Valley Lives - Jim Duffy

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the February 22, 2012 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Kaza Cabana legacy lives on after founder dies

by Lucy Scholey

Jim Duffy's fear of flying did not prevent his business from soaring.

The owner of Kaza Cabana had everything else going for him: charisma, a solid rapport with his customer base and finely crafted wooden furniture talked about all over the region, as well as beyond.

After Duffy bought the business venture located on Hwy 105 in Kazabazua in 1987, he expanded his inventory to include cabanas, docks and sheds and began exporting his wares to Ontario, Nova Scotia, Key West, FL., even overseas to Libya.

Valley Lives
Jim Duffy, the owner of Kaza Cabana, with one of his many sheds outside the Kazabazua store in 2009. Photo courtesy Francine Lamarche.

He weathered a recession and fiercely fought the language police.

A report from "Le sens des affaires" in 1992 hailed Kaza Cabana as a rare business success story in the Gatineau Hills.

To Kaz folk, meanwhile, he was a pillar in the community. His shop was a major stopping point for cottagers and longtime locals alike; they could expect a cup of coffee, an extended hand and a smile from behind squarerimmed glasses.

Duffy did not have to fly; he was grounded in his roots up the line.

On Sept. 6, Duffy passed away at age 58 after a long battle with cancer. He just missed his shop's 25th anniversary.

It was a surprise to Roger Johnson when Duffy moved back to Kazabazua in the mid-1980s after living in Toronto for nearly a decade. The two were childhood friends since age 12, but went their separate ways after high school. They met in the big smoke during the late 1970s and roomed together.

"When I first got to Toronto, he was living in this bus," Johnson said from his Vancouver home. Duffy had bought the vehicle and transformed it into a mobile home.

Once, he drove it to Florida because he was "absolutely, absolutely petrified" of flying.

When the duo moved in together, it became clear that Duffy had woodcarving on the brain.

When Johnson came home from a weeks-long business trip to China, he found most of the furniture gone.

"There was no more dining room. It was gone and there was this huge bar," he said, adding that Duffy had to drill a hole in the concrete floor to erect the roofed wooden hut. "I don't know how he got away with it. Everybody in Mississauga knew about this bar."

Johnson said Kazabazua was where Duffy ultimately belonged. A proud French Irishman, he was known for being loquacious, but not loud; big, but gentle. It took an entire day for him to drive from Gatineau to the little northern village because he made so many visits on the way home.

Although the first two years of business were tough, Duffy worked his contacts with cottagers until, little by little, he built up his enterprise. Eventually, customers came to know his well-made pine and white cedar products. Being a perfectionist, Duffy was all about quality

Business boomed afar, but only initially. Later, his exports diminished from 80 per cent to 30 per cent, but he kept up his local business, always putting the customer first.

"Jim's biggest setback is that he wouldn't fly," said Johnson. "I wanted to take him to trade shows in the U.S. We could have exported a lot of his product."

When Duffy was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer five years ago, he started planning for the shop's future.

He and his wife of 10 years, Francine Lamarche, decided she would take the business reins, so Duffy set to work renovating the entire place.

Now it has a pine green exterior, two additional rooms and a garage.

While some people feared the shop would close doors with Duffy's death, the 55-year-old Lamarche instinctively took over. She sold every shed and gazebo last fall.

Peter Mulrooney, a longtime friend, said he had feared for the fate of the town with Duffy's passing.

"If we lost this store, it would be like having lost Jim again," he said. "The town would die."

Kazabazua has suffered its business hits in the past several years. The longest bar and Club Lorraine burned down, which hit business in the declining population of nearly 900. Even the Brennan's Hill bar is no longer like Cheers, "where everybody knows your name," said Mulrooney.

"We've lost so much history, from Alcove up, that we can't afford to lose any more," he said.

Now that Lamarche has taken over Kaz Cabana, there's hope for the village.

Today, Dan Larche builds the furniture. Wearing a green Kaza Cabana hat, jeans and red flannel, the 67-year-old works on a shed. He worked with Duffy off and on since 1995, full time for the past six years. After learning how the business runs, he said he's ready to continue the legacy.

Larche echoes one of Duffy's mottos. It's bullheaded, perhaps, but suitably optimistic: "The one I build tomorrow is going to be better than the one I build today." Duffy is survived by Lamarche, his daughter Megan, brothers Patrick, Bernard and Alain and sisters Catherine and Claire.

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