Canada’s Top Retirement Destinations: Belleville, ON

With the winery-dotted landscape of Prince Edward County to the south and wild countryside to the north, Belleville is surrounded by natural beauty

By Wendy Haaf


While Peter and Brooke Coy lived in Toronto for more than 40 years, and Richard and Dorothy Gabbey spent most of their working lives in much smaller Moncton, NB, followed by an eight-year stint in Prince Edward Island, both couples have found Belleville, ON, and the Quinte West area to be the perfect fit for retirement.

When the Coys began contemplating a move, Belleville hadn’t even crossed their minds as a possible contender, since it was outside their search radius. However, during a chance visit, they decided to check out a local riverside biking trail. “That ride was a revelation,” Peter recalls. From accessibility to parks, beaches, countryside, and excellent cycling trails to proximity to citylike amenities, each new discovery checked off an item on the Coys’ list of must-haves.

At the mouth of the Moira River, Belleville (population: 50,720) serves roughly 200,000 people as the largest city in the Greater Bay of Quinte, a collection of communities clustered around the narrow z-shaped finger of water on the northern shore of Lake Ontario. With the sandy beaches of the Bay of Quinte and winery-dotted landscape of Prince Edward County to the south and wild countryside to the north, Belleville is surrounded by natural beauty, yet within easy reach of Kingston, Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa by rail or Highway 401. “We love being near the water,” says Dorothy Gabbey, who says she and her husband found themselves charmed by the area during visits to family. “The parks and the outdoors are absolutely splendid, as is the weather.”

Consequently, there are opportunities to engage in a wide array of fresh-air pursuits, including camping at one of several provincial parks (Presqu’ile and Sandbanks are just 20 minutes away), sailing, hiking, cycling—there are 20 kilometres (12.4 miles) of interlinked scenic waterfront trails within the city alone—and walking, whether to Zwick’s Island to watch the sailboats or along bayside trails to Meyers Pier. In addition, “there are a huge number of very fine golf courses within a relatively short drive,” Richard Gabbey says. And with a pool complex, rinks, and a fitness facility, the Quinte Sports and Wellness Centre is a great place to swim, attend aquafit classes, and play table tennis or pickleball. “It’s also home to the AHL-affiliated Belleville Senators, who provide NHL-like play for $20!” Peter Coy points out.

There are ample opportunities to enjoy arts, theatre, live music, and movies—both wide-release and art-house varieties. “The Quinte Symphony puts on four performances a year, plus one at CFB Trenton,” Richard says. (The city of Trenton, just 15 minutes from Belleville, is where the Gabbeys live.) “We have the Empire Theatre, which brings in amazing entertainment,” Shirley Rogers, another resident, says, “and the Quinte Ballet School of Canada, which offers wonderful performances.” There are two live- performance venues—Trenton’s Old Church Theatre and the Pinnacle Playhouse, home to the Belleville Theatre Guild—and numerous local establishments feature live music. “The arts community is very accessible and comprises a talented bunch of people,” says Peter, who, with no previous experience, has appeared in major speaking roles in two plays and written and produced a one-act play, all since arriving in 2016. In addition to the local Art Gallery, nearby Wellington “abounds with art, pottery, and crafts,” Rogers says.

The surrounding communities provide interesting destinations for day trips, too, Dorothy Gabbey says. “We enjoy exploring and discovering the local shops and farmers’ markets.”

There’s no shortage of organizations that offer opportunities for socializing and learning, the Hastings Historical Society, Belleville Library, and Cyclopaths cycling club being just a few examples. Continuing education classes at Loyalist College are available to seniors for a reduced fee, and the 50+ Centre offers drop-in activities, numerous classes (such as Spanish for beginners), and a monthly luncheon with a speaker.

Following a modernization of downtown infrastructure, new one-of-a-kind shops and restaurants have popped up. (A mall and chain stores are available for everyday shopping, too.) “More and more, we’re getting fantastic food here,” Peter says. (Prince Edward County and Wellington also have reputations as foodie destinations.) “We can walk 50 yards and we’re on the pier, and we’re within walking distance of coffee shops, restaurants, and all the downtown facilities.”

If you need to use the car nonetheless, trips are short and parking is free. “We spend almost no time in our cars,” Peter says. “Less time in a vehicle means more time doing what you want to do, such as cooking meals from scratch and exercising. We lead a much healthier lifestyle.”

The area has a good deal to recommend it when it comes to other practical considerations, too. “We have a very good hospital,” Peter notes, and, if necessary, specialist care is as close as Kingston, just 50 minutes away. While there is a shortage of family physicians, the city’s recruitment program has successfully attracted 32 within the past five years. Overall, “we’ve found health care here to be absolutely—and I’m not using the word lightly—exemplary,” Dorothy says. As for housing, while higher than in some centres, home prices clock in below the Canadian average: in the first quarter of 2019, the median selling price of a two-storey home in the Belleville-Trenton area was $301,110, versus $729,553 nationally.

“We consider ourselves very fortunate,” Peter says. “Retirement here has really exceeded our wildest dreams.”

Photo: Courtesy of the City of Belleville.