Iconic local business owner passes away at age 96



By Ron Giofu


A well-known former business owner has died but not before leaving his mark after over a half-century as a business owner in Amherstburg.

Zarko Vucinic, who owned Duffy’s Tavern & Motor Inn for 55 years, died last Thursday at the age of 96. He and wife Bosanka, also known as Bessie, were immigrants, landing in Halifax, Nova Scotia Aug. 16, 1948 as refugees from Yugoslavia.

In an undated autobiographical account of his life obtained through the Marsh Historical Collection, Vucinic recalled that they didn’t have much.

“We were penniless,” he wrote. “From Halifax, we were taken by train to St. Paul Hostel in the suburbs of Montreal. After ten days, we were placed as domestic farmers to Mr. Lyman Root (of Oakville). Since we did come under contract to the Canadian government, we had to work one year as farm help or wherever placed so that our transportation to Canada would be repaid.”

Vucinic recalled getting room and board plus $1 per day.

After fulfilling that contract, the Vucinics went to Langton, Ontario where they worked as tobacco pickers.

“Being there for 38 days, working the hardest in our lives, we earned $1,912 and moved to Windsor for the auto industry,” he wrote.

While celebrating their 50 years in Canada in 1998, he said: “Since Windsor was the ‘City on Wheels,’ I was thinking I would get a job.”

Zarko Vucinic, pictured in this 2013 photo just after the sale of Duffy’s Tavern & Motor Inn, stands in front of the building he owned for 55 years. Vucinic passed away Oct. 5, 2017 at the age of 96.

Upon arrival in Windsor, they rented an apartment, bought second hand furniture and then Vucinic found jobs over the next few years including at Hiram Walker’s warehouse construction, J.C. Teron Sign Co., Ford Motor Co. and McCord Radiator Co.

By 1953, Vucinic was the father of three children and began working as a truck driver for Windsor Beverages. That lasted until 1959, when the Vucinics bought the Duffy’s Tavern with the help of two partners. The Vucinics invested everything they had, including their car.

Vucinic recalled that they were able to expand their dining facilities in 1961 and bar side in 1963.

“One partner, Mr. Dusan Obradovic, left the partnership to go into the minnows and fishing equipment business in Windsor in 1962,” Vucinic recalled. “The second partner, Mr. Milos Jojich, in 1966 bought the Lakeshore Tavern just two miles away. So I was left alone.”

In 1970, the Vucinics built a 17-unit motel on the property. It would be expanded to 35-units in 1990 when a pool and conference room were also added.

In 1980, a part of the McQueen Marine property was purchased and a marina was built that could house 70-boats, an addition from the previous 12 wells.

Vucinic sold the property to the town in 2013 and retired at the age of 92 with hundreds of customers and staff coming through to say goodbye.

His life also included numerous awards and accolades over the 55 years he and his family owned and ran Duffy’s. Vucinic was also involved in the many local service clubs including the Lions Club and the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce as well as the Essex County Hotel and Motel Association. He also served for over 30 years as president of St. Dimitrije Serbian Orthodox Church in Windsor.

His most recent accomplishment was being awarded as one of the recipients of the Canada 150 Medal of Distinction during a ceremony at Fort Malden July 1.

“I am proud of what I did and what Duffy’s has become,” he said in 2013. “That is my satisfaction.”

People from far and wide know Duffy’s and he said the restaurant and motel has always been ready to accommodate people.

After 55 years, Vucinic added “we did something right.”

Vucinic’s daughter Grace Zec said both of her parents helped boost Amherstburg’s tourism industry.

“One of the biggest things my father and mother did was bring tourism to Amherstburg,” said Zec. “Many people didn’t know where Amherstburg was but they knew where Duffy’s was.”

The long-time business owners had the slogan “the best host on the Canadian coast” and Zec said they lived up that.

“They were the consummate host and hostess,” she said.

Vucinic was also deeply proud of his community, she continued, saying he loved the town’s location and what it has to offer. He also supported his community in many ways, Zec recalled, saying had a full life both personally and professionally.

“He loved what he did. He loved what he had. He loved the community,” said Zec. “He loved Amherstburg. He always tooted the horn of where he lived.”

Zec added that while it is sad that Duffy’s is gone and people can’t meet there anymore, Vucinic was happy the town purchased the property so that the public could continue to enjoy the view he had every day.

Vucinic was also a proud Canadian, Zec stated.

“He always said he chose this country,” she recalled. “He got to choose where he lived and he was very grateful for that.”

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