Tag Archives: nature

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!

Building affordable and green in the river valley

How one Sarilia family designed their new home with the planet in mind

Having recently moved to Sarilia from Saskatoon, Kelly, Andrew and their 4-year-old son, Logan, have successfully settled into their new home. Their new bungalow was designed to tread lightly on the planet, while taking advantage of the sweeping river views outside. 

We recently chatted with the family to get to know them, to learn how they’ve incorporated environmentally friendly features into their new home, and how they’ll continue reducing their footprint with their future plans. 

“It’s really important to become more self-sustainable,” says Kelly, “as we face the challenges of climate change as a society.”

Can you both tell me a little bit about yourselves?

Kelly: I was born in Saskatoon, but I actually grew up in the States and lived in China and Australia. I ended up back here to do my Masters, and I have a background in conservation biology. 

My hobbies are anything to do with nature—I’m a big plant nerd, I love hiking and cooking and going on adventures with Logan and Andrew. That’s what drew us out to Sarilia— being in nature. 

I also grew up near the Beaver Creek Conservation Area in Corman Park (from ages 3-10). I really enjoyed being able to run free, and just being on the prairies. When we went out to Sarilia for the first time, we just fell in love with the space even though it was the middle of winter. It definitely felt a lot like where I grew up as a child.

Andrew: I was born and raised in Saskatoon. I’ve always wanted to live in a smaller space, out of the city but not something terribly far away. We really loved the idea of being outside Saskatoon and being immersed in nature. 

What do you do for fun?

Logan: Trick-or-treating and Paw Patrol.

Kelly: In the winter, we love to snow shoe. We definitely want to take up canoeing and kayaking. And as Logan gets older, he can do that too. 

Andrew: We’ve been out on the river ridge trails—it’s a nice, accessible park. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to get back into some outdoor sports this summer. I want to get to that middle island (in the North Saskatchewan River). I’ve only fished a few times as a kid but it’ll be nice to have that river access, and that will probably be of interest. 

Kelly & Andrew’s house has an R-value of 41.

What was it that attracted you to Sarilia?

Kelly: Originally we were looking around where I grew up (near Beavercreek) but the lots were very expensive. Andrew had seen Sarilia on Reddit of all places. 

Andrew: We noticed it was north of Langham and decided to go for a drive. 

Kelly: So, we drove out there, and it was just so beautiful. We just fell in love with it. It was so peaceful. I went from living in the country to living in really big cities and I remember when we were standing out there, Andrew said, “there is no noise.”

We lived in Saskatoon at the time. It wasn’t like this 10 years ago, but now, you’re constantly hearing noises in the city. 

One thing I missed was seeing the night sky in full, or seeing storms coming through. It’s just something that you don’t get unless you live in the country. And so we started researching Sarilia a bit more after we drove out there and we saw how affordable it was. 

Andrew: There are tons of young families at Sarilia and that was what really sealed the deal for us. With Logan, there are lots of people our age who have kids—so we are all in that same stage of life together, and I think that’s great to have that kind of community of people.

Can you tell me about your new home?

Kelly: It’s a bungalow with a vaulted ceiling. There are large windows in the front and there’s an overhanging roof over the deck—that’s the part that looks out over the river. And we have a walkout basement. We really wanted to have those big windows to bring in a lot of natural light and expand the view as much as possible—because it’s quite an amazing view that we managed to get. 

I understand it was built in an energy efficient way. Can you tell me about that?

Andrew: The house is built with ICE (Insulated Composite Envelope) panels. They are made of styrofoam and steel. We really liked the concept of a very tight, well-insulated house. It’s pre-engineered, so it’s typically a faster build because the walls are pre-cut, and basically it’s like a LEGO set, to put it all together. It will really reduce the cost of heating. 

For the roof, we decided to go with metal instead of shingles. 

Kelly: Metal roofs are a lot better for insulation and deflecting the sun—and it’s able to support solar as well.  

Were there other environmentally friendly features that were important to you?

Andrew: We really wanted to do solar and we’re still planning to do that. It’s just that to build green off the bat, it’s not at a viable stage yet (cost-wise). There are a lot of incentives in terms of retrofitting, but there’s not a lot when it comes to building green upfront.

We’re not going to water the grass—we are going to keep it natural Prairie. It’s so much nicer than having to worry about that in the city. We’ll also try to improve the land with some trees.

