Photo courtesy of Inshore Developments Ltd.

Many Albertans are looking close to home when it comes to buying a vacation property 

Calgary residents Nora and Norval Horner recall many summer vacations spent along Alberta’s Gull Lake.

“Nora’s family had a cottage on Gull Lake, and we used that cottage a lot while our kids were growing up. We’d come up the end of June and stay ‘til Labour Day,” recalled Norval.

They loved cottage life so much that when an opportunity arose to purchase 210 acres of land along the northeast corner of Gull Lake, the Horners bought it and started their own cottage development – Meridian Beach.

So far, Horner says, they have sold more than half of the 240 fully-serviced lots that the development will have when finished. Lots start at $120,000 and go up to $200,000.

Horner says cost is one reason why many Albertans opt for a weekend-retreat residence in Alberta, rather than in neighbouring British Columbia (B.C.), long-lauded for its recreational, lakeside living. For example, in Mara Lake, B.C., a single vacant lot can be found at $99,900, but options open up in the $290,000-and-up price range.

“If you’re looking at property in British Columbia, like Invermere, Mara Lake and the Shuswap, the cost is through the roof today. Plus, in B.C., you must pay the seven per cent Provincial Sales Tax,” said Mike Diemer, the sales and marketing manager for Whispering Pines, a gated community on Pine Lake that features an 18-hole golf course.

Like Meridian Beach, folks can buy a fully-serviced lot at Whispering Pines for between $110,000 and $180,000, on which one can build a home complete with a basement and two-car garage. Or, one can convert the property into an RV lot.

“You can buy a property here when you have young children, and watch them grow up over the summers and, when you retire, you can sell your house in Calgary and live here as your primary residence,” said Diemer, referencing the fact that many Whispering Pines residents are retirees who live there year-round.

Horner says another primary reason to choose an Alberta-based recreational property over one in British Columbia is driving distance. Meridian Beach, for example, is no more than a two-hour drive from either Calgary or Edmonton, compared to a minimum five-hour drive to B.C.’s lake country.

Alberta’s recreational lakeside properties are often a lot quieter, and not near as busy, compared to those in B.C.

“We have residents who used to be in Kelowna or the Shuswap, but they lost touch with their friends and children. B.C. is too far away. Here, you can come for a long weekend … We’re central and make for a convenient family-gathering place,” said Horner.

Whispering Pines is only a 90-minute drive from Calgary.

“When you start looking at the Shuswap, it’s an eight-hour drive,” said Diemer. “It’s almost impossible to go out there without taking a day or two off work.”

Much like Diemer, Cochrane resident Marion Grivell is no stranger to weekend lakeside retreats.

She and her late husband purchased their first recreational property in Christina Lake, B.C. more than 20 years ago.

“We had it for four years, but it was so far away and we were only going out for a couple of weeks in the summer. We sold to get the value out of the money we paid for it. We wanted to use it as much as possible,” said Grivell.

The Grivell couple subsequently purchased a property at Alberta’s Gleniffer Lake, an hour-and-a-quarter drive from their Cochrane home.

“We’d get home from work on Friday, pack up the car and spend the weekend at Gleniffer Lake. Because of the location, we went almost every weekend in the spring and summer,” recalled Grivell, adding that the gas expenses remained reasonable because the drive was relatively brief compared to the long haul to Christina Lake.

While Horner says Gull Lake, at 18-kilometres long, is not a huge lake like some of those in B.C., the same activities – from swimming and fishing to waterskiing and wakeboarding – are all possible on Gull Lake, as they are on other Alberta lakes. Moreover, he emphasizes, Alberta’s recreational lakeside properties are often a lot quieter, and not near as busy, compared to those in B.C.

Horner says, currently, “recreational property sales in Alberta are a little bit depressed,” noting that, last year, they sold only five lots at Meridian Beach, contrasted with one of their best years when they sold 30 lots.

“Once a family gets used to having a cottage, they never sell. They come to mean so much, because the cottage is where the family memories are made.”