Lake communities merge city and cottage life for an experience you can’t get anywhere else in Calgary
Greg Macdonald is a self-described “fishing fool.”
“I’m either fishing, or thinking about fishing,” he said, laughing.
This love of fishing is one of the reasons Macdonald and his wife are buying back in to the community of McKenzie Lake.
“We first bought a house in McKenzie Lake in 1999,” said Macdonald.
“We sold it a couple of years ago when the market started to turn, but we just bought back in the area, because we loved lake living so much.”
Donna Cuthbertson is another longtime lake-community resident – she has lived in Sundance for nearly 30 years.
“I fell in love with the place,” said the Ontario native. “In Ontario, we’re used to growing up around water, and Sundance felt like a nice place to raise children.”
Cuthbertson recalls being at the beach and associated park – the spot of choice for neighbourhood youngsters to meet up and play – every day when her children were young.
“It’s a very close community. You get to know your neighbours at the beach. People look out for others’ kids,” she said, adding she and her husband were considering downsizing out of Sundance, but changed their minds when they found out their son is having twins.
“It’ll be a great place for grandkids. I like that you don’t need to have a cottage if you live in a lake community. You can spend the day at the lake and then pack up and go home.”
Currently, there are nine lake communities within Calgary city limits. Most of them are located in the southeast. Coral Springs is the northeast quadrant’s only lake community, while Arbour Lake is the only one in the northwest.
“Each lake has something just a little bit different,” said Cuthbertson, noting features like the man-made mountain and two waterfalls in Chaparral, which also has an underwater course for scuba diving, and the islands where interested parties can purchase estate homes in the communities of McKenzie Lake and Mahogany.
One thing all lake communities have in common, however, is that houses within their boundaries have higher market values because of the lakes they surround.
Macdonald, who is president of Sage Appraisals, says a waterfront location (or first-tier lake access) adds “a huge amount” to house value.
He estimates third-tier lake access, which means the owner needs to walk or drive to the lake, still adds about $25,000 to $30,000 to a property’s value.
The middle ground between these two categories is second-tier lake access, where homeowners have use of a semi-private dock with only a stretch of green space separating house and lake.
“We first bought a house in McKenzie Lake in 1999. We sold it a couple of years ago when the market started to turn, but we just bought back in the area, because we loved lake living so much.” – Greg Macdonald, president of Sage Appraisals
In addition to increasing property values, lake living offers residents a number of attractive lifestyle amenities and activities, such as swimming, boating and beach volleyball in the summer, and ice rinks for skating and hockey in the winter. Homeowners associations, like the McKenzie Lake Residents Association, manage their respective lakes and offer the use of equipment (e.g. canoes, row boats and paddleboards) to residents, while also taking care of facility bookings and community programming.
Many of Calgary’s lake communities also stock their lakes with fish, usually trout. Ice fishing is often available in winter, and individual fishing licences aren’t required. However, there are limits as to how many fish households can catch and keep, and sometimes, catch-and-release policies are in place.
For access to these lake amenities, community residents must pay yearly fees and encumbrances are also registered against their properties. These fees are mandatory, whether someone plans on using the lake or not. In McKenzie Lake, for example, yearly fees range from $187.50 to $500.00 per year, depending on property type. Only residents and their guests may use the lake.
If a property is rented out, lake-access rights can only be assigned to the owner or tenant, not both.
Macdonald says it’s important to note that just because you moved into a lake community, it doesn’t mean you will automatically have lake privileges, as community boundaries and lake-access boundaries don’t always match. In McKenzie Lake, for example, the lake-access boundary ends just south of Mountain Park School.
Macdonald also advises potential lake-community homebuyers for whom fishing is important to ask about the lake’s fish population. A couple of lakes in Calgary are infested with perch, he explains, which makes catching trout difficult.
Cuthbertson has a reminder for dog lovers who are looking to buy into a lake community: lake communities, in general, prohibit dogs from using the lakes and beaches for sanitary reasons.
In the end, Cuthbertson says that while there are fees and restrictions to keep in mind, most people who decide to buy a home in one of Calgary’s lake communities get hooked on the lifestyle and never want to leave.
“People tend to leave these lake communities only if they are leaving the city,” she said. “People are very happy here.”