When Mike DaSilva arrived in Temiskaming Shores seven years ago to retire, he soon discovered sitting in a rocking chair and staring at the lake just wasn’t for him.
“I can’t sit still,” said the 66-year dyed-in-the-wool entrepreneur and owner of BNS Corner Gas.
The Toronto native, who once ran a chain of independent gas stations, kept passing by this dilapidated station in North Cobalt, wondering why it wasn’t doing much business.
“I gave the guy $90,000 and paid off his debts. I wanted to see where that would take me.”
He kept the gas station’s name from the previous owners.
From that initial investment in 2010, DaSilva estimates he’s spun off about $20 million in assets with three gas stations, a recently-opened propane business, and investments into seniors apartments.
“The (North Cobalt) station was really run down so I cleaned it up and kept the prices as low as I could,” said DaSilva.
“The volume makes the money and keeps the customers coming back.”
Back to pumping gas, he soon acquired a second gas station and convenience store in downtown Haileybury in 2012 before picking up a third, with an attached restaurant, on a prime Highway 11 location in Englehart in 2015.
DaSilva spent close to $2 million gutting the highway outlet, installing expanded fuel storage tanks, adding new pumps and a computerized billing system and refurbishing the popular local eatery to much local praise.
“Our plan wasn’t to spend that kind of money but it turned out we did.
“We just kept fixing and things kept popping up and I thought my feet’s wet, might as well go all the way. Go big or go home.”
Expansion into the propane business came next.
Ticked off by a supplier who kept jacking up prices, DaSilva decided to invest in a new $1.5-million facility to distribute propane and refurbish cylinders.
Propane cylinders and tanks must be inspected and requalified every 10 years.
In a licensed 4,000-square-foot building located in an industrial park off Highway 11, he’s recently opened Temiskaming Propane, a two-employee plant with an assembly line that cleans, scraps, paints and changes the valves on 20, 30, 30 and 100-pound tanks.
DaSilva said he plans to cater and deliver to resort and camp owners in the region.
Scaling up to handling 250,000 to a half-million units a year isn’t out of the question, DaSilva believes.
His latest venture is in real estate where he purchased the former Sacre Coeur elementary school in New Liskeard with renovations underway to convert the building to seniors apartments.
The $6-million project will feature 40 one and two-bedroom units
With a waiting list of 56, he expects the building to be filled when he starts signing tenants in April.
He’s hoping to do the same at a closed Haileybury school that’s expected to come on the market soon.
DaSilva said he’s come to appreciate small-town living, the friendliness of the people, and sees investment opportunities galore.
“I always tell people I wish I had known about this town 20 or 30 years ago this town. These Tri-towns have so much potential.”
“Personally, I don’t think I’ll ever leave here. I’ve never seen a place that’s so comfortable.”
That sentiment is echoed by his sister, Theresa, who followed him from Toronto and, although retired, handles some of the office paperwork with general manager Wendy Swift.
“I thought I wasn’t going to like it here,” said Theresa, “but it’s been going on three years. In the summer, you feel like you’re away, it’s like cottage country. It’s beautiful up here. I won’t move back now and I’m a city girl.”
Some of DaSilva’s connections in the Chinese business community in Toronto are feeling the same way.
A few, who are partners in the school project, believe Temiskaming Shores could be a popular destination for wealthy Chinese retirees.
“They feel they can bring Chinese from Toronto here to retire. They find it peaceful, quiet and everybody’s friendly.”
The low crime rate, welcoming atmosphere, affordable living, and accessible city council and municipal staff make it easy to grow a business, DaSilva said.
DaSilva thinks Temiskaming Shores is ripe for investment opportunities, particularly its waterfront, and could host more apartment complexes, rowhouse development, and a gated retirement community.