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New Timmins shop making a splash, bringing new animals to the north

This local pet store is a fish out of water in Northern Ontario
Robert Boucher and Hailee Morgan with Diggy, an extremely rare albino tegu

Aquatics & Exotics, true to its name, is a local pet store that has been bringing plenty of new and exciting animals to the north. 

Owned and operated by Robert Boucher and his fiancée Hailee Morgan, the store carries a wide variety of freshwater and saltwater fish, reptiles, aquariums, terrariums, ponds, and bugs that can’t be found anywhere else in Northern Ontario. 

Boucher has always had an interest in animals, so much so that when he was nine years old he made it his mission to work at Jackie’s Pet Palace. 

“I literally went to the store and I just kept bugging them like, ‘Can I work? Can I work?’ and they said no, but eventually they were short-staffed. Jackie didn’t like the crickets, so she asked if I could catch crickets and I said yes I can, and she’s like, ‘If you stay here and catch crickets all day, we’ll give you something.’ And that’s how it started,” Boucher says. 

He took a break to pursue other things, travelling the world and seeing many of the animals he loved in their natural habitats. He spent time working as a digital artist, and now puts those skills toward the comics on the Aquatics & Exotics Facebook page. He also hosted on Airbnb, eventually investing the money from selling that property into opening a pet store. 

Morgan, on the other hand, took more of a roundabout journey to Aquatics & Exotics. She was attending music college in Toronto when the pandemic brought her back home, but she says things worked out well because if she hadn’t moved back to Timmins, she never would have met Rob. 

“I wanted a dog,” Morgan says, “and he was like ‘Well I want fish.’”

“So we compromised,” Boucher says.

“Lizards can be like dogs, I guess,” she says.

“We were doing a little bit of this before but when COVID hit it got out of hand. Because then I was like, we can take care of two tanks, then three,” he says. 

“Once we started getting lizards we started kind of filling up the house with them, and then Rob got into breeding fish so we started selling a bit of fish out of our house,” Morgan says. “We knew we wanted to open a store and we decided we wanted to get all the lizards out of the house. It started getting pretty full.”

“We did have a lot of sales just from home, but it’s annoying to have to make an appointment,” Boucher says. 

Eventually opportunity came knocking when another local pet store that was shutting its doors offered to sell everything in their store for $700, with the caveat that Boucher and Morgan would have to move everything themselves within two days. On Christmas Eve. In a snowstorm. It was a tough task, to put it mildly, but they managed. 

Now since moving into their current location a little more than four months ago, the store is already bursting at the seams. 

“We’re literally wall to wall to the ceiling, and business is good. It’s been really good and the community has been unbelievably supportive,” he says.  

Caring for exotic pets is in many ways more complicated than having a standard cat or dog. Aquatics & Exotics supplies a lot of the things that cannot be found in your average pet store. 

“We get a lot of out-of-town people who have no other options. Without us, a lot of them would simply be without feeders or crickets,” Boucher says. “If worse came to worst we’d shrink down our store to almost nothing and just sell feeders, and we would probably make money. But it’s a little boring.”

They are already hoping to expand soon with more space for displays and more unique animals. They also have a warehouse that they currently use to store spare tanks and other supplies, but are hoping to eventually convert into an event space. 

“That is something we’ve been really looking to do because we’ve had so many requests for birthday parties. We’ve done a few and people just love it when we bring big reptiles, kids just go crazy,” Boucher says.

They have already undertaken numerous other events, including visits to local schools with their reptiles. In February they did a show at Northern College for the South Porcupine Winter Carnival that featured a 12-foot-long Burmese python, which was a huge hit. After receiving pieces of art from local kids, they decided to host an art contest in March and have displayed many of the pieces in the store. 

They’re hoping to continue expanding with more hands-on, interactive workshops in areas like aquascaping and pet care. They also want to start posting regular vlogs on their YouTube channel, which is nearing 1,000 subscribers. 

“We kind of slowed down for a little while, getting everything set up, but we’re hoping to get more in the groove,” Morgan says. 

After the recent fire at the Empire Complex, Aquatics & Exotics also organized a charity event called Fish for Friends to raise money for the affected residents. During the last week of March, they donated $1 — and later $2, once the event really took off — for every fish sold, finding new homes for dozens of fish and raising over $100. 

“We really want to get more involved in the community and do more things with the community. It’s a lot of fun, especially doing the reptile shows and things like that,” Morgan says. “It’s fun seeing the kids all smiling. They really enjoy it, so it’s nice.”

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Kyra Butterworth

About the Author: Kyra Butterworth

Born and raised in Timmins, Kyra is a lifelong writer and lover of all things creative. She received her Bachelor of Journalism from Toronto Metropolitan University
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