How nature lovers experience Sarilia

Scott Enns has always felt drawn to the river valley and the serenity it offers. “I always liked the river life—the North Saskatchewan River and all the wildlife. It’s always been in my heart to live on the river,” he says. 

Four years ago, Scott and his wife Pam made that dream a reality, when they moved to a riverfront lot at Sarilia. After discovering the lot for sale online, the couple drove to Sarilia, took one look, “and we called the Realtor and said, ‘we’ll take that lot,’” he says. “It was that quick.”

Although he grew up in Martensville, Scott spent much of his childhood on his grandparents’ farm 15 km north of Sarilia, so he was familiar with the area. Today, Scott is an avid outdoorsman and the owner of Hook in Mouth Outfitters & Tours

We recently chatted with him to learn how he experiences and appreciates the great outdoors right here at home. 

Scott’s fishing boat

I’ve heard that you find getting out into nature to be therapeutic. Can you explain that?

It really has been. Every single day I am outside in the wilderness. I’m always down at the river and I try to get on the water or on the trails. I’ll take my boat over to the island and go for a long walk. (The island is in the middle of the river).

I like that there’s no light pollution here—there are no street lights. When Gwen and Ronn developed it out here they didn’t want that. I was like, ‘wow, that’s brilliant.’ They did an awesome job. 

Scott walking the trail on the island across from Sarilia

What’s the island like?

There’s a trail that goes from one side to the other and it’s approximately 7-km long. There are all different species of trees—you’ll walk to one spot and it will be a whole forest of a certain tree and then you get to the north side and there’s all these really cool cottonwoods that are growing crooked. 

Can you tell me about the famous cottonwood?

It’s right across from Sarilia on the island. It’s a black cottonwood. It’s 100-feet tall and it’s 20 feet in circumference at the base. 

Scott and his wife, Pam, visiting the famous cottonwood tree

Is it one of the biggest trees in Saskatchewan?

It’s one of the biggest urban trees. There are pine and spruce up north that are probably over 100-feet. But it’s definitely one of the largest. 

There is another tree on the island that is likely going to be called the most distinguished tree in Saskatchewan. It may have been struck by lightning and burnt out in the middle, so you can stand inside it. It’s really cool. 

Besides the island, are there other parts of Sarilia you find relaxing?

Yes—the river trails. They stretch from one end of Sarilia to the other and it’s really nice down there. When it’s windy, you can go down there and be sheltered from the wind. We’ve had a fire down there with the neighbours a couple of times this summer. It was really fun. 

What kind of wildlife have you spotted at Sarilia?

This morning I saw a big moose on the island (from my house). There are probably 5-6 moose on that island. Last year we saw two bears. There’s coyotes, elk, mink and red foxes. There are lots of different birds too—hawks, pheasants, owls, bald headed eagles, blue jays, woodpeckers and whiskey-jacks (AKA grey jay). 

How would you describe your perfect day at Sarilia?

Just being outdoors, fishing, hiking and mountain biking. I try to get outside every day. I just love the peace and serenity of being in the quiet, hearing the coyotes and the birds. I love it.

Pam & Scott

How young professionals are building new—A peek inside the Humble Home

As an architectural technologist, it makes perfect sense for Taylor Freemantle to custom design her own home. Although she enjoys working in the city, she knew she didn’t want to live in Saskatoon. She recently purchased a lot right here at Sarilia, and since making the purchase, she’s been refining her house plans.

She’s building a Humble Home—the brainchild of VOCE Developments, a local Saskatoon home building company, where she happens to work. Humble Homes are an affordable, portable solution that can be adapted to suit your lifestyle as your needs change. 

We recently interviewed Taylor to learn more about the Humble Home, and what makes it a perfect fit for her. 

Taylor visiting her newly purchased lot at Sarilia

Taylor, what made you decide to build a Humble Home and move to Sarilia?
I’m a  young professional with only one income. To try to find a house to purchase in Saskatoon is just not realistic. Everything is just so expensive. At Sarilia, the lots are affordable. To build something like this and move out there is actually in my budget. It’s realistic. I know there are a lot of people like me—young professionals who are looking to just get started and Sarilia is an awesome opportunity. 