For our long term plans, the garage will be retrofitted to support an electric vehicle, to take into account the rising gas prices and the commute between the city and home—it is a way of offsetting that. 

Kelly: We’re also incorporating a lot of native species into our landscaping. We’re trying to restore the Prairie that we dug up when the house was built. Hopefully planting more native species will help increase the biodiversity. 

As we face the challenges of climate change as society, we need to become more self-sustainable—for example, growing your own food and maybe having a home that’s not completely off the grid but is capable of doing that in the future. 

A lot of what we do personally and professionally, we do to make the world a better place, for not just our son, but generations in front of us—at least we try to.

For more information on ICE panels—a new, technologically advanced building envelope developed in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada, visit their website: https://gsbp.ca/blog/what-are-ice-panels

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. 

Ski, hike, paddle & bike: How one Sarilia resident enjoys the great outdoors all year long

Having moved to Sarilia almost 11 years ago, Dale Prefontaine is one of our long-term residents. As one of the first Sarilia residents, he spent a summer cutting Sarilia’s river trails with his son, Matt, and building boardwalks with a group of other residents in the early 2000s. “It was a community effort,” he says, “The community here is very good at supporting each other. We rally together for events like this, to try and improve the park, trails and community garden.”

We recently chatted with him to discuss the new improvements being made to the community, his active, outdoor lifestyle at Sarilia, and how he’s seen our community develop and change over the years.

What was it about Sarilia that made you decide to move there?

Being able to have a home on a riverbank in Saskatchewan is a great opportunity.  It’s a unique property, in a beautiful setting—the river valley. I have deer running through my yard and rabbits and squirrels. It’s just awesome.

The former Langham golf course has been taken over by the River Ridge Nordic Ski Club. They have groomed trails for classic ski, skate ski, snowshoeing and hiking. The scenery is beautiful as the groomed trails follow the banks of the North Saskatchewan River. I hike and ski there frequently because it’s less than 5 minutes from Sarilia.

I’m a canoeist, so I’m on the water as much as I can be in the summer. I’ve canoed with my son from here to Prince Albert. We left from Petrofka, and I think it took three days to get to PA.

We’ll also get someone to drop us off at Borden (that drive takes 15 minutes) and we launch from there and have a nice two-hour paddle back to Sarilia. I go for daily walks down on the river trails. I’ve taken photos of porcupines and ruffed grouse on the trails—it’s a nice nature walk.

If it’s a nice day without much wind, I’ll go for a bike ride. You can either go to Langham or cycle east of Sarilia. I try to spend more time outdoors than I do indoors.

What kinds of changes have you witnessed during your 11 years at Sarilia?

The developers, Gwen and Ronn, originally thought it would be more like a retirement community with people in their 40s or 50s who could afford recreational properties (as a secondary home). But in the last 5-6 years Sarilia has become popular with a much younger demographic of people who want to move out of Saskatoon and live the country life. So, we have lots of babies and puppies (laughs). It’s really nice—I like that.

A group of Sarilia residents cleared out an area in the spring and put in a nice fire pit with a patio around it. We built a pergola and added a swing set for the kids. We’re going to add a horseshoe pit and we’ll be also be adding a skating rink. It’s a nice place for Sarilia residents to gather because it’s sheltered in a little dip in the landscape, and it’s enveloped by trees. Every year the community likes to enhance something that will help us enjoy the four seasons outdoors.

As a long-time resident, what is it like to live at Sarilia?

I am so enthralled with Sarilia. I think it’s a great opportunity to live in the country. A small city lot is 5,000 square feet, and most lots here are around 15,000 square feet. It’s the perfect fit if you want to live in the country.

The lots here are spacious, but with the xeriscaping, there’s very little maintenance compared with an acreage. When people move to an acreage, all they’re doing is maintaining it—there are ditches to cut and grass to mow. Here, it’s just laid back and you enjoy life a little more because you have the opportunity to. For me, getting rid of my lawnmower was one of the nicest things I ever did in my life (laughs).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

From Grey Cups to Geo-fencing: Q&A with Rhett McLane of Alair Homes

Rhett McLane has transitioned from a professional football career to the life of an entrepreneur through his partnership with Alair Homes—a home-building company with 122 franchises across North America. He became the Saskatoon franchise owner last summer, and says his past athletic pursuits have a surprising amount in common with his current career.

