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Coming home to Saskatchewan

We’re excited to introduce you to Patty and Lyle. Friendly, energetic and engaging, they’re recent transplants from Vancouver Island, although they’re born and bred Saskatchewanians. Having spent nearly eight years in Comox, they decided it was time to move home last year, and their path to Sarilia was somewhat serendipitous. 

We recently chatted with Patty to learn a little bit about her and Lyle—why they decamped from BC, how they spend their free time, and what drew them back to Saskatchewan and their new home at Sarilia. 

What was the catalyst behind the move to BC?

My son and daughter-in-law were living in BC temporarily, so we went to visit in January 2014, to escape the -40 temps. We discovered that there was a place in Canada that had temps in the teens in January and no snow! 

In 2012 I was diagnosed with breast cancer and that experience puts a different perspective on things. Even though I had been working for the government for 30+ years, once we returned from Vancouver Island that January, we started thinking seriously about how we could relocate and try life somewhere else. None of us know when our expiry date will be, but we all have one.

Lyle had worked for UPS for 25+ years at that time, and in May of 2014 they were opening new locations up on Vancouver Island. He applied to relocate and we made the decision to go to Comox as it would allow Lyle to have a better schedule than in a larger community. His work life balance had been almost non existent with minimal time to be involved in any evening activities or events. 

It was a risk to leave a stable government job but we made the leap of faith in fall of 2014 and never looked back. We got into new activities pretty quickly which helped us to meet friends and within a year or so Lyle was jamming with several local musicians and starting to help with the local minor football program. 

Fast forward through years of great friends and fabulous memories and many visits out to see us from friends and family. Then the global pandemic hit and again we found ourselves re-evaluating our priorities which resulted in our decision to move back to Saskatchewan. 

Lyle is winding down to retirement and I was lucky enough to bring my remote work that I had in BC, back to Saskatchewan with me. And here we are. Meeting new friends again and learning about new opportunities and activities we can be involved in. 

How does it feel to be back in Saskatchewan?

It feels good. It feels right. We have a lot of family here. We have two granddaughters now. My husband and I were both married before, so I have two kids in Saskatchewan and he has three in Alberta. They’re all within a decent driving distance now and we’re happy about that. 

Tell me about your new dog—Honey. 

We visited a local rescue shelter WANAR (We All Need a Rescue) on July 2 to see what they might have available. We lost our dog of over 16 years about a year ago and we were ready to find a new housemate. Honey was 9 months old at that time. We fell in love instantly and she has settled in really well. Still training to do as she’s just a puppy but she’s learning every day, and so are we.

When and how did you hear about Sarilia?

I’ve known Gwen Lepage, Sarilia’ s developer, since the late 90s when we did some work together in La Ronge, where I lived at the time. We had stayed in touch and then when I moved to Saskatoon in 2005, we connected again. Around 2010 we were looking to move out of Saskatoon to a nearby community. Sarilia was just being developed at the time and we made the trip out to see what it was like. We really loved the idea of living there but with our jobs in the city and longer hours, it just wasn’t the right fit for us at the time. We ended up in Martensville but never forgot about Sarilia.

What was it about Sarilia itself that made it feel like a good fit for you and Lyle at this point in your life?

I am from La Ronge and lived there most of my life, and Lyle is from Snowden (near the Choiceland-Nipawin area) We both grew up in the bush line with lots of trees and I wasn’t into moving onto the bald Prairie. We were so used to trees and nature being around us and that’s what we were looking to come back to in Saskatchewan. 

Our new house is surrounded by trees. Our deck is quite high and it’s almost like being in a treehouse now because it’s enveloped in trees—it’s like a jungle in the spring/summer. There are so many birds—we’ve had robins nesting on the deck this summer and the bird feeders are always busy! We have chipmunks, squirrels and rabbits too as well as the occasional deer, not to mention the coyotes and bears. It was a lot about the geography and the fact that the river is right there as well. I’m a paddler and I love the water so that was also important. 

Lyle and Honey relaxing on the deck nestled in the trees.

The purchase of your new home was somewhat serendipitous. Can you tell me about that?

