Wide open spaces: How Sage Creek transformed from wetland to thriving community
Construction started on southeast Winnipeg neighbourhood in 2005; population expected to hit 12,000 by 2028
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.'"
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."
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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."
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.
- Overcrowded Sage Creek School pushes province for portable classrooms months after opening
- Louis Riel School Division's new school built with students in mind
Meanwhile, the residents association is yearning for a community centre.
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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