All photos courtesy of Alair Homes

“It’s no different from playing football,” he says. “You’re system oriented. You’re driven to one goal. I always approach it as, my project managers are my star quarterbacks, the bench is my sub-trades. You always want the best people on your bench—you can tap them and bring them into the game or bring them onto a project and let them do what they do best.”

Rhett says there’s a similar systemic approach with Alair. “It’s very organized because you’re drawing from the experiences of 122 other franchise owners, which spoke to my heart because I won a Grey Cup with the Edmonton Eskimos in 2005, so I approached Alair Homes and the business that I run the same way as I approached my football career.”

As one of Sarilia’s suggested builders, we chatted with Rhett about his home building experience, industry trends and what drew his attention to Sarilia.

How did you get your start in home building?

I’m a new franchise owner but my history in construction goes back about 10 years. I started working with a home builder in Saskatoon as a salesperson and it progressed from sales,into project management, and now ownership. I’ve always wanted to own a business and when I started working in construction I wanted to own a construction company. I just didn’t know enough back then, so I talked to as many people as I could and I listened. I observed on the residential side and then I went and worked with a commercial construction company out of Edmonton for two years and I learned a lot about the bid process on large $15-20 million schools, shopping centres, hotels and things like that. Then the opportunity came up to become a partner in Alair in Saskatoon which is my home city.

What kinds of trends are you seeing in the home building industry today?

Home automation. It’s something that comes up more and more when speaking with clients. Home automation can be more than using an app on your phone to control the thermostat or using a remote control to put blinds up and down. It can go through to your lights, your plug ins, your stereo, your TV—everything is integrated off of one remote.

But when you take it up to the next level—it’s called geo-fencing your home. So if you’re driving home and you start pulling up to your driveway and open your garage door, the home recognizes that you’re coming home and it turns up the furnace, it turns the lights on, it unlocks the doors, everything like that. It readies the home for you to walk inside before you even get there.

What was it that enticed you to take a look at Sarilia?

My wife and I both grew up on a farm and I think it’s important for (our) kids to have that extra space. Our goal was to try to transition our family into acreage living at some point, so I was always looking for these types of developments around Saskatoon. I think the views that Sarilia provides—and the trees—are the big thing.

Not to talk badly about the developments that are south of Saskatoon, but people drive that highway to Regina and they just can’t believe what people build out there. There are no trees—you’re just building on the barren prairie. So when you can get into places like Sarilia, you have these beautiful vistasdown into the river valley, but you also have trees as well, which offers you privacy on some of the lots. And there’s just a lot of variety with the lots. There are different elevations: you can have riverfront, or you can have river view where you sit up a little bit higher. There are a lot of different options—lot sizes and pricing and things like that as well.

You met Gwen, Sarilia’s developer, for coffee back in December. What did you learn about the development during your meeting?

Just the community feel that she’s trying to convey out there, which is something that really spoke to me because, like I said, I grew up in a small town and she is offering the same type of values: knowing your neighbours, a community garden, a playground, things like that. There’s lots to do. Have a walk, a riverbank snowshoe—there’s lots of positives.

What kind of winter activities does Sarilia offer?

We’re often asked about what kinds of winter activities our residents partake in here at Sarilia. In fact, that’s one of the most appealing things about living here in the river valley–nature is right on our doorstep. We don’t have to get in the car and drive somewhere else to experience it.

Here are a few things we like to do when Sarilia is blanketed in snow: cross-country ski, snow shoe, walk on our nature trails, ice fish, and warm up with friends around a bonfire by the river.  As they say, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothes.”

And the kids here love to head for the hills to toboggan. We asked a few of them (Gwen’s grandkids) what their favourite winter activity is. Here are their answers.

Jackson (age 11): Having fun with the people in my life that I care about the most.

sledding at Sarilia

 

Bentley (age 5): I love doing canon balls down the hill, being outside, playing with my cousins and racing up and down the hill!

 

Hannah (age 11, white toque): Just being with my cousins makes me HAPPY!