When we were living in BC, and thinking about moving back, we were looking online just to see what real estate was like here. A house came up for sale at Sarilia on the SaskHouses site and we both fell in love with it instantly. It was surrounded by trees, and it was the style that we liked. It didn’t have a garage and the basement wasn’t done, but we saw all of the potential. I connected with Gwen and she filled me in on how Sarilia had grown since we last visited. This was back in January of 2021 and we weren’t ready to make the move yet but we planning to list our home that summer. In the meantime, the house we had found had sold so that was off the table. 

We sold our home in BC in July 2021 and planned to move back in spring of 2022. We made a trip back in August to see what was available then. We considered building at Sarilia but after fully researching options and with the volatility in the construction market at the time we decided against it and returned to BC still not knowing where we would end up. We wanted to be near water and trees, and we also looked at a place at Blackstrap that we were very close to putting an offer on. Right at that time, in September of 2021 Gwen gave us a call and said, “You’re never going to believe this—the house you guys fell in love in January is back on the market.” 

The home now had a finished basement and a garage. It was exactly what we were looking for—fairly close to the water, nestled in the trees. We “viewed” the house via FaceTime with our realtor and made an offer. The rest is history. 

What do you both like to do in your spare time?

As mentioned, Lyle is winding down towards retirement. He always wanted to coach football and to be in a band…so it was a hope when we moved to BC that his new schedule could allow for that. He coached minor football in Courtenay/Comox and has already connected to the Martensville Maddogs football club and will be helping them with some coaching. 

He also started a garage band while we were in BC, literally in our garage. They played different gigs around town in pubs, at wineries, and special events. So that’s his next thing—he’s got to find some other musicians and get back into that. 

Lyle loves to garden. He was one of the first people this year to plant anything in Sarilia’s community garden and has enjoyed having that garden option. It’s also a great way to meet your neighbours.  

The River Ridge trails are only a couple of kilometres from us, and the trails are for summer and winter use. Lyle has been taking full advantage of the trails this summer and Honey loves to go for walks out there too! Hopefully we can get into some cross-country skiing and/or snowshoeing as well. We certainly know what Saskatchewan winters are like so we need to embrace all of the things we can do in the colder weather too. 

I hear you were a competitive paddler—tell me about that. 

I started paddling in Saskatoon in 2013 on a breast cancer dragon boat team, a sport which I knew nothing about at that time, but I had canoed and loved being on the water. Once we settled in BC, I was quickly connected to a team there, consisting of all women who were survivors of various types of cancer. Paddling is year-round on Vancouver Island so dragon boating is a huge sport there for all ages, genders and levels.  

After paddling with those amazing women for a couple of years (and I continued with that team as well) I was introduced to high level paddling and in 2017 started working towards a goal of competing with a competitive club coordinated out of Victoria, but with paddlers from across the island. This was not specifically a “cancer team” but consisted of paddling enthusiasts who were willing to put in a lot of time and work to build their skills. We competed mostly in BC in various regattas and qualified to race in Europe in 2018 in the Club Crew World Championships (held every two years). We brought home several medals and it was definitely the trip of a lifetime. The connections I’ve made through the sport are amazing and will be lifelong friends. I’m hoping to get into other types of paddling out here but it’s been a busy summer!

Proactive & pragmatic: How one home builder manages pandemic-era projects

Proactive, pragmatic, and detail-driven, Karen Flasch has been earning accolades from both her clients and the Sarilia community. Over the past year, she’s steadfastly managed a successful build here at Sarilia—in a way that minimized disruption to the neighbours.

Karen Flasch outside her new build at Sarilia

When construction material prices skyrocketed and shipment delays became the new normal, Karen stockpiled materials for her client’s build in her own garage, in order to keep her project on time and on budget. “It was fully loaded up to the ceiling,” says Karen, with a laugh. 

We’ve heard nothing but good things about her through the grapevine, so we decided to reach out and learn more about Karen, her company, and the home she’s building for her client here in the river valley. 

Tell me about your business. 
I am a co-owner of Flasch Contracting. My son and I operate this business together. His name is Colton Flasch. I have been in the construction industry with an incorporated company for the last 16 years. So I’ve been a woman in this industry for quite a few years. 

