What is the first thing that comes to mind when some says, “I love island living?” I bet it is an image of living in the Caribbean, maybe the South Pacific or maybe even Salt Spring Island or Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Island living is synonymous with relaxation, sitting by the water sipping a cool drink, taking long walks on the beach and enjoying the simplicity of life.
Yet, for a few lucky (hard working) Calgarians, the pleasure of“island living” is part of their everyday living. Yes, in lovely landlocked Calgary we not only have river and lakefront homes, but we also have a few island homes. They’re on Brookfield Residential’s Mckenzie Lake (24 homes built in 1997) and soon on Hopewell Residential’s Mahogany Lake (22 homes, approved in December 2014), both in Calgary’s trendy southeast quadrant. Island living is attractive to both retirees, as well as those wanting to raise a family.
Grant and Judith Hansen moved into their McKenzie Lake island home in 2000 as part of their retirement plan that included lots of travel, but also wanting a home that felt like they were still on holidays when living in Calgary. For them, “one of the unexpected bonuses of island living is having our grandchildren tell us how much they enjoy coming to our house because of the things they can do right from our back yard. In the summer, be it swimming or a slow pedal boat ride around the Island with Grandma and Grandpa, or on their own pushing their way through the waves on a stand up board, or sitting patiently on the dock trying to catch a fish. In the winter, skating or talking with families and learning about ice fishing followed with a chance to warm up while roasting marshmallows around the fire pit.”
The Hansens also love the sense of community they share with their neighbours. “One of the most pleasant surprises and certainly a positive one is the camaraderie that exists amongst the residents or “Islanders “ as we refer to them. The person living next to us is not only a neighbor, but a friend. There is a social aspect that is special - we have “Island” block parties, mini golf events, informal get togethers and everyone - adults and children - are welcome. We look out for each other, help each other and respect each others’ property” shares Grant.
Speaking of neighbours, Susan and Bryce McDougall, neighbours of the Hansens, who also moved into their home in 2000 (it appears that once people get a taste of Calgary’s island life, they don’t move) echo the same thoughts, “there is a strong sense of community created by common ownership of the roads, utilities, causeway and gates. The condo board run by the residents manages these common assets and has become the social catalyst for block parties and multiple activities organized each year. I am grateful I have got to know all my neighbors through the condo board activities. We have a truly caring community, contrary to what some politicians and planners say about gated communities” says Bryce.
The McDougall family (parent and three children) love the wildlife that resides on the island or visit periodically - birds of all sorts, rabbits, coyotes, fox mule and white tail deer, porcupine. They even have some fun encounters with their furry neighbours.
“One night we were having a fire down at our fire pit beside the lake and I noticed something moving very slowly behind us along the stairs up from the lake. It was the largest porcupine I had ever seen. I was sure I was seeing things but it turns out he had been living on the island for some time.”
“We also had a pair of curious little red foxes who would come out at night while I shovelled the rink and would come right up to me to try to figure out what I was doing. They had a den under one of my neighbor’s docks that winter. Not what you’d expect in the middle of a city for sure!”
For Bryce “looking out each morning down the lake to the beach and the panoramic mountain views never gets old!” For their three children growing up on the island with its year-round cottage lifestyle was so outstanding their youngest daughter (now 13) has already laid claim to the island home when her parents get older, but has kindly agreed to allow them to live on the walkout level as long as they want to.
Construction is underway on what will be the largest island on the largest man-made urban lake in Canada. You had better hurry if you are interested in a lot on Hopewell Residentials’ new Mahogany Island as there are only 22 and fifty percent have been spoken for. Lots range in size from 54 to 64 feet wide and are available by contacting the builders directly. The Island lots are exclusively offered through Calbridge Homes (2013 Builder of the Year) and Morrison Homes (2014 Builder of the Year). And, Mahogany has won the Home Builder’s Association’s “Community of the Year” award for the past three years.
Mckenzie Lake Island History
McKenzie Lake has a bit of a sorted history it was actually built by the Bank of Nova Scotia in 1989, after the bank had taken over McKenzie Towne development from Daon in the mid ‘80s recession. They decided to create a lake as a way to restart the community and as they were creating the lake it was decided to create an island on the east side of the lake. Carma (now Brookfield Residential) purchased McKenzie Lake and Mountain Park development in 1989. The Island became a joint venture with Jayman constructing all of the homes while Carma built the entire supporting infrastructure. However, it wasn’t until the late ‘90s that people started living on the Island.
Attractive cities foster a diversity of lifestyles, from high-rise urban living to island living that help to attract and retain people of all ages and backgrounds. If the market demand exists for more island living, the City of Calgary politicians and planners should be open to more island developments as our city continues to evolve to meet the needs and expectations of everyone.
NB: An edited version of this blog was commissioned for Domus magazine.