W. Brett Wilson
Courtesy Heather Fritz

Well-known Calgary entrepreneur and former Dragons’ Den investor panelist W. Brett Wilson vividly remembers the first home he bought in Calgary.

The joy and pride of first-time homeownership for his young family will always be embedded in his mind, as well as the work he put into the home.

However, that first home is also a reminder of the infamous National Energy Program, which sunk Alberta’s economy and caused plenty of financial pain for Albertans during the early 1980s.

Wilson says his first home purchase in Calgary was at 632 18th Avenue N.E. in Winston Heights-Mountview – “virtually Little Italy, next to Renfrew.” It was a one-storey, two-bedroom home with about 900 square feet.

“It cost me $99,500, we had an existing mortgage on it of $50,000 and I managed to get a second mortgage from my employer, since we were moving from Edmonton to Calgary, for $35,000. So $15,000 in and suddenly I had a $99,500 house,” said Wilson, who was 22 at the time. Both he and his wife were engineers at the time.

“Over the next four years, we spent more than $20,000 on upgrades – fixing the fence, preparing the new kitchen cupboards, finishing the basement, gutting this, doing that. $20,000, not including my time,” he said. “And I did most of it. I learned how to do tile work. I did electrical work. I did plumbing. We figured out most of it because, quite frankly, we didn’t have the budget to do it with any outside help.”

At the end of four years, the two-bedroom house wasn’t big enough for the family, and they bought a new house.

“Unfortunately, the National Energy (Program) occurred. We bought the house in May of 1981 and we sold it in May of 1985 for $70,000. Unlike many of my friends who walked away from their homes (when the homes were worth less than the mortgage), I couldn’t walk away because my mortgage – the key part of it – was with my employer,” said Wilson.

“We sold for $70,000, but in order to get out of the house, I had to write a cheque for $15,000. It was challenging times.”

Wilson said his family enjoyed their neighbours and their first home of their own.

“We fenced it in. We got a dog. We just kept fixing it up as we went around the house. I got married in May, and we bought the house in May. Concurrent with marriage came the new house,” said Wilson. “We had our first child literally March 30, which drove the sale of the house so we would have a bigger place to raise a family. It was a great starter home.”

After saying goodbye to their first home, Wilson and his family paid $106,000 for a much larger, two-bedroom home in Charleswood – and they never looked back.