Karen’s son, Colton Flasch

Tell me about yourself, and Colton. 
I enjoy spending time with my children and granddaughter. I love to travel and am looking forward to hopefully doing that again. 

When Colton isn’t working, he is a professional curler who trains very hard. He has won several provincial titles, two Canadian titles (one at junior level), and a one-time silver at world’s in 2019. In the summer, you will find Colton on a golf course in his off time. 

Can you describe the lot that you’re building on at Sarilia?
It’s a riverfront lot. My customer, Nickie, decided to buy two lots and we parcel-tied them together so she has a larger than average lot. The lot is perfectly set up for a walkout basement, so that’s what we chose to do.

What were Nickie’s priorities for her new house?
She definitely wanted that view of the river, so the A-frame design, expansive windows, the loft, and the two decks helped us achieve that. It was all about the view, and the serenity and peacefulness of watching the river and the wildlife.

With two decks on either side of the house, “Nickie is going to have a really nice birds’ eye view of the river,” says Karen.  

Sarilia residents have been very impressed by how clean you keep the job site. Is that always a priority, and how to you keep neighbours happy during a build?
As a general contractor, my priority is to communicate a lot with my subcontractors to make sure everybody is on the same page with the timeframe.

Even if we’ve had to temporarily store lumber somewhere while we’re waiting for the bin to be dumped, we make sure there’s nothing laying around (either materials or garbage), and that we’re parked in the right spot. 

Aside from stockpiling materials in your own garage, how did you manage the challenges of building during the pandemic?
Luckily, I have very good subcontractors who have been very proactive. As an example, my plumber said he wanted to order the furnace and ducting early on in the project. I’m very happy he suggested that, because it saved our customer a ton of money, and if we hadn’t ordered early we would probably still be waiting now.

Would you consider building at Sarilia again?
Absolutely. We know what is expected out there. Gwen (the developer) is good at communicating and letting us know what we need to do. And the inspector from the RM of Laird has been super helpful. 

I just want to make sure we do the best job possible, and that we are following the architectural design standards, out of respect for the beautiful grasslands and the river. It’s an honour to be able to work out there. There aren’t many places like that anymore. It’s a beautiful spot, so to be part of it is exciting. 

Nickie will have a panoramic view of the North Saskatchewan River from her home.

Seeking river valley views: Q&A with Kelsee

We’re thrilled to welcome Kelsee, Gavin and their five kids to Sarilia this January. Having lived in Warman since they were married ten years ago, the couple weren’t even considering moving to a new neighbourhood, until Kelsee—an avid runner—was inspired by a beautiful river view she saw on one of her frequent runs. 

“I had done a few runs close to Swift Current at Beaver Flats and that area has a river view,” she says. “So, when we were talking about updating our current house or building new, we decided the only way we would move is if we could get that river view.”

They found that vibrant river vista here at Sarilia and we couldn’t be happier to have this energetic family as new neighbours. 

We recently chatted with Kelsee to learn more about her family, their new home, and their plans for their new life in the river valley. 

Tell me a little bit about yourself, and your husband Gavin.
I was a teacher, but since having kids, I have done personal training out of my home. I also have a degree in music—and I do balloon animals. Basically, if there’s something weird out there for a hobby, I do it. My husband is an engineer.

Gavin is quite active—he does slow-pitch and curling and he likes to play rec hockey. I used to be a long-distance runner. We like to go hiking and we’re so excited that the River Ridge trails are close to Sarilia. We went out there last winter and we were just amazed by how great they were. We have lots of family close by, so we like to hang out with them. We’re quite social.

Gavin is from Osler and I’m from North Battleford, so neither of us went very far from home. 

Can you tell me about the lot you purchased here at Sarilia?
The lot is fantastic. It’s about 2 acres. We are at the top of the hill with panoramic views. I didn’t want to be surrounded by trees—some people love that, and it feels like a cabin—but I wanted river views. We also back the nature preserve.

The front yard is over an acre, where the kids can play. That was always the point—if we built, we needed room for the kids to run, but we still wanted to be in a community. On a larger acreage, I’d be driving my kids to see their friends, whereas here, they can just walk down the hill. 

What are your plans for the yard?
We were hoping to put in a zip line. And maybe a BMX track on the hill.