 

Q&A with Jade

Jade and Devin are our newest soon-to-be residents at Sarilia. With two daughters (Sloan, age 2, and Neve, 5 months old) and a dog named Philly, they’re eager to start their new life in our river valley community this summer—they expect to move into their new A-frame-style home by July. We chatted with Jade to learn more about her family, what drew them to Sarilia, and how it felt to meet some of their future neighbours back in October.

How did you first hear about Sarilia?
We were looking at acreages online and we stumbled across one that was for sale at Sarilia. We drove out there and we realized how beautiful it all was, and how there was all this other property that we could look into.

I got out of my vehicle and stood there, and I was like, “Okay, we are going to be moving here.”

How would you describe your first impression?
We felt like we were at the lake. It felt like we were at the cabin—instantly relaxed and laidback and just where we wanted to be. It felt like home.

Where are you both from originally? And where are you moving from?
I grew up in Martensville and Devin grew up in a little town called Frobisher, just outside Estevan.  We live in Warman right now, so we will be moving from here.

What was it you were looking for that you found at Sarilia?
When I grew up in Martensville, it was a small town. And the community that Devin grew up in has about the same amount of people that Sarilia has. We both wanted that for our daughters.

When we moved to Warman it was a bit smaller. Now, all the sudden, grocery stores are behind our house, Dairy Queen is right there, and the highway is right there—everything was just too close. It was too city-like. We needed to get away.

Right now, we have the street lights shining in our house all night long, the grocery store lights are on 24/7 in our house—we just need to be in the dark for a little bit! (laughs)

Was there one feature at Sarilia that solidified your decision to move?
It was a number of things. We didn’t know about the river access until we met with Gwen. We just thought we’d have a view of the river and we didn’t know everything Sarilia had to offer until we met Gwen.

Our first impression would have been that we just want to be out there for the calmness and the view. Upon talking to Gwen a few days later, we realized the (little free) library, the river and the little nature reserves all around were just kind of bonuses.

Is there something you’re most excited about in regards to your new home?
It’s a little bit of everything. We’re really excited for the small-town community feel, and to feel like we can go and talk to our neighbours. Our girls can go down the street and ask a friend to hang out and we don’t have to be breathing down their necks or watching them all the time to make sure they’re safe.

And the laidback lifestyle. Because you come home from a long day at work and it would just be really nice to go down to the river and have a wiener roast—just feel like you’re at the lake every day.

Can you tell me about the style of your new home?
We’re going with an A-frame. It’s going to feel like a cabin/cottage. We’re trying to go with that mentality—so a stone mantle above the fireplace and the A-frame overlooking the river.

Why did you decide to hire Griffin Properties to build your home?
I’m good friends with Sarah (Reid, the co-owner) so I’ve known them to be extremely hard workers. I’ve seen all the houses that they’ve built for themselves and all the time and energy they put into all the little details to make the house perfect for their family.

I know when Sarah started looking at designs for our family, she was thinking about our family—not what everybody else would have wanted, but what our family needs and wants. Every little detail was thought of. They put a lot of TLC into the project.

What do you and Devin like to do in your spare time?
We like to travel a lot and we like to be outside and go to the lake. We have a cabin up at Chitek Lake with my parents, so we love to be up there all the time.

I like to snowshoe, cross-country ski and snowboard, and Devin likes to snowmobile and downhill ski, so we’re very wintery people. We like to be outside more in the winter than probably in the summer. I run too—anything to be outside really. We’re always up for trying something new.

Do you think you’ll get out on the water at Sarilia?
Oh yeah. Devin wants to buy a canoe. He wants to do that and I like to (stand-up) paddleboard. We’d like to do more of that.

My dad taught me how to fish, so I’d like to do that with the girls and teach them how to do things like that and appreciate nature.

Do you plan to get involved in the community garden?
Yes. I have two garden beds right now so I am definitely going to be doing that.

Even now, I know they’re really young, but we have raspberry bushes and in the summer Sloan likes to go pick them and eat them. That’s kind of what I want to get my girls into—just being more with nature.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
We came out to Sarilia for a potluck at the beginning of October and it felt like home. We were like, “We don’t want to drive back to Warman.” (laughs)

It was really nice to meet everybody and we had a really warm welcoming. Everyone was so relaxed and laidback. I don’t know if that’s their personalities always or if being there brings it out of them, but I also felt like it was more of a family—like I could rely on some people to help out if need be and that kind of feeling. It made us more excited and we are very eager to be out there.