Other than affordability, what was it about Sarilia that made it a good fit?
I was raised in a small town in northeast Saskatchewan. I love working in the city but I’ve always wanted to live outside the city. Lots of my hobbies are outside. I like hiking and fishing, whereas in the city there’s not much opportunity for this lifestyle. Sarilia was perfect—it’s beautiful, it’s quiet, it’s peaceful. 

What kind of floor plan are you working on?
Right now, I’m designing a three-bedroom home. One bedroom for myself, a spare room if I have guests or family come to stay, and a smaller room to use as an office. 

I’m focused on an open concept. I like entertaining—I have friends and family that I like to have over so it’s important to me to have an open-concept, multi-purpose space. Incorporating outdoor space is also important for me because I like fresh air and being outside. 

Humble Home show house

Although the Humble Home is a permanent structure, can it transition with its owner if they decide they need more space in the future, for example, if their family is growing?
As your personal life changes and your family expands, you can transition the space—we can design for future additions if people are interested in doing that. 

That’s my thinking right now. I’m doing this on my own, so my budget isn’t huge. I’m designing something that suits my needs right now and down the road as things progress and I need more room, I have that option. 

Also, as your lifestyle changes or family grows, your Humble Home can be moved off site and replaced with a new one that better suits your needs. 

VOCE has 12 customizable Humble Home floor plans—what distinguishes them?
We have floor plans targeting every different demographic. So, we have floor plans designed for the lake life where you don’t need a lot of closets, and we have other floor plans that are a bit bigger to accommodate full-time living. Some of them are one-bedroom floor plans and we have all the way up to 3-4-bedroom floor plans. 

What kinds of neighbourhoods or settings are a good fit for the Humble Home?
Acreages and developments like Sarilia are a good fit. We’re familiar with Sarilia’s architectural design standards, and can easily work within those parameters to ensure the homes fit in aesthetically and respect the river valley ecosystem. 

Will you build your home and then move it to Sarilia, or build on site? When is the big move?
I will be building it on site! I’m planning to have it finished for next fall—that way I can take my time with the design as I’m doing it in my spare time.

Loft bedroom

To inquire about the Humble Home, or to visit the Saskatoon Show Home, contact Duane Hill at 306-384-5599 or visit vocedevelopments.ca

To inquire about available lots at Sarilia, contact Vaughn Krywicki at 306-381-9161.

Growing vegetables & community

Wowzers—it is my favorite season! I seriously enjoy autumn—breathing in the crisp, cool air, the trees changing colour to brilliant oranges and reds, a time of looking forward, a fresh start and making changes. It always makes me feel optimistic and energetic. Just thinking about Thanksgiving and Christmas just weeks away—there’s so much excitement, planning and family celebrations to look forward to. Also, let us not forget that it is the season for jeans, fun socks, scarves, cozy sweaters and boots.

A few weeks ago, we organized a photo shoot to celebrate harvest in our community garden. Even though we needed to keep our physical distance, it was wonderful to be together again.

I love the expression on Emma’s face when her mom picked a fresh strawberry for her. I love how surprised Huxley was to find yellow beans and a ginormous zucchini, and I loved seeing adult gardeners digging in the dirt, happy with their produce. 

Maybe I enjoyed the garden more this year as it offered me a “pause for reflection.” It’s a time of feeling blessed and grateful for good health and well-being and for fellow gardeners and friends who are not only growing vegetables, but also growing a community. That makes my heart happy.

–Gwen

Huxley picking beans
Shelley with freshly picked carrots
Jordan pulling carrots
View of the playground from the community garden

Meet the neighbours: Courtney, Keith, Kinsley & Lincoln

A lot of the people who make their home at Sarilia were originally searching for an acreage near Saskatoon. Usually, that desire originates back to how they grew up themselves—on a family farm or acreage-style property. The lots for sale at Sarilia are less than an acre, but some residents have combined two lots to create an acreage property. Either way, our river trails, nature reserves, community garden and playground provide lots of communal green space to enjoy without the extra upkeep. 

Our newest neighbours, Courtney, Keith and their two kids, found that Sarilia was the perfect place to “meet in the middle,” after moving here from Hanley, SK in December. Keith had been wanting to move to an acreage, and Courtney wanted to move to Saskatoon—and Sarilia ended up being the perfect fit for their family. 

We recently chatted with Courtney to find out what else attracted them to our river valley community, and how they plan to spend their first summer at Sarilia. 

