Owners enjoy first highrise condo
Building dating back to 1969 first in Canada
If this was 1969, and you said “condominium” to a buddy, you’d probably be met with a blank, possibly dubious stare.
Not from Ottawa resident Mabel Brown.
Four decades ago, an encouraging brother prompted Brown to scare up $3,000 for a down payment on a two-bedroom apartment at Horizon House, Canada’s first condo highrise.
Built by the company now known as Minto Group Inc. in the city’s west end, the building is an Ottawa landmark. And Brown is still a contented resident.
“My brother was in real estate and insurance,” recalls Brown. “He said, ‘There’s one thing I know: my best client is buying one, and if it’s good enough for him, then it’s good.’ “
Her brother’s recommendation, bolstered by that of an acquaintance who also bought a condo in the brick building, convinced Brown to sign on.
“It sounded like a better idea than renting,” she says.
Better indeed. In 1969, she paid $18,000 for her roughly 900square-foot condo.
She says she’s recently seen ads for similar units in her building priced at $180,000. Condo fees have escalated as well, according to another original resident: from $35 a month — with no fees for the first six months — to roughly $400 a month.
Retired for the past 15 years from her job as director of the Health Sciences Library at the Ottawa Civic Hospital, Brown was in her 30s when she bought her ground-floor condo. Brown’s view was mostly of empty fields.
Those empty fields are long gone, replaced by housing, bustling commercial areas and busy roadways.
The opening of the Horizon House was a notable event. Registered as Carleton Condominium Corporation No. 1, “it was an opportunity for people to own an apartment,” says Minto’s executive vice-president Robert Greenberg.
Amenities at the award-winning building included an outdoor pool, a party room and surprisingly spacious grounds.
More recently, adds Greenberg, condo developers, eager to control costs, have largely shied away from expensive amenities, including fitness rooms.
Speaking of costs, in the early 1990s there was a nasty one for Horizon owners.
Their condo fees hadn’t provided sufficient reserves and they had to pony up roughly $20,000 each for major building repairs.
Provincial legislation governing condo fee calculations now protect buyers in any development against such surprises.
Peggy Holton, another 40-year resident at Horizon, remembers that in the early years, living there was “kind of like being in a village. Everyone was in it together, and you got to recognize people. It was a very stable population at first.
“Now the trend is a lot more people renting (from owners).”
There’s still some of that oldtime community spirit: This week, residents new and old marked Horizon House’s 40th anniversary at their annual barbecue.
Colleen Rushforth wasn’t selling condos in 1969, but she has been for the past 21 years.
The big change in that time, says the realtor with Keller Williams Ottawa Realty Ltd., is that many condos have gotten smaller.
That’s a result of soaring land and construction costs, as well as buyers whose busy off-premises lives — whether working, socializing or travelling — means they don’t need or want big homes.
Rushforth points to other condo trends: open-concept design; exotic flooring (walnut is popular); stainless-steel appliances included in the package and “lots and lots of granite.”
Rushforth’s projects have included another Minto condominium building: the elegant, 32-storey glass-and-concrete Metropole in Westboro Village, a trendy neighbourhood about 10 kilometres from downtown Ottawa.
Opened in 2004, the awardwinning 152-unit highrise features expansive windows, many with a view of the Ottawa River, an indoor pool, and concierge services.
It also frequently bucks the small condo trend.
“This feels like a house, but without the basement,” says Eva Weissberger of the 3,345-squarefoot penthouse she shares with her husband Ronald.
The couple spends winters in Florida and felt that a condo, where they could lock the door and walk away, made more sense than hanging on to their suburban home.
Besides, says Weissberger, a retired teacher, “my husband was always more an urban guy. The house was more for me and the kids.”
The couple paid more than $1 million for their 29th-floor condo.
They also poured money into upgrades: a solid cherry kitchen with a massive granite island, marble flooring in the hall and bathrooms, herringbone-patterned Brazilian Jatoba wood elsewhere.
“I tried to make it look really nice,” she says. “I wanted it to look perfect.”
When the Weissbergers’ 14thfloor neighbours, Rhoda and Dr. Bert Blevis, went looking for a condo a few years back, they thought about downtown.
But the only units available were resales, and that meant major renovations. As well, says Rhoda, “when the kids came to visit, they’d have to park at a meter.”
The Metropole proved to be an ideal choice.
Rhoda says she’s only about a seven-minute drive to downtown, and there are plenty of shopping and recreation options within a short walk from the Metropole’s front door.
Maybe best of all, they don’t have to shovel any more snow. The couple also likes the mix of residents, from young couples to retirees.
There were adjustments. Moving from a four-bedroom house to a two-bedroom condo meant major purging.
“The kids will thank us one day. We got rid of all my husband’s old textbooks and things.”
Like the Weissbergers, the Blevises are enamoured of the Metropole, especially what’s outside the windows.
Eva Weissberger seems to speak for all residents when she says, “I love the view. It’s like you’ve died and gone to heaven.”
Mabel Brown bought a two-bedroom apartment in 1969 in Canada’s first highrise condo building.
Condo owner Eva Weissberger, centre, enjoys the view from the 29th floor with her neighbour, Rhoda Blevis, who lives on the 14th floor.