Tell me about your new home.
We’ve built a big white farmhouse style with two-storeys and a walkout basement. It’s got a covered porch and covered deck. We’ve got an oversized three-car garage so that I have space for my gym in there. 

How old are your kids?
Our oldest, Bradley, is 8, and Mark is 7. Felix just turned 5, and we have a 4-year-old, Moe, and an 1-year-old, Deuce. 

What did your kids think about the move to Sarilia?
We told them about the zip line, so they’re excited about that. Our new home isn’t a lot bigger than our Warman house, but it looks a lot bigger because we put the garage beside it, not in front of it. And so they think we’re moving into a mansion (laughs). 

You decided to work with Westbury Homes on the construction of your new home. What made you choose them for your builder?
We sent an email out to several builders after we found this lot. We gave them our budget and must-haves, and asked, ‘Can we afford to do this?’ And lots of builders gave a very generic response. 

Ben at Westbury got back to us and was so down-to-earth. He said the budget would work and showed us some projects they had done and gave us a rough price per square foot. He did so much research. He had already contacted Gwen (Sarilia’s developer) before responding to our email, to find out about building at Sarilia. 

He was just great from the beginning and his wife, Jenn, is a designer and they work together. I have a definite style but could not put it together on my own, and Jenn is so great because she gives me a couple of options and I can’t go wrong either way. 

What are you most looking forward to about your new life at Sarilia?
I am looking forward to it being quiet—not seeing cars coming and going all the time. I’m just going to become one of those slow-moving coffee drinkers.

What do you think Gavin is looking forward to?
I think he’s looking forward to the quiet too. Just kind of sitting, looking at the view, and knowing we don’t have to worry about the kids running into traffic or anything like that. 

What about your kids?
Digging holes. It’s very specific. In fact, when the excavating was done for the basement, my kids almost peed themselves because of the big dirt piles. They asked if the piles were staying. But there are enough hills and dirt that I’m sure they’ll build like gophers. 

Do you think your family will get into canoeing or kayaking on the river this summer?
We went to camp last summer and the kids were all kayaking and canoeing, so we thought, ‘Sarilia will be a good fit for them.’ We didn’t want a riverfront lot because I was a bit concerned about the kids and the water, so we have access to the water without it being too close. We own a camper, so (buying) a kayak is probably the next step. 

Do you remember what your first impression of Sarilia was?
It was gorgeous. Not all of the lots have river views, but there is definitely a type of lot for every person. Some people really like that closed-in cabin feeling and there are lots of those kind of properties that are tucked into the trees. 

The lot we ended up getting was my favourite part of Sarilia.  When we first visited, I parked my car at a lookout point, and I was like, “oh this is the million-dollar view.” But it wasn’t for sale (it was marked for future development).

But, after chatting with Gwen about the type of lot we were looking for to build a home and raise our kids, she decided to sell it to us. 

What kinds of activities will you do as a family this winter?
I can see us getting into those river trails (at River Ridge). They have snowshoeing out there, so I could see us doing a lot of that. We could easily get into the cross-country skiing there too. Although arming my kids with spiky poles is concerning (laughs), maybe I’ll just pull them on their skis. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share?
We’ve very excited to meet everybody. It seems like the residents do a really great job of building community and hosting events and we love stuff like that. It will be a really nice change for us. 

We had family photos taken recently and the photographer mentioned that there are several other new families here so that’s exciting. We won’t feel like the only new people. 

Finding my nature fix

“If I imagine hell as a physical place of torture and pain, it’s not the heat that troubles me most; it’s the noise. Hell surely means living in the unceasing din of a construction zone with no time limits, where earplugs and noise cancelling headphones are banned. In the Middle Ages, Christian scholars believed noise was used as a weapon by Satan, who was bent on preventing human beings from being alone with God or fully with each other, alert and listening.” – Julia Baird, Phosphorescence

Sarilia’s glorious fall colour

When new residents move from the city to Sarilia, it doesn’t take long for them to notice the soothing effects of being immersed in nature here in the country. Often, the first comments I hear from our new neighbours is how much they appreciate the quiet, and the calming feeling that envelops them as they descend into the river valley after a day of working in Saskatoon. 