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I’m a mom to two. I have a 3-year-old, Kinsley, and 1-year-old, Lincoln. I am married to Keith and he works in the construction field. Generally, he is on the road, but right now he is based in the office because of everything that’s going on. 

I also work in the construction field as a manager. I’m partly working from home but I have the kids right now. Once construction picks up, I will be back to work. 

What do you both like to do in your spare time?
My husband loves anything outdoors. He loves to go fishing, build things and go for walks. I like to go for walks too, but I don’t really have a whole lot of spare time because I have two small children.

What made you decide to start looking for a new home? And were you looking for a new home, or a different kind of community?
We’ve had our eye on Sarilia for a while. A couple years ago, we put in a bid on another house out here, but we didn’t get it. And this house, (the sellers) actually contacted us because they knew we had put a bid in on the other house at Sarilia. We kept an eye on the listing and they dropped the price, and we jumped on it because this is where we wanted to be. 

What was it about Sarilia that made you both want to move there?
I had really wanted to move to the city from our small town and my husband really wanted to move to an acreage. So, we found Sarilia and it just met us both in the middle, because, although our lot is less than an acre, we have that feel of an acreage, and we still have the amenities of being in the city as far as your garbage pick-up. It was a way we could meet in the middle and we were excited that we found this place for sale.

In regards to the house itself, did it have something in particular you were looking for?
Oh, yeah—a big white kitchen. I was looking for a big white kitchen. It was on my must-have list and it had the furnishings we wanted. It has the dream master bathroom. It basically was everything we wanted, and it backs onto the river, so that’s also a plus.

Did you look at any other communities like Sarilia? 
We couldn’t find any other communities that were like Sarilia. There’s really nothing else where you have the river right there. There’s nothing else like it. 

Was the proximity to the river a big attraction for you?
Another reason we moved to Sarilia was so that we could be closer to our cabin at the lake. It cut down our drive by a whole hour—so we are definitely water people. We like the lake, and being able to look out onto the river every day—it’s calming for us. 

What were some of your first impressions of Sarilia?
Since we’ve moved here, we’ve met some really great people. And I’m excited for a time when this (pandemic) is all over and we can all get together more often and have barbecues.

Were you and Keith concerned about using a septic and cistern system? Do you have experience with either?
We do, because that’s what our cabin runs off of. So, we have experience with it. Not full-time living with it, but we didn’t have any concerns.

What are you most looking forward to doing at Sarilia this summer?
I hope that we can eventually get together more with our neighbours and visit and have parties and barbecues. I would love to have get-togethers because I’m a social person. And just walks along the river.

Q&A with Cass & Jeni

Jeni, Cass, their two kids, Draeden and Emma, and their dog, Saydee, moved to Sarilia on February 14th this year, and it was “probably the best Valentine’s Day gift ever,” says Cass. They moved here from Saskatoon, but they’d had Sarilia in their sightlines for several years—ever since Jeni’s brother Brad and sister-in-law Tessa moved their own family here from the city. 

We recently chatted with the couple to find out what enticed them to move out of the city, what their kids think about their new home and what their plans are for their first Sarilia summer.  

Cass, Jeni & daughter, Emma

What made you decide to move away from Saskatoon?
Cass: We are both small-town/farming people. Jeni grew up on a farm in a very small community and I’m from a very small town so the country is exactly where we wanted to be.

Did you look at other developments and acreages around Saskatoon?
Cass: We did look at acreages, but once Brad had scoped out Sarilia, and showed it to Jeni, she had her heart set on it. That would have been six or seven years ago. And then, when we met, she brought me out here, and I was like, “oh my goodness, this is beautiful.” Once we really looked at it, we knew we wanted to be out at Sarilia. 

Was there something specific you were looking for in regards to a new home?
Cass: We wanted space—a bigger yard. We didn’t want to be side-by-side with our neighbours. Just to get away from the pavement and be out in nature.

After talking to Gwen, we knew it was the type of community we wanted to be a part of. It has a small-town feel, and like-minded people. There are lots of young families, so we knew there would be kids who would be going to school with Emma—kids that she would grow up with. There were so many pros.

Were they any particular features that attracted you to Sarilia?
Cass: The river was definitely number one for us. That’s why we built our house right on the riverbank. We wanted to be as close to the river as possible.

