Millarville, Alta., woman giving away $1.7M home in letter-writing contest

Alla Wagner's $1.7-million property in Millarville, Alta., could be yours — for a small entry fee and some creative pencraft.

'It has to just really touch on my heartstrings'

For $25 and a heartfelt letter, this Millarville home could be yours. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Latest on this story: AGLC investigates contest to give away $1.7M Millarville home

Alla Wagner's $1.7-million property in Millarville, Alta., could be yours — for a small entry fee and some creative pencraft. 

Wagner, who has health problems after a back injury made navigating stairs impossible, said she needs to downsize, but can't find a buyer.

"No offers. Nothing's going on, you know, and I was told it was too high from market value, so I lowered the price," she told Daybreak Alberta. "And it still didn't move at all."

That's when she decided to get creative and created a contest on social media called Write a Letter, Win a House, asking people to explain how ownership of the house could change their life. 

"It doesn't necessarily have to be a sob story," she said. "Because I'm a realist in my condition."

To enter the contest, Wagner has set the entry fee at $25. 

She's hoping for 65,000 entries to recoup the value of her investment in the 5,000-square-foot, three-bedroom home, which includes a piano room and wine cellar. 

"I want it to be someone that's going to enjoy the place and is going to love being here and fit in with the neighbourhood, because the neighbours are incredible people," she said. 

Wagner was inspired to start the contest after watching the movie, Spitfire Grill, where a restaurant owner holds an essay contest, at $100-per-entry, as a means to find a new owner for the eatery.

The Wagner home is 5,000 square feet and has this wine cellar in the basement. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Then, when she looked into it, Wagner said she saw similar contests had happened across the United States.

"I just thought, it's just such a great idea," she said.

In order to comply with the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Act, Wagner said she could not make it a lottery and had to have an entry fee.

"This is not a random choice. It is a creative writing contest," she said. "I just wanted to make it more accessible and made it $25."

Wagner, who has worked in the past as both a translator and a librarian, said she chose a writing contest because language and words have been so important in her own life. 

 "If somebody wants to write a poem, they can write a poem. If somebody wants to write five paragraphs telling me why is it important for them to get this place, [they can]," she said.

Alla Wagner said, with a bad housing market, this seemed like a great way to make back her investment, and have an impact on someone's life. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

"I wanted to be creative but I don't want [anyone] to be scared of writing like, 'Oh, I'm not a good writer, so I'm not going to be able to to win,'" she said. 

Wagner said for her it's all about the "why?"

"I'm not saying that's the kind of couple or family I'm looking for, but it has to really compel my heart," she said. "It has to just really touch on my heartstrings and not necessarily because of a sad story but because of  the motivation."

Wagner's son Chris said it's difficult to know his mother has to move out of her home for health reasons, but said he feels it's best for her. 

"She can't go down stairs, she can't move around right, so if she had a house on one floor, it would be better," he said. 

But, he admits it'll be difficult to see it leave the family. 

"A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into building this house, so it's tough to see it go in that way," he said, holding back tears. 

Chris Wagner says it'll be bittersweet to see the Millarville home leave his family. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Wagner said she plans to donate five per cent of the profits from the contest to the Calgary Women's Shelter. 

The contest opened Jan. 5, and is slated to run for three months, with the possibility of extending the deadline to six months. 

The rules state that the "most compelling stories" will be made semi-finalists, while 500 letters will be selected as finalists and reviewed by a panel of independent judges who will determine the winner and announce the new homeowner. 

Wagner said the total number of entries must reach a minimum number, and if the home sells before the contest closes, all entrants will be refunded.

She's looking forward to reading people's letters, but Wagner knows it will be bittersweet when it comes time to move out.

"It's going to be extremely difficult," she said.

"I mean, I try not to get emotional here, I'm controlling myself but … I'm in love with the place, I'm just so in love with this area, with my neighbours, with my views."

With files from Daybreak Alberta, Monty Kruger and Terri Trembath. 


  • A previous version of this story stated the home was worth $1.6 million, but the home is actually worth $1.7 million.
    Jan 26, 2019 4:48 PM MT


Lucie Edwardson


Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson or reach her by email at


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