It’s a sentiment echoed in Florence Williams’ bestselling book, The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative.

“Yes, we’re busy,” Williams writes. “We’ve got responsibilities. But beyond that, we’re experiencing a mass generational amnesia enabled by urbanization and digital creep.” She explains that, today, American and British children spend half as much time outside as their parents did, and we have lost more than we’ve realized because of our “epidemic dislocation from the outdoors.”  

She explains that “we don’t experience natural environments enough to realize how restored they can make us feel, nor are we aware that studies show they make us healthier, more creative, more empathetic and more apt to engage with the world and with each other. Nature, it turns out, is good for civilization.” 

Although it is terrific to walk our river trails listening to some tunes, it is a completely different experience to walk in solitude and awaken all five senses. Listening to the rustle of the leaves in the wind, smelling the fresh air, and simply breathing in the feeling of Mother Nature on your skin and in your body—it’s both calming and revitalizing. 

Hoar frost blankets the trees along the North Saskatchewan River

Before we lived in the country, I would experience this nature fix once or twice a year when we went camping at one of Saskatchewan’s northern lakes. I’m now keenly aware that spending time in nature once or twice a year is not enough.

Ronn and I have been settled in the river valley for nearly eight years now. Living within nature has had a calming, quieting effect on my life. It’s made me slow down and appreciate a more peaceful, easy, relaxed pace.

While I still enjoy spending time in the city, there’s nothing like returning to my home, nestled within nature with a view of the winding North Saskatchewan River outside my door. 

I’ve found my nature fix right here at home, and I’m happy to receive a daily dose of it. 

-Gwen

From acreage living to river valley vistas: Why one young family chose Sarilia

Chelsey, Dustin and their two children are some of Sarilia’s newest transplants—having moved here from an acreage near Hepburn this fall. Although Chelsey says they loved having “a lot of space for our 4-year-old to run around,” the downside was a feeling of isolation. “The closest neighbour was actually my husband’s cousin and they were about a mile away,” she says. 

When the couple learned they were expecting their second child, they considered making an addition to their two-bedroom home. But financially, it didn’t make sense, so they started searching for a larger home. They began by looking at houses in several small Saskatchewan cities and towns, but eventually ended up right here at Sarilia. We recently chatted with Chelsey (and her son Thatcher!) to get to know this vibrant young family and why they decided to relocate to the river valley. 

Tell me a little about yourself and your family.

Thatcher is four, and Lachlan is three months. My husband, Dustin, works for Acadia Paving. He is a heavy duty mechanic and he’s the shop foreman there. I’m a stay-at-home mom as of right now. That might change. 

What are some of your hobbies?

My husband’s hobby is easy: cars—anything automotive. And fishing. 

For me, it’s camping—we do a lot of camping in the summer. We typically go to Sask Landing. This summer was the first year we got our own trailer so we went out to Martins Lake for September long. We want to do more exploring around the province. 

What was it that you enjoyed about acreage living, and what were the challenges?

We enjoyed the space—having a yard for a bonfire and my son loves soccer, so space to kick the ball around. Although I enjoyed not having neighbours right beside us, on the other side, it felt secluded and I didn’t really enjoy that. Not having a community was probably the only downside. 

What kind of selection criteria did you have for your new home?

We were just looking for a larger house, with four bedrooms and a garage. That was pretty much our only criteria. In the long run, that probably made it harder for us because we didn’t have a specific location in mind. We were looking in Warman, Martensville, Waldheim, Osler—we were looking everywhere.

How did you find Sarilia?

My sister, who lives in Swift Current, sent me a listing for a different house at Sarilia, but it didn’t have a garage. Then I just started looking at other houses in the area and found the one that we bought. We knew about Sarilia, but in all honesty, we didn’t think it would ever be in our price range so we didn’t even consider looking out here.

Do you have any plans for meeting your neighbours once you’re settled in?

We have a dog, so we’ve been walking him, and people are out on their decks and they say hello, so we’ve been chatting with people that way. I’m also hoping, with Halloween coming up, that will be another way we get to meet people. 

Tell me about your dog. 

