A revival at Lac Ste. Anne
After several decades of being overlooked, the lake is being rediscovered by developers and buyers
Live in Edmonton long enough and you can likely recite a bunch of quirky facts that make Lac Ste. Anne and area notable.
There’s the annual pilgrimage, of course. Each July, thousands of First Nations and Métis people gather at the lake that’s 75 kilometres northwest of the city, for what’s become the largest annual Catholic gathering in Western Canada. They mark the feast of St. Anne and wade into the lake, which is ultra-high in nutrients and is believed by the faithful to offer spiritual healing.
Then there’s your pick of fascinating trivia: in the 1890s, a French viscount half-built a stone castle on what is now called Castle Island; even earlier, a native legend suggested that a monster lived in the lake; in the early 1980s, the Devil’s Lake Corral, an ambitious nightclub located in nearby Onoway, hosted such top-rung celebrities as Johnny Cash, Bob Newhart and Kris Kristoffer- son for a brief weird period in local entertainment history.
To all of that, you can now add this new odd fact: on the south shore of the lake, the first of two planned channels, each seven feet deep, has been ingeniously cut inland.
When the second is completed, a total of 120 lots will have access to their own “shoreline.”
“It’s more of a Florida-style idea,” says Doug Martenson, president of Windmill Harbour Development Incorporated, the company that has already created 40 of these serviced, water-accessible lots and sold five of them.
“It was my father’s idea to maximize the number of lots with water access.”
His father Bill, an engineer and a former developer of strip malls and other large projects, dreamed up the project at the turn of the millennium. By 2009 he had acquired all the approvals from local, provincial and federal agencies.
Those included applications to modify the shoreline and divert water, environmental assessments, and even fish habitat compensations.
Agencies that weighed in included Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard.
“I honestly don’t think anything like this is going to happen again,” Doug says. Such developments are few and far between in Canada because of the number of barriers to completing such projects, he says.
In 2009, the development was sold to a company that was ready to start marketing it. But then the economy took a nosedive and the new company struggled. The Martenson family reacquired the property in May 2013. Doug, who is also an engineer, is now marketing the development in far more favourable times.
After several decades of being overlooked, it seems that pretty Lac Ste. Anne, a mere 45-minute drive from Edmonton, is being rediscovered by developers and buyers alike.
Indeed, officials at Lac Ste. Anne County have noticed a mini boom this year, both in recreational property developments on the lake and in “country residential” subdivisions a little farther out.
Of the 188 residential development permits the county issued in the first six months of the year, about a quarter of them were for the following new communities: Windmill Harbour; The Estates at Waters Edge, a gated waterfront community on the north shore of the lake; and Sturgeon Heights, Bridlewood Mews, and Stony Ridge, all country residential subdivisions.
Matthew Ferris, planning and development manager for Lac Ste. Anne County, says the renewed interest is explained in part by the lake’s proximity to the city and by a recovered Alberta economy, but also by the bargains to be had in the district.
“In terms of development per- mits, levies and fees anywhere within the capital region, it’s in the tens of thousands of dollars, whereas with us it’s more like $4,000,” says Ferris.
That’s because, as a rural municipality, Lac Ste. Anne County isn’t recouping the costs of sewers and water service, he says. Developers will put those in, where necessary.
“It’s much more affordable than Pigeon Lake, where stuff starts at $500,000,” says Mike Arndt, development manager at The Estates at Waters Edge.
“With our property, it starts at $350,00 for two bedrooms, two bathrooms, fully landscaped.”
The Waters Edge community of more than 45 already-occupied homes broke ground six years ago, on land that formerly housed a lakeside RV park run by Arndt’s extended family. Plans are to build 135 homes in total.
Waters Edge already offers its own boat launch, a playground, walking trails, a fitness building and a winter rink. A swimming pool is being planned.
At Windmill Harbour, also a gated community, amenities include slips in the marina for lots not on the water channels, and video surveillance. Serviced lots without homes at Windmill Harbour and Waters Edge begin at $119,000 and $120,000 respectively, for off-water locations.
Both developments are attracting more than cottagers. For the second and third phases, more buyers are building homes with basements and second storeys, Arndt says. Some are downsizes and some are people with winter properties in Arizona or California who want their Alberta home or getaway to have a resort feeling.
Adds Martenson, “a large percentage of our traffic seems to be baby boomers who want to be close to the city but not right in it.”
“People are doing their shopping, going to Wabamun and Pigeon Lake, and finding that Lac St. Anne isn’t as well developed, the lake isn’t as busy,” says Arndt.
“I think what makes it a hidden gem, is it’s a little bit off the beaten path. It’s not right on our major highways. It’s just been missed.”
The living area has an open design in one of the homes at The Estates at Waters Edge, a gated waterfront community on the north shore of Lac Ste. Anne.
Some houses have already been built in the Windmill Harbour development at Lac St. Anne, where two canals will give many homeowners water access from their backyard to the lake.
A home in The Estates at Waters Edge, a gated community on Lac Ste. Anne’s north shore, includes a spacious veranda to enjoy the fresh air and great views.
A view out to the dock from inside one of the houses already built in the Windmill Harbour development at Lac St. Anne.
An artist’s rendering of what the Windmill Harbour properties that back onto the channels will look like.
An artist’s rendering of Windmill Harbour, a community that features two seven-foot-deep canals.