of Rear-Admiral Desmond (Debby) William Piers, known for his courageous actions in 1944 as the Commanding Officer of HMCS Algonquin, who had property in Chester.

Baker and Gleason bought a couple of commercial properties in town, to add to the income from one remaining rental property in Ontario, and went into "semi-retirement."

"I've always thought about real estate, and the kayak was one of those eureka moments," suggests Baker.

The couple bought some kayaks shortly after they settled on the South Shore.

Standing near the lighthouse on Quaker Island taking in the views around him, it occurred to Baker, "There are other people that have to witness this. It's just so extraordinary."

As a member of the Chester Chamber of Commerce with an interest in economic development, it struck him that while Chester had plenty of sailing options, there was still a niche for a kayak business.

Kayaking is a quick and easy way to get out into the harbour. "And the view of Chester is spectacular from the water."

So while he studied for his real estate licence, he took advantage of an opportunity to buy the Kayak Shack business, which operated tours and rentals from a base at the Oak Island Marina.

The owner, scuba diver Wynand Baerkan, had a job opportunity elsewhere and was selling the business.

Eight thousand dollars later, in 2015 Baker re-established the Kayak Shack in Chester with eight of Baerkan's Riot kayaks, his customer base and website.

But the Riot kayaks didn't hang around for long, since Baker considered them the "low end of the spectrum."

"I've always been of the high-end mentality."

He sold them off and replaced them with the Quebec-made Boreal Design and took kayak training with David Adler of East Coast Outfitters out of Lower Prospect.

Baker's Kayak Shack now has four double and seven single kayaks and eight paddle boards. Rental prices are at $30 for two hours for a single; $45 for a double.

Baker charges $60 per person for his tour, which runs behind philanthropist Christopher Ondaatje's estate, from Meisners Island to Quaker Island and up to the light house.

"People are just blown away by the time they're looking at Mahone Bay Islands," he says.

Baker also does tours around Oak Island in conjunction with Atlantica Oak Island Resort.

The number of Kayak Shack clients has grown from 160 in his first year, to 450 in 2016. Baker says in the third year "I would be surprised if we didn't double that."

When LighthouseNOW caught up with him last week, earlier in the day he had had a group of 20 clients, including some from Italy, London, England, and Pennsylvania.

Baker attributes the increasing success of the operation to his networking, pamphlet distribution and a personalized service he says is drawing regular five-star reviews on Trip Advisor.

He admits the kayak business isn't quite sustaining him yet. But he takes the opportunity to inspire potential real estate clients while on his tours and point out some of the properties in his portfolio.

"Mind you, I obviously don't make that the highlight of my tour. I talk about how much I love Chester, and all the intricacies, and the families, and the homes...."

With income streams from three different areas - the commercial property he owns in town, his real estate work, and the kayaks - Baker is happy to let the kayak business grow organically.

In any case, he has no intention of expanding to compete in other markets, such as Lunenburg, Blue Rocks or Mahone Bay.

"I think that would be getting back to my issue in Toronto with the DJ doing 400 events a year. I would like my life to be not too crazy. It's really enjoyable right now," says Baker.

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