How has your lifestyle changed since moving from the city to Sarilia?
Cass: The main difference is just being out in nature and having that ability just to go out and be exposed to fresh air. It’s very quiet and you can hear the coyotes. We had a moose pass the front of our house the other day. You can hear the owls. You can hear the geese. You don’t hear people—you just hear nature.

What do your kids think of about living at Sarilia?
Cass: They love the space. There’s so much more to do out here versus being in the city. We’ve always been very outdoor people, so it’s given us a lot of freedom to be out and exploring. We’ve got a pet beaver down on the river trail that we see often. It’s a cool experience being back out in the country. It’s exactly how I grew up and I’m so excited for my kids to grow up in the same type of environment.

Jeni: It’s almost like letting kids go back to being kids. In the city, you always have to keep a close eye on them—watch where they’re going, and pretty much be with them all the time. When we’re out here—not that we’re not paying attention to what Emma’s doing—but we can sit on the deck and she can run and play around and we’re not concerned that there are dangers lurking around the corner. We both grew up on a farm/small town, so I think it’s just great for kids to have all that nature to explore and not have to be cooped up inside.

What do you think the transition has been like for your dog, Saydee?
Cass: Saydee is very happy to be out in the country. As a family, we love going out for walks on the river trails and just out on the road to get some exercise. She just has so much more freedom being out of the country and she loves to swim in the river. 

Cass, Jeni and their dog, Saydee

What was it like to work within Sarilia’s design standards when you built your new home?
Jeni: We are happy with how (our house) looks and we’re actually glad that there are standards because it makes the houses look that much more appealing.

Did you have concerns about using a septic and cistern system?
Cass: We weren’t concerned because of where we grew up. Jeni has a septic tank on her farm where she grew up, and where I grew up (at Crooked Lake), we also had a septic tank so it was nothing new to us. And (with the cistern system) you don’t even have to be home when they deliver your water. You just tell them how much you need and they fill up your tank—it’s simple. 

We also put in a great greywater system, (which means) our freshwater is recycled to be used in our toilets, so we don’t go through a lot of water. I think we’re on week 12 right now without a septic pump-out so we’re doing really well. The greywater system isn’t a requirement at Sarilia, but you’re definitely saving a ton of money in the long run if you install one.

What activities do you plan to do at Sarilia this summer?
Cass: We have a garden plot (in the community garden) so we are going to be gardening, which I’m excited for. In the city, I only had little (garden) boxes so I’m excited to actually have a garden plot and harvest some vegetables and fruit for our family. 

And we have a canoe so we are definitely going to be out on the river. Maybe try a hand at fishing. There’s so much to do—we’re just so excited for our first summer.

What has the commute to work in Saskatoon been like for you both?
Jeni: It’s really not that far. It’s about 25 minutes and pretty much double lane the entire way. When we were living in Willowgrove it was still a 15-18 minute commute so what’s an extra seven minutes to be out at Sarilia? It’s well worth the extra seven minutes.

Cass: Honestly, it’s the greatest thing to see the lights of the city in your rearview mirror. 

Is now a good time to build a new home? Q&A with Myles Li at Affinity

In the last few months, we’ve had a lot of renewed interest in Sarilia from people looking to simplify their lives. They’re looking for a connection with nature and a strong community spirit. They’re seeking more space, cleaner air, less noise and less stress. The river view and water access are the icing on the cake.

We’re also fielding questions about whether now is a good time to build a new home. It turns out, lots of people are still buying and building their dream homes in and around Saskatoon. We recently chatted with Myles Li, a personal banker at Affinity Credit Union’s Langham advice centre, to get a sense of what’s going on in the real estate market locally, and if now is a good time to get a new mortgage. 

Tell me a little bit about yourself. 
I’m a personal banker at Affinity Credit Union. I’ve been with Affinity Credit Union since 2016. I really enjoy reading and watching movies. I was born in China and immigrated to Canada in 2012 and I completed my bachelor’s degree in finance in 2015. I live with my wife and my 1.5-year-old son in Saskatoon.

What makes Affinity different from the big national banks?
Affinity is different from big banks because we’re a Saskatchewan-born co-operative financial institution owned by our members, for our members. We only operate in Saskatchewan, so you can be sure our advisors understand your local needs.

We believe people come before profits and are dedicated to looking out for your financial health by offering great products, competitive rates and genuine, professional advice.

Affinity exists because of and for our members. That’s why we’re committed to giving back to the communities we serve. We do this in a lot of different ways including sponsorships, donations and community funding. We see our involvement as more than just writing a cheque—it’s a partnership.