Our dog is a big, old man. We got him from someone who lived in Warman so he was a city dog and then we converted him to acreage living. Now that he’s older he’s going to be more of an indoor dog. His name is Rocky and he’s a Burmese Collie. 

Thatcher, what do you like most about your new home?

Thatcher: The paint. 

Chelsey: What about your bedroom? What’s in the window of your bedroom?

Thatcher: The moon!

Chelsey: The previous owners left a moon decal on the window, so it’s perfect for him.

What kind of activities do you want to do as a family this winter and next spring and summer?

We want to teach Thatcher how to skate. I know that in the past, the community here has made the little ice rinks so we’re excited to do that. We try—once a day—to walk up to the park at the top of the hill. And just a lot of fishing. My husband loves to fish so he and Thatcher are excited to go fishing down at the river.

Thatcher: I caught a fish.

Chelsey: Yes, you caught a fish at Petrofka. 

You must be very good at fishing. 

Thatcher: Yep!

Were you aware that there are a lot of young families at Sarilia before moving here?

We didn’t really know. We actually thought it was an older community. So we were definitely pleasantly surprised. To have our windows open and hear the kids playing outside—I like that. 

What was your first impression of Sarilia?

It’s beautiful. You come over the hill and you see all the trees. We saw it at the end of August and the beginning of September, so just all the greenery starting to turn for fall—it’s just gorgeous. And just driving around, you drive by someone and they wave to you. Again, it’s that community feel.

Tell me about the river view you have from your new home.

It’s amazing. Especially the balcony off of the master bedroom. It’s beautiful. We can also see it from our kitchen window on the main floor. 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

We are just really excited to meet people. The more walking around we do, I’m sure the more people we will meet. 

How Sarilia got its name

“Sarilia” is a name that carries historical significance.  It’s a variation of the name Savilya Demoska, one of the early settlers on the land where Sarilia Country Estates was developed. Savilya was a Doukhobor and the name means “spirit wrestlers.” It’s an apt description of the 1,500+ Doukhobors who settled along the North Saskatchewan River valley over 100 years ago.

Some parts of Sarilia still look like they would have 100 years ago.

These Russian religious descendants sought harmony, making a new life of peace and contentment for their families. They established villages in the area and farmed their land together.

The Doukhobors farmed together as a community, and today, Sarilia residents garden together in the community garden.

When Ronn Lepage was a young child, his father, Laurier, often took him to this part of the river valley to spend quality time outdoors together. During these outings, Laurier taught Ronn about the things that truly matter. Things like love for the land, respect for the river, and the importance of a healthy community.

Years later, Ronn realized these childhood experiences with his father had influenced the man he has become. He is passionate about outdoor activities like canoeing, camping, fishing and snowshoeing, and he has passed down his love and passion for the outdoors to his adult children, just like his father did before him.

Today, Ronn and Gwen often walk the land and talk about Laurier. What would he think of the community they’ve created? They think he would appreciate how they’ve worked to preserve and respect the river valley’s ecosystem, and how the peaceful, community-minded philosophy of the “Spirit Wrestlers” is not forgotten.

Gwen and Ronn think Ronn’s late father, Laurier, would be proud of the tight-knit community they’ve helped create. They named a street at Sarilia—Laurier Crescent—in his honour.

The Gathering Place: Carving out space for our community

With warmer spring weather finally here, and a year into the pandemic, we’ve come to understand the importance of having safe, outdoor spaces—like our community garden—to gather together at Sarilia.

So, it was timely that several of our residents banded together in 2020 to create another outdoor community space—a new park that is “attractive and accessible to all residents, their kids and pets,” says Carissa, the Sarilia resident who spearheaded the initiative.

We recently chatted with Carissa, her husband, Joe, and a few other community-minded residents who pitched in to create our new park, which is called The Hollows. We wanted to learn about how it came together, how residents are using the space, and its significance during a year like none of us have ever experienced.

Carissa: I’m a community planner and one day I was looking at the satellite image of the municipal reserve areas at Sarilia. These areas are dedicated to be used for recreation and other publicly accessible uses. The location seemed to be the perfect spot for a walking trail.

What were the next steps to set the plan in motion?

