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Real Estate

A Toronto family wanted to ditch the city. So they bought this $2.7m home in Thornbury

By Jonathan Forani| Photography by David Whittaker
A Toronto family wanted to ditch the city. So they bought this $2.7m home in Thornbury

The buy: A six-bed, six-bath new build in Thornbury, a small town in the Blue Mountains

A Toronto family wanted to ditch the city. So they bought this $2.7m home in Thornbury

Who: Shane Skillen, 43, CEO at Hotspex, a marketing firm; his wife Cabrina Skillen, 44, a former teacher; and their three kids Ryder (13), Chase (10), and Bodie (8).


The history: In 2000, Shane and Cabrina, then in their early 20s, met through friends at a charity event in Toronto. As car junkies and EDM lovers, they bonded over Cabrina’s souped-up Honda Prelude, which was retrofitted with neon lights and big speakers. Since then, they’ve spent nearly every winter together skiing in the Blue Mountains, renting chalets with friends on weekends. In 2006, they got married and bought a house near the Bridle Path.

Shane and Cabrina eventually settled in Leaside, where they raised their three boys, Ryder, Chase and Bodie, all of whom learned to ski early on. In 2015, the family bought a cottage near Collingwood and the kids took ski lessons at the Georgian Peaks Club, where Shane had skied since childhood. The boys eventually entered competitive ski racing programs.

Cabrina spent weekends in the winter driving up to the mountains with the boys. In the summer, they would stay up at the cottage, where they had a pool, hot tub and easy access to watersports on Georgian Bay. Shane, who co-founded the brand-building consultancy service Hotspex, frequently travels for work, but joined the family for extended weekends.

Just before Covid hit, the Skillens went up to the cottage for March break. But when the province entered the first lockdown, everything shut down. Hotspex’s offices closed and staff started to work from home. When Ontario closed schools, the kids transitioned to virtual learning, so Cabrina decided to stay up at the cottage with the boys. Every other week, Shane went back to their Leaside home to focus on work, while Cabrina, a former teacher, helped the kids with online schooling.

The hunt: The Skillens had been thinking a lot about leaving the city in recent years, like many of their friends who had already departed for Collingwood and the nearby town of Thornbury. The happiest people they knew were their friends who spent all weekend on the hills in the winter, relaxing at the ski club on Sunday nights instead of rushing back home to Toronto. Plus, Shane’s commute from Leaside to Collingwood felt like a total slog. The family had made the transition to Collingwood living relatively easily during the early stages of lockdown, after all.

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But the couple worried about taking their kids out of the TDSB and uprooting them from their friend groups, even though Shane could work from pretty much anywhere. Before making the decision to look for a permanent home up north, Shane did some “market research.” He called up everyone they knew in the area to ask about making the move. The schools were good in Thornbury, he learned. And there were plenty of Toronto expats in the area, so even the adults would have a reliable social circle.

Then, in July, the Skillens heard about a $2.5 million pre-construction property in Thornbury, less than 10 minutes from their ski club. It was also near a golf course, Georgian Bay and the Beaver Valley Community School, where the boys could go to school.

A Toronto family wanted to ditch the city. So they bought this $2.7m home in Thornbury

Upon its completion, the six-bed, six-bath detached would be more than 5,000 square feet, with modern interiors more than enough room for a family of five. Outside, the property had room for a pool, a cabana and a tennis court.

Shane family

In the basement, Shane and Cabrina wanted to add a home office, a spare bedroom and a workout space. Those features, plus the pool and cabana, brought the total cost to $2.7 million. The Skillens made tentative plans to buy the place, conditional on selling their home in Leaside.

The outcome: In September, the Skillens sold both their Leaside home and Collingwood cottage, before moving into their new place in Thornbury. They used the profits from the sales of their two properties to help pay off the building costs and to buy some new toys, like a snowmobile and dirt bikes. Over the last three months, they finished the basement office, workout space and spare bedroom, which ended up costing $170,000. Next year, they plan to buy a sailboat.

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The kids are loving their new school, spending time with the ski buddies they’ve known for years. The Skillens will have to wait until at least January to hit the slopes, as the whole province enters lockdown, but in the meantime, they’re well-equipped for other outdoor activities, like cross-country skiing and tobogganing.

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