Keeping His Neighborhood Afloat

Brian Gabree created a canoeing event to showcase the natural beauty of his often-forgotten Jacksonville community.

June 26, 2014

Brian Gabree
Third and Main Realty
Jacksonville, Fla.

What is Canoe to the Zoo, and how did you come up with the idea for this event?

It's an event that brings together neighbors and outdoor enthusiasts to paddle three-fourths of a mile along the Trout River to the dock at the Jacksonville Zoo. It's meant to bring exposure to Jacksonville's North Shore community, a beautiful, tucked-away area that's often overlooked. I knew the community lacked exposure because I would speak with people on a regular basis who had never heard of North Shore. And these weren't recent transplants to the area — these were people who had lived here 30 or 40 years.

I wanted to find a way to bring people to the community. I knew once they saw it, they would find it to be a very suitable and comfortable place to live. The two biggest assets for our community are the river and the Jacksonville Zoo on the other side of it. My daughters and I canoed there on a fairly regular basis and always enjoyed our "personal safari" day. Canoe to the Zoo was created so others could enjoy the same experience.

How many people participated?

This year was our inaugural event, and we had 125 people sign up. It was quite a "flotilla of fun" crossing the river. Everybody had a great time, and I believe strongly that next year's event will have even more people.

How did the event showcase the neighborhood?

It started from the canoe launch in the North Shore neighborhood. We had signs out to direct traffic through the neighborhood, giving everybody the opportunity to see some wonderful homes and smiling faces. We also had several power boats ferrying people along the river's edge, showcasing the properties and neighborhood. And at the luncheon trivia game, we used questions about North Shore and the Trout River to let people know it is a really wonderful place to call home. 

What types of people are most drawn to the North Shore?

North Shore is one of the most affordable riverfront communities in Jacksonville. People who are looking for an affordable alternative to the expensive historic districts of Jacksonville and people who enjoy being on or around the river are drawn to the area. This community provides convenient access to downtown, natural beauty, and a wonderful sense of community.

How does Canoe to the Zoo help you in your real estate business?

It gives me exposure as a local expert and referrals from people who live in the neighborhood who now view me as an active participant in promoting the community that they have chosen as their home.

Can you trace any real estate deals back to Canoe to the Zoo?

My company has received one listing from the event, and we have two buyers that we are working with. All of these are people we met the day of the event. I'm very confident that there is more business yet to come as a result. We presented the event to a number of different civic organizations and handed out hundreds of business cards throughout the planning process. We also control a Facebook page for the event that now has more than 2,000 followers.

What have you learned about your own neighborhood from this event, and how do you impart that knowledge to people who are interested in moving to the area?

I met some community leaders and have learned a good bit of history of the area. The president of the North Shore Homeowners Association shared with me the story of how the North Shore community was originally established. Jacksonville's first sawmill was in the North Shore area. It was part of a 16,000-acre Spanish Land Grant to a gentleman named Charles Sibbald from the then-governor of East Florida, Jose Coppinger. The area was all timber and was granted to Mr. Sibbald in exchange for building and operating a sawmill for lumber.

There's a rumor that a home near the railroad tracks was used as a distillery during Prohibition. I was told the owners would wait until nighttime and then smuggle the goods from an underground tunnel to the train for delivery to customers far and wide. That's a rumor, but people like to hear that story, so I tell it.  Of course, I always qualify with "rumor has it"!

So now, when showing people North Shore, I can fill in the story of the community. It's more than just showing homes and speaking to the great value. It is a sense of belonging and a sense of pride in a community with a cool background that has so much to offer.

Graham Wood
Senior editor

Graham Wood is senior editor for REALTOR® Magazine. He can be reached at