Carissa: In 2019, I approached the Sarilia Community Association (SCA) about the idea of building a trail through the municipal reserve and the opportunity to create a space for some playground equipment. The SCA felt it was a great idea and that was the spark to move forward with The Hollows.

How does the community band together for improvements like this?

Carissa: We simply send a few text messages and people show up—it’s amazing! It’s usually the same folks, but they work well together and enjoy the chance to help build something for the community! I know everyone feels their community has great spirit, but the people here genuinely care for each other and want to help.

Tell me about the community efforts involved in creating The Hollows.

Carissa: My husband, Joe, put in many personal hours carving out the trail and clearing the trees along with help in-kind from the RM. I was simply the supervisor! When it came to installing the playground equipment, the fire pit and the gazebo, the usual suspects in the community showed up to help—there are always those folks in a community who want to help. We are very fortunate we have several individuals and families who enjoy getting involved in positive community projects.

Joe: We cleared paths that follow the contour of the land. I handled a lot of the trail blazing and removal of the dead brush. We created a design for the swings, fire pit and gazebo. We received funding from the RM of Laird for those elements. I also poured a rink, which some of the kids are learning to skate on.

Jordan & Dessa: The park wouldn’t have happened without the awesome volunteers at Sarilia. People sacrificed their time and weekends to make this happen, and we all enjoyed the social aspect of working on it together.

Jade: We were informed when they were planning on building the playground, and if anyone could come and help they were welcome to. Devin went down and helped build the swings and gazebo.

How are Sarilia residents using the park so far?

Carissa: People use the park casually and formally: to walk the meandering trail through the trees, to exercise their dogs, to meet up (in small groups), for the kids to play, and to catch up with neighbours. This winter, Joe hauled several loads of water to create a small rink for the little kids to use—there’s even a hockey net that someone thoughtfully placed there.

One family even left Christmas chocolates out in the park for everyone! It’s amazing how people are using the park, and it makes me happy to see it bring people together—when so many things are trying to keep us apart right now (for good reason, of course!)

Jade & Devin: Every weekend it is full of people coming and going! People are either skating, having a fire, playing on the swings, or just visiting. It’s a great meeting place.

Can you tell me about Halloween in the park last fall?

Carissa: We decorated a “treat trail” that we called The Haunted Hallows and hung treats in the trees for the local kids. It was a big success in a time when everyone was trying to figure out how to safely trick-or-treat.

How is your own family using the park?

Jordan & Dessa: Our favourite part is the ice surface Joe made. We like to go shoot pucks and have a fire.

Jade & Devin: We use the park to get together with other neighbours and have our own family get-togethers. We also used the park for our daughter’s birthday party.

How old are your kids and what do they think of the park?

Jordan & Dessa: They are 5 and 9. They enjoy the park—they like shooting pucks, finding trails to slide down and throwing snowballs at Joe!

Jade & Devin: Our kids are 2 and 4. They LOVE the park and are always asking to go down into “the forest” (that’s what we call it in our house).

What was it like to see the park come to fruition?

Carissa: It makes me so happy to see my neighbours enjoying the space with their kids and dogs—to see them connect with their neighbours and build the community. There’s been birthdays and other informal gatherings since the Hollows was established.

Joe: It’s rewarding, because it brings the community together. We had a good turn out from residents who want to help.

Jade & Devin: It was awesome to see people work together and create something that will be used and appreciated for years to come.

Does the park have more significance now, due to the pandemic?

Carissa: As neighbours, we enjoy each other’s company so much that we miss being able to visit. The Hollows provides people with a way to safely visit outside their homes around the fire pit—it’s really important for some of us to continue to connect and support each other during this time.

Jordan & Dessa: Yes. We went down there on Boxing Day and ran into three other families. On a normal year, that probably wouldn’t have happened. It gave us something to do while we couldn’t spend Christmas with our families.

Jade & Devin: YES! Since getting together outside is more safe, we are using it a lot more for gatherings.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about The Hollows? Carissa: We’re not finished yet—we still have some other improvements we’d like to make.

Jordan & Dessa: We are hoping to add to the park this summer. Stay tuned!

Growing vegetables & community

Wowzers—it is my favourite 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.

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

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.

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.