Manitoba·URBAN MYTHS

Wide open spaces: How Sage Creek transformed from wetland to thriving community

Sage Creek is a growing community nestled in the southeast corner of Winnipeg. Ten years ago, only wetlands inhabited the space. So how does a community form from nothing?

Construction started on southeast Winnipeg neighbourhood in 2005; population expected to hit 12,000 by 2028

Five thousand people now live in Sage Creek, a 900-acre community that's projected to grow to 12,000 people by 2028. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC News)

Sandra Beer is a pioneer — of sorts.

She and her family moved to Sage Creek 10 years ago. At that point, they were among the first to move to the new development in southeast Winnipeg — a place that then resembled a construction zone more than a community. In addition to the fact there was no cellphone service, there were other unexpected challenges in starting a family business there.

"We couldn't get courier service," she says.

"We had to go and pick up parcels somewhere else because this postal code did not exist. They would say, 'You're not on a map. We can't come there.'"

Sandra Beer chats with her children in their home in Sage Creek. The family was one of the first to move into the development 10 years ago. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC News)

But now, Beer says Sage Creek is an example of how neighbourhoods can spring forth from nothing but empty wetlands.

"The idea that there's nothing out here now — that we're still just a field — that's not the case."

Lonely beginnings

The building giant Qualico Communities started construction on the development in 2005. The company reports that the first family took possession of their home in October 2007.

Now, 5,000 people live in the 900-acre community that's projected to grow to 12,000 people by 2028 — a population approaching that of Steinbach, Man.

A 55+ centre is among the many different housing complexes being built in Sage Creek. Townhouses, condos, apartments and single-family units make up the majority of the development. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC News)

Despite the optimistic outlook, Beer says Sage Creek didn't always feel like a positive place to live.

"It was really quiet and it was lonely at first," says Beer. 

"Lonely in the sense that you don't get to make connections until your kids start sports or school. How else do you strike up a conversation in the grocery store? Like, 'Oh, you live here too? Want to go to the park?' It's awkward."

The price of building new

Creating a sense of community is a bit different from creating the community itself. Among single-family units, developers have built townhouses, condos, apartments and seniors housing. 

New home prices range from $400,000 to $800,000, with custom homes creeping toward the $1,000,000 mark.

Construction in Sage Creek began in 2005, where the southeastern neighbourhood sprung forth from wetlands and empty fields. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC News)

The price may be right, however. Families in the neighbourhood with children from kindergarten to Grade 6 have an average annual income of $135,426, according to Statistics Canada data provided by the Louis Riel School Division.

The median household income in Winnipeg in 2015, by way of comparison, was $81,880.

What's in a name?

But no one is going to live in a neighbourhood they don't feel comfortable in, and part of that means finding the right name, according to Eric Vogan. The vice-president of community development with Qualico Communities says you have to dig into history to create a sense of home.

In Sage Creek's case, that was easier said than done.

"When we came out here, this was a failed enterprise known as the Roman Catholic Mission Property from the Lord Selkirk days," he says.

"We couldn't find anything except that it was a Red River settlement."

The name "Sage Creek" came from focus-group approval, but the real creativity happened when Vogan and his team started naming streets. The group relied on the history of the fur trade and nearby St. Boniface for inspiration.

Burning Glass Road was named after a tool voyageurs used to light fires during the fur trade. Most of the street names in Sage Creek were inspired by local history. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC News)

"We're on the edge of history here," says Vogan. 

"Burning Glass Road is named after a tinder box with a burning glass built into the top of it. Fur trade travellers would have put birch or other kindling to keep it dry in the tinder box. Then they'd use the magnifying glass to get their fire going at night."

Several other streets have historic connections, too. Tansi Lane recognizes Indigenous peoples, as "tansi" is the Cree word meaning "welcome" or "hello." Fisette Place is named after Sister Fisette, a nun who lived and served in the St. Boniface Mission for 64 years.

Not so cookie cutter

So you have homes, but residents need more than a place to sleep and eat.

Enter the Village Centre, the commercial hub of Sage Creek. There's a Sobeys, a Liquor Mart, a vet clinic, a dentist, a few restaurants and other amenities.

'The Village,' as it's known in Sage Creek, is where most of the neighbourhood's businesses are, including the restaurants, gym and other amenities shown here. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC News)

This section was a huge draw for new business owner Megan Gabert, who runs the Orange Theory Fitness location on Sage Creek Boulevard. The gym is nestled between other businesses that draw in young families, which she says creates a perfect environment. Gabert says she doesn't mind the drive from Westwood every day, since the location is so prime.

But not everyone sees it that way.

"People say it's cookie cutter and all the houses look the same," she says.

"Moving from [out west], I've seen cookie cutter neighbourhoods and this is not one of them. The neighbourhood is thought out, the yards are decently sized. If I could go back in time, I would have moved here to be closer to work."

Growing pains

But amenities didn't just appear. Residents say it took years for these businesses to get going, and there are still some missing links.

Overcrowding in the only school in the neighbourhood has caused tension among neighbours as families wait for a second school to be built.

Meanwhile, the residents association is yearning for a community centre.

Sandra Beer, second from right, says she and her children Julia, Brennan and Andrew have found a home in Sage Creek. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC News)

But with this all in mind, Beer says Sage Creek now feels like home. It took a while, but what she thought was her biggest challenge ended up being the thread that brought people together.

"We've all moved here. We've all been new," she says.

"Because of that, it's a very welcoming neighbourhood."


Urban Myths is a CBC series that explores Manitoba communities and their sometimes surprising stories.

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About the Author

Sam Samson

Journalist

Sam Samson is a multimedia journalist who has worked for CBC in Manitoba and Ontario as a reporter and associate producer. Before working for CBC, she studied journalism and communications in Winnipeg. You can get in touch on Twitter @CBCSamSamson or email samantha.samson@cbc.ca.

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