What is happening lately in banking when it comes to new mortgages? Is it a good time to buy a new home or property? 
At this point, the housing market appears to be holding up quite well in Saskatchewan. Affinity is seeing a significant number of mortgage applications, including construction, in the local market at the present time. Mortgage rates are currently low, which makes it a very good time to consider purchasing a home, whether that’s buying an existing property or building new. Affinity Credit Union is very familiar with construction financing, including ready-to-move homes (RTMs), and we have the expertise to help make the entire process easy and uncomplicated.

What else are you seeing in the real estate market? Any trends? 
We’ve seen an increase in numbers of home equity loan applications recently. I believe two main reasons are: 

  1. People have been spending more time at home because of COVID-19, and are finding that they’d like to make some upgrades to better enjoy their home time going forward; and 
  2. Mortgage interest rates are low. We’ve seen more home equity loans to consolidate other high interest rate debts as well, which can be a great strategy to pay down high interest debt and improve household cashflow. COVID-19 has impacted many people’s incomes and made it challenging for them to keep up with payments. 

Are there any common themes or conversations you’re having with clients?
I talk with members a lot on how to save for retirement or down payments for purchasing a home, also about downsizing debts to build up net worth, etc.

I know Affinity is dedicated to supporting local charities—which charities does your advice centre currently support and how? 
It’s about working together to make a difference and finding ways to improve life in our communities. For example, we recently provided $30,000 in funding to the Food Banks of Saskatchewan because we understand the growing and demanding need for them in our communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

We also contributed $20,000 to the Royal University Hospital Foundation’s COVID-19 Hospital Fund to help provide the resources its dedicated medical and support teams need to respond to COVID-19 now and into the future. 

Aside from that, we’re involved in our communities’ local assets, such as rinks and centres, sports teams, as well as community events and organizations from literacy programs to environmental sustainability and more.

Q&A with Courtenay Chudy at Warman Homes

Courtenay Chudy began her career with Warman Homes 16 years ago, starting as an architectural draftsperson, before making her way into sales. In 2016, she became the sales manager. The company has built three homes at Sarilia (two custom RTMs, and one custom site build), so we recently chatted with Courtenay to ask her about Warman Homes, their home-building process, building costs, and what makes building at Sarilia a little bit different from building in other communities. 

Can you tell me a little bit about what Warman Homes does?
We build site homes and RTM (ready-to-move) homes. Our site homes are stick-built on land and that could be in Warman, Martensville, Langham (which includes Sarilia), Dalmeny and Saskatoon.

Our RTM homes are built on our site here in Warman and then moved on to our customer’s foundation. We can move them anywhere in Saskatchewan, most places in Alberta and some locations in Manitoba. 

The Carlyle model, which is featured in Sarilia’s Buyer’s Guide

Based on your customers who’ve moved to Sarilia, what would you say are the main demographics in the area?
I’ve been to Sarilia many times and I think it’s so beautiful when I drive down there, so I don’t necessarily think it depends on your age. I think if you wanted to live somewhere with wide-open spaces and you wanted to have that beautiful river valley view, Sarilia would be the place you would want to be. You’re close enough to Saskatoon that you can still use all the amenities there, plus you have this beautiful landscape that you’re surrounded by when you go home.

How did building the custom stick-built home at Sarilia differ from building such a home in Warman or Saskatoon?
Once we had the plans finalized, we sent them to Sarilia’s engineer to get the raft foundation stamped and sealed. Then we were ready to start building. We don’t typically build raft foundations with projects in other areas—we just build a regular concrete foundation. Because Sarilia doesn’t have water plumbed in, the customers had to install a water tank in their basement, and a septic system, so that was something we had to take into account for them. These clients also asked for a grey-water system. Other than that, the entire house was exactly the same as what we would normally build. 

What is a raft foundation and why is it necessary at Sarilia?
Raft foundations are a floating foundation. It’s exactly as it sounds—it’s a raft. They are typically used in areas where the soil is poor or variable—where the ground might be prone to more movement. So, if the ground is moving and you’re building a house on top of it, the house has to be able to move with the ground. As the foundation moves, the house moves with it. Obviously, building down in a river valley, it’s going to be prone to ground shift. Knowing all those variables, it makes perfect sense that they are enforcing a foundation specifically designed for that. 

