Alluring nature of Vancouver Island
Direct flights from Calgary, balmy climate have luxury property buyers taking notice
Can you picture yourself on your own private island?
Or would you prefer a more urban waterfront home, with a beach and dazzling views just outside your door?
Or how about stepping from your patio onto a golf course?
While the soaring hot real estate market of the past may have put those dreams out of grasp, the east coast of Vancouver Island is luring back Calgary buyers who for the past few years have spent recreational/ retirement property dollars in the U.S.
“There is considerably more interest in our marketplace now,” says Martin Douglas, managing broker for RE/MAX Ocean Pacific in the Comox Valley. With the lower Canadian dollar and recovering U.S. economy, he says the groundwork is laid for people from Alberta and Saskatchewan — the third buyers’ market after locals and the B.C. lower mainland — to come back to the island. Douglas says prices, particularly at the luxury end for waterfront — or for your own private island — are now more within reach.
“Your dollar will never go farther than it will today,” says Douglas, a 44-year real estate veteran.
That confidence is echoed by the steady growth of one of the largest projects on Vancouver Island, the 395-hectare Crown Isle community built around a championship golf course in Courtenay.
Jason Andrew, director of real estate for Crown Isle, says 15 to 20 per cent of current residents are from Alberta or other parts of the prairies, and he expects that number to increase in the next two to five years.
“WestJet turned around the community with the direct service from Alberta,” says the Calgary-born Andrew. There are 900 residential units in the community — 500 single family — and it is zoned for 2,700 units.
With a regional hospital being built across from Crown Isle — and a major commercial enterprise now open and a Costco slated just north — Andrew says the development expects strong growth. It has three new subdivisions coming on stream and Monterra Homes is building an 18-unit patio home project. Prices range from $379,000 to more than $1 million for fairway homes.
Current residents include Edmontonians John and Pat Johnson, both 64, who retired to the island in 2010. John had visited the Courtenay area on fishing trips but on a Family Day weekend the couple flew into Crown Isle. By the Monday, the Johnsons had bought a home.
“It is a very special spot. It has a Mediterranean climate — I can count on two fingers the number of times it gets cold.”
John Johnson, an avid golfer, is proud the course is hosting this year’s PGA Tour Canada qualifying school and also points to Mount Washington Mountain Resort, 45 minutes away, where he now snowshoes. He says for Albertans, Crown Isle offers everything they could find in Southern U.S. climes — in their own country. Adds Crown Isle’s Andrew, “We are five minutes from the airport, close to world class fishing, biking, hiking, mountain climbing — and with our climate you can do all those things year round.”
Heather McEachen of Vancouver Island Tourism, says with WestJet recently starting direct flights from Calgary to Nanaimo, she expects even more Albertans to visit the island.
“Most important is our coastal climate — we don’t get the heavy winters the rest of the country saw this year.”
McEachen says every community is close to the ocean, which means beaches, boating and lots of wildlife.
“You can kayak over to Newcastle Island or Protection Island from Nanaimo, have a drink at a pub, and then kayak back.”
Or you can watch the killer whales, or orcas, in Campbell River, the salmon fishing capital of Canada; visit a plethora of wineries that populate the island (many of them in the Cowichan Valley); or hike the many kilometres of trails.
“It is the diversity of things to do here — and you can do them all year round. You might need a good pair of rain boots, but you won’t find many snow boots here,” McEachen says.
Albertans have long been attracted to the country-village styled areas of Parksville/Qualicum Beach. Karen Roberts of Royal LePage, says between 15 to 20 per cent of buyers in resort areas there (like Beach Acres, Ocean Trails, Tigh Na Mara, Ocean Sands Resort) have been Albertans. While many Canadians did buy in Palm Springs and Phoenix since 2008, instead of on the island, with prices dramatically decreased, Roberts expects Albertans to return to her area.
“Parksville resorts are 40 minutes from either the Comox or Nanaimo airport and both ferries. It’s famous for miles of sandy beach, Rathtrevor Provincial Park as well as five great golf courses that are fairly easy to book tee times.”
Brian Danyliw of Sotheby’s in the Cowichan V alley (including the towns of Ladysmith, Chemainus, Duncan and Lake Cowichan) says there is a lot of inventory in an area he says is still relatively unknown.
“You dollar goes a lot further here, especially on Lake Cowichan where there are huge opportunities for lakefront properties.” He says he has everything from a bungalow on the lake from the $400,000s to threequarters of an acre on the lake, with a beautiful home within walking distance of the town for less than $1 million. Danyliw estimates waterfront properties — whether on the ocean, lake or river — have been reduced 20 to 30 per cent from peak years.
“Cowichan means ‘the warm land’ and our climate is unbeatable,” says Danyliw who grew up in the area.
The Comox Valley includes the centres of Comox, Courtenay, and Cumberland, along with Denman and Hornby Islands. More than 10,000 years ago, the Comox Valley was formed as sheets of ice scoured valleys across the island. A glacier still looms over the valley. The Comox area, served by daily direct WestJet flights from Calgary, offers year-round golfing, skiing at Mount Washington, a quarter mile of shoreline at Saratoga Beach, and kayaking in Baynes Sound. Parksville-Qualicum Beach
These central Island communities are home to 43,000 people, with a primary focus on tourism and retirement. Six golf courses are less than 30 minutes apart and resorts populate the area. The mild climate means courses are open almost 365 days a year. There are 19-kilometres of near-perfect sand found on the communities eastern ocean side (including the well known Rathtrevor Beach). Parksville is known as Canada’s Riviera, and Qualicum Beach has been called Canada’s Carmel.
Nanaimo is B.C.’s third oldest city, with magnificent oceanfront and a long and colourful history of coal mining. Two ferry terminals (to the Sunshine Coast and B.C. mainland) are located in the area and WestJet has daily flights from Calgary. Great hiking, diving, kayaking, fishing, cycling, boating, and artists’ studios galore.
Cowichan Valley The Cowichan Valley is made up of a number of small communities — including Ladysmith, Chemainus, Duncan, Lake Cowichan, Cowichan Bay, Mill Bay and Cobble Hill — each with distinct character and unique activities. Nestled north of Victoria, Cowichan is the centre of the island’s wine country. It is also known for fishing, kayaking, hiking and golfing adventures. The seaside village of Cowichan Bay became internationally famous in 2009 when designated North America’s first Cittaslow (Slow City) town. Cittaslow originated in Italy, rates eligible towns on everything from friendliness to environmental policies.
The Crown Isle golf course is just minutes from the Comox Bay Marina and Residences by Howard Land Group.
Island Joy Rides offers visitors to Vancouver Island an array of cycling tours on hybrid bikes for all abilities and ages. One of its tours is a one-day chocolate and wine tour of the Comox Valley.
Qualicum Beach is an ideal place to watch a sunrise or sunset.
Goats keep the grass roof of the Old Country Market in Coombs, B.C., neatly trimmed during summer.