Albertans snap up cheap West Coast ocean-front property in Haida Gwaii

You can scoop up raw oceanfront land for $11,500

Private, white sandy beach, 2,400 square-foot former bed and breakfast that sleeps eight comfortably. Huge windows, vaulted ceilings and a new kitchen. $639,000

Private, white sandy beach, 2,400 square-foot former bed and breakfast that sleeps eight comfortably. Huge windows, vaulted ceilings and a new kitchen. $639,000



As temperatures warm, urban dwellers are driven to check out rural real estate listings.


Growing young families, singles seeking investment and boomers nearing retirement pursue the romantic idea of

affordable vacation property.


However, cabin seekers will quickly discover the masses have already invested in the obvious choices of

Vancouver Island, Gulf Islands and the Sunshine Coast.


But there is one corner of B.C. where it's still possible to buy a piece of paradise for under $100,000. And it's experiencing a record flat market at the moment.


Haida Gwaii, the remote and stunningly beautiful island archipelago dubbed "Canada's Galapagos," is a buyers'



It's a scenic northern corner of B.C. where you can buy an older four-bedroom house for under $50,000, raw

oceanfront land for $11,500 or for less than the cost of a Dunbar bungalow you can scoop up a mansion on the

water for $689,000.


On offer to island dwellers: sport fishing, pristine sandy beaches, kayaking into world-renowned ancient Haida

villages or visits to naturally occurring hot springs.


"You can buy a three-bedroom home in good shape for $50,000 to $60,000 in Masset, or a beautiful bare 2.5 acre

lot with a view all the way to Alaska for $139,000," says Brian Bussiere, who has lived in Haida Gwaii for 16 years

and been a realtor with Royal LePage for five.


Bussiere admits the real estate market there is pretty darn flat.


"Properties stay on the market for a year, two years, that's not unusual in Haida Gwaii. The Europeans and

Americans aren't buying due to the economy.


"It's perked up a bit since last year, which was the worst ever, but for buyers who know what they want, it's still an

affordable vacation paradise."


The island community is home to notables such as writer Susan Musgrave, and ecologist Severn Cullis-Suzuki,

the daughter of famous broadcaster/biologist David Suzuki, who is married to a Haida man and learning the



Bussiere says many of his new buyers in the Haida Gwaii real estate market have connections to the Alberta



"In the winter, it's locals who buy, or just sell their houses to each other, moving around in a circle, but in spring,

it's mostly Albertans," he says.


"A huge part of our economy is now coming from the oilpatch, and their slow season is the summer. They want a

house and to moor a boat here for vacation."


Bussiere said the Albertan buyers with their higher-end incomes might be drawn to gems such as a custom-built

five-bedroom house on the ocean that had its price reduced in the last week by $50,000.


For $639,000, Bussiere says, this house has absolutely everything you could want, on a private white sandy



The 2,400-square-foot former bed and breakfast sleeps eight comfortably, has huge windows, vaulted ceilings

and a new kitchen.


A full-width deck on the oceanside fronts fully landscaped gated grounds complete with raised, irrigated beds, two

greenhouses and a shop.


It could be a "pocket-sized fishing or adventure retreat resort," says Bussiere, in a region known for salmon,

halibut and freshwater fishing.


And yet, the Masset mansion has languished on the market for more than a year.


In December 2009, the Queen Charlotte Islands were formerly changed by the B.C. government to Haida Gwaii, in

reconciliation with the Haida people who have lived there for at least 11,000 years, since before the last Ice Age.


Only 5,000 people live in Haida Gwaii, of which a third are of Haida ancestry.


The islands' population is rapidly shifting, as loggers and fishing families leave and are replaced by wilderness-

seekers, and the rapidly-growing Haida population. As the non-native population has declined by 12 per cent

during the past decade, the Haida population is up by 60 per cent.


"People who live here mostly recognize the place belongs to the Haida ultimately and frankly we'd rather pay taxes

to them," says Bussiere.


The Haida claim the whole archipelago, but most Haida live in two villages, Old Masset at the islands' northern tip

and Skidegate in the south.


Queen Charlotte is the largest village with about 1,000 people, followed by Masset at the northern tip, Port

Clements and Sandspit, with about 400 people.


Haida Gwaii consists of two main islands, Graham Island to the north, and Moresby Island to the south, along with

about 150 smaller islands.


At the opposite end of the price spectrum from custom-built mansions are 300 former military homes in Masset,

now marketed as very cheap vacation homes.


The village of Masset hosted an active military base, as a communications monitoring and relay station, from

1943 right through the Second World War.


It eventually became a Canadian Forces base, with hundreds of people, but by 1997 all military personnel had left

and the base was fully decommissioned.


About 70 per cent of the 300 boxy, basic federally built houses - the former Permanent Married Quarters - are

occupied, and many have been fixed up and resold as vacation homes.


"Some of them are for sale for as little as $40,000 but those might be a teardown due to mould," says Prince

Rupert realtor Dorothy Wharton.


She adds there are at least a dozen in the $50,000 to $80,000 range that are certainly livable, and are on the

doorstep of wild natural beaches and parks.


Haida Gwaii realtor Lynn Pineault says she has listed several "PMQs" for less than $150,000.


"They require little maintenance and are great vacation homes," says Pineault. In the mid-range, Pineault offers

her listing of an authentic log home in Masset for $165,000. Astute buyers are starting to sniff out deals.


Neil Goodwin, who runs a fishing lodge and has lived in Haida Gwaii about five years, said he and his wife just

bought a 2,400-square-foot house, on about an acre, in Sandspit for only $185,000.


"I know I couldn't buy anything in that price range in southern B.C., but as the loggers and their families leave, and

the tourism industry gears up, there are some very good real estate buys here," said Goodwin, whose wife works

for both their lodge and as an Air Canada booking agent in Haida Gwaii.


Merewyn and Wayne Nicol, originally from South Africa, were able to snag a four-bedroom home, on an acre and a

half, right on the ocean, just west of Port Clements, for only $250,000.


"We knew we wanted to be on the coast, because that's where we'd lived in South Africa," says Merewyn, 39, who

says she and husband Wayne spent three years ranching on leased land in Alberta but really wanted their own



"We looked all over Canada, even in Nova Scotia, but everywhere else was too expensive for our budget, which

was under $300,000," says Merewyn. "The only place that came up in our price range on the ocean was Haida

Gwaii," says Merewyn.


"We all love it here," says Merewyn, 39, who soon found work as an office administrator with O'Brien and Fuerst

Ltd., a diversified Haida Gwaii logging, excavating and roadbuilding company.


Her husband, Wayne, is a supervisor in the highways division of the same company and the couple has two

children, aged three and 10. "It's not for those who like the city life - you have to get used to having no ferry due to

the weather - but there are some amenities too, and it's very beautiful. We have no plans to move again," said



Pineault, who sold Neil Goodwin his house and is perhaps the islands' most active realtor and booster, says she

prefers to call Haida Gwaii a real estate market that is "waiting to be discovered."


FOR $149,000:

Two-bedroom, large sundeck. Can be purchased