Sun-filled living room in The Carlyle

There’s a plan for The Kodiak RTM in the Sarilia Buyer’s Guide. If a customer wanted to build the Kodiak at Sarilia, what part of the process would Warman Homes handle, and what is the customer responsible for?
If we are building the Kodiak specifically, it would be the main floor and the second floor. We would be building that on our yard in Warman—everything from the main floor joists up. Then, we finish it here and deliver it to a foundation that’s already completed at Sarilia and roll the house on.

The customer typically takes care of the rest, so they would hook up their sewer, water (septic and cistern for Sarilia), their mechanical system, their electrical, things like that—they have to hook up their utilities on-site. We typically don’t supply the furnace or the hot-water heater on an RTM. Things like that typically get done after.

So, the customer would hire another company to pour the foundation?
Yes. But if we are building on site for them instead of an RTM, we take care of all that. We put in the foundation and then we stick build on top. We complete everything as a turn-key project.

Ensuite in The Carlyle

What has it been like to build within Sarilia’s design standards?
As a home builder, we are always working with developer’s design standards no matter where we build. If we build in Rosewood in Saskatoon, we are working under Boychuk’s design standards. If we’re building in Warman—in Legends, Traditions or Southlands (subdivisions)—we’re working under KH Development’s design standards. Anywhere you build these days, unless it’s your own farmland, you have a design standard that you have to follow. So, to have to follow design standards is not new for us. But every developer has different standards. 

The way I interpret Sarilia’s guidelines is they are concerned with how the house will look at the end, and the property as a whole—the out buildings, drainage and grading, etc. They also want you to think about how much you’re changing the natural property. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It takes more time…but we all kind of need to do our part to take care of mother nature. 

What would it cost to build a Warman Home at Sarilia?
We often have customers that come here and we have a base price that we tell them—kind of like our starting point. We like to look at their plan and what kind of finishes they want before we can give them a number. 

There are a lot of variables so this is a hard question to answer but typically our RTM homes start around $105/square foot and our site homes start somewhere around $150-$160/square foot. Typically, we do a plan, review and discuss options you’re looking for before we decide on a base price. The price also depends on if we are building on land that we own, or if we are building on land that you own.

Open-concept kitchen/dining area in The Carlyle

Check out our Sarilia Buyer’s Guide to view two Warman Homes plans that would fit within our architectural guidelines. Prices (including the price of the lot) start at $362,000 for The Carlyle custom site build. 

Project bluebird

This spring, two of our Sarilia residents, Annette and Al, launched “Project Bluebird,” an initiative focused on building new bird houses in our community to help conserve the species. Five like-minded neighbours also chipped in to help. We recently chatted with Annette to learn more about their endeavors to help and house our feathered friends. 

What inspired you and Al to take on this project?

We love spring and watching how everything comes back to life after a long winter. The change in seasons, and especially the colorful changes, brings us joy—especially seeing the pretty bluebirds return each spring. We want to see the bluebirds thrive and we want to ensure they have somewhere to nest in the area where we live.

We saw the old bluebird houses on the fence line and the terrible condition they were in. We thought, “We have wood—we can build new houses.” So, we did. Well, to be honest, Al did. He gets nervous when I use his power tools.

Tell me about your process.

Al and I thought it might be a good idea to ask our neighbours if they wanted to build a birdhouse—mainly to build community. We did a Google search and found a good plan. Al cut the wood and made kits so the houses were easy to put together and we emailed our neighbours to see who was interested. We built five houses, and five of our neighbours built five houses, for a total of 10.

Where did you install the birdhouses?

The Saskatoon Nature Society has some good information on their website about bluebirds. They were out in our area on March 29 and reported seeing them. Their website shows and aerial view of the roads where we have put up new houses. 

Have you seen any birds using them so far?

We saw bluebirds on the fence line at the end of March, but we haven’t seen any since. We looked last weekend when we put up some new houses and moved a few houses around. We will keep looking. We know they are here.

Can you tell me about the Bluebird trails? What are they?

The Saskatoon Nature Society has an explanation on their Facebook page. It reads:

“It all began as a conservation program 50 years ago. Native cavity-nesting birds like bluebirds were becoming species at risk due to habitat loss and the introduction of European cavity-nesting birds like the House Sparrow and European Starling. To conserve our native birds, many individuals and organizations set up “Bluebird Trails”. A bluebird trail is a line of nest boxes stretching several kilometers through the countryside. The Saskatoon Young Naturalists have a line of roughly 260 nest boxes running from Langham to Hanley. Our conservation science program involves monitoring each nest box to determine which species of bird is nesting in the box and recording its productivity by counting the number of eggs or young. We also monitor the survivorship of “our birds” through the use of leg bands. We have a permit from Environment Canada to fit the birds with a uniquely numbered leg band. It is our hope the bird may be recaptured someday and we will learn things like where it migrated to in the winter or how old it is. The data we collect is used by a wide variety of scientist studying everything things like pesticides, climate change, and, of course, species recovery. It is a great hands-on nature science program for kids to learn the importance of monitoring biodiversity.”  

Do you think the project helped build community spirit at Sarilia?

I hope the project brings the community together. When people drive down the road and see the houses they or their neighbours built, or see the bluebirds, they should feel proud they did something positive to keep their community colorful and connected to nature.

A nostalgia for home

I was born and raised in Whitewood, a small town in southern Saskatchewan. My childhood home was over 100 years old and situated on a four-acre parcel of land close to the edge of town. The land was well treed, hilly and had a small creek that ran through the bottom of the property, close to the garden. The house sat on a hillside, so we had a great view. 

My childhood home in Whitewood, Sask.

I was one of four kids. We spent our free time building forts, making rafts to paddle on the creek, playing ball, hosting picnics, picking Saskatoons and helping our mum garden and our dad cut grass.  

My husband Ronn and I have owned this 86-acre parcel of land, that we now call Sarilia, for about 25 years. We always planned to retire here. About 13 years ago, we decided to sub-divide our property and began researching how to build a village. 

While I was working on promoting the first phase, I met a couple, Walter and Eileen, from Saskatoon when they came out to look at the available lots. While the three of us were standing on one of the riverfront lots, Walter got really quiet, and eventually broke the silence.

 “I was born and raised on land like this and I just loved it so much,” he said. 

 I told him, “I get that. So was I.”

A nostalgia inducing view at Sarilia

I don’t think I consciously understood what I was doing until that moment. I realized that I have always had this hankering to go back home. I had wanted to raise our kids the same way I was raised. 

A place with a lot of space and trees. 

A place where you can ride your bike everywhere because you know everyone and it’s safe.  

A place where there is a strong sense of community, and that community becomes your family of choice.  

I guess you could say I was a little late to the party as our kids were all grown. 

My grandkids, admiring the spring crocuses at Sarilia

But today, we have ten grandchildren that beg to come out for sleepovers and cry when they have to go back home.

When they visit, we build forts. We drag our blankets and pillows onto the back deck so we can look at the stars. We sing and play guitar in the sun porch. They help me with my garden, they go fishing down at the river and for walks at the nearby golf course. We fly kites. We pick crocuses together in the spring and go sledding in the winter.  

We’re creating memories that I hope they look back on, just as fondly as I look back on my own childhood memories. 

It’s a pretty good life we’re able to share with them, and oh boy, that makes me happy.

The vineyard next door

Here at Sarilia, we’re lucky to be surrounded by great shops, services and other amenities in nearby Langham, Borden and Dalmeny. It means we don’t have to drive into Saskatoon for a haircut, a massage, or a dentist appointment, and we don’t need to go far to find a grocery store, greenhouse, restaurant, pharmacy or even a bowling alley. The latest addition to the area is the charming Three Beans Café in Langham. Oh, and did we mention we have a cherry orchard next door?

And in a few years, we’ll be able to add a vibrant new vineyard to that list. Just a short drive from Sarilia, Nadine Ness and her husband Jonathan, have planted over two acres of grapevines, and they plan to plant more each spring until the vineyard covers about 14 acres of their land. 

We recently chatted with Nadine to learn more about their plans, and what people can expect to see sprouting up at Ness Vineyards in the coming years. 

What kind of grapes are you growing at Ness Vineyards?

They are cold weather varieties—hybrids. A lot of the ones we are growing are the same varieties that they’re growing in Minnesota, so they should handle our winters. 

We haven’t had a winter yet though. We’ve been growing some in our backyard in Osler and they’ve been doing really well. We’ve been experimenting with some of them—we’ve got about 1,200 plants now but we’re going to be growing probably 2-4 acres more per year until we get to about 14 acres. We are going to be growing table grapes as well. 

What makes this area ideal for growing grapes?

If you look at the acidic level—or the soil pH level—required for growing grapes, we need 6.1-6.7 and if you look at the map of Saskatchewan, there’s only a small portion where you can find that. It starts in the Langham area south of the river and it has that perfect acidity level. 

We also needed river water to irrigate because the well water is too basic and has too many minerals. We also needed the downhill slope, because we needed the angle of the sun to be right. The other side of the river wouldn’t have worked.

The other thing is, a lot of the dirt that we’re growing in is sandy and rocky soil, which,  for growing anything else is not ideal, but for growing grapes it’s actually the most ideal situation. 

We also wanted to be close to Saskatoon because we’re planning on eventually having a wedding venue space that can also be used for corporate events.

Photo of the grape vines at Ness Vineyards
Ness Vineyards – a work in progress

What will the venue space look like and when will it be ready?

We want it to be something that can accommodate bigger events because, in Saskatoon, there’s a huge lack of that. Most places can only accommodate 200 people and I would like to accommodate groups up to 300 or 350. 

We want it to feel like a castle. It’ll be a lot of stonework and wood beams, with a tower as well. We want it to be theplace to get married around Saskatoon—a higher-end experience. That’s our goal. 

We’ll be adding some high-end single bedroom cabins as well. In the winter, it will be an awesome place to go for a romantic getaway, with an ice rink and a real wood fireplace in your cabin—similar to the experience you get when you go to Banff—we want to bring something like that to Saskatchewan. 

The venue space will be called Chateau Ness. 

Will you live there as well?

We’ve got 222 acres, and we’ll be building our home about half a mile from the venue. I think we’re going with a plantation-style home, but we haven’t finalized our plans yet. We’re working on that now and we plan to start building this fall. 

When will the vines be established enough to produce wine?

The winemaking won’t start for 3-4 years. We still have to plant more—with two acres you don’t get that much wine! So, the more we plant, the more it’ll grow each year, but we should have our first harvest in three years. In the meantime, I’m taking classes in viticulture and oenology. 

Do you plan to offer wine tastings?

Yes, we’ll probably have a little boutique where you can come and try the wine as well as purchase the wine. We’ve thrown around the idea of having a restaurant but that’s not in our current plans. However, we will have a fully functioning kitchen available for the venue space and have seating available for a restaurant, but that won’t be for awhile if we were to decide to proceed with a restaurant. 

How do you envision your operation ten years from now?

In 10 years, I would say we will have a venue space out there and we’ll have cabins as well, and like I said, possibly a seasonal restaurant. 

Another thing we may get into is grazing some animals—so possibly some buffalo, but that would be on the second quarter, not the first quarter adjacent to Sarilia. 

We might also have a u-pick option at some point for the table grapes, once those are established. 

How are the vines doing so far?

We thought they weren’t doing very well, but then we went to Nova Scotia a couple of weeks ago and toured the vineyards there. We learned some tricks and tips on how to get them ready for the winter, and ours are doing just as well if not better than the ones in Nova Scotia.

Ness Vineyards

Tell me about the trip to Nova Scotia. Was it purely for research purposes?

Yes. We toured about 11 vineyards. We also visited some vineyards in New Brunswick because they’re a bit colder climate than Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley. It was really neat to see how the vineyards are doing and we got a lot of really good information—we sat down with a lot of the owners. Eventually we’ll be travelling to Minnesota to see the vineyards down there as well. 

Q. A lot of people are curious about the vineyard and are interested in having a look. Will you be providing tours in the future?

A. Yes. Once the vines are established, we’ll be providing guided tours. At this early stage, the vines are very delicate, and well-meaning visitors could potentially bring contaminants in with them, which could—unfortunately—harm the plants. It’s a brand new nursery, so we have to protect the biosecurity of the vines until they’re more established. We’re really excited to be able to share our vineyard with visitors once it’s safe to do so. We encourage anyone who is interested in a guided tour to contact us at nessvineyard@gmail.com.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about your new venture?

It’s a family-owned business. It’s going to be owned by my husband and me, and eventually our kids will be put to work—right now they’re a little too young. We have a 10-year-old, a 5-year-old and a baby on the way.

Interested in the other shops, services and amenities near Sarilia? Check out Borden’s and Langham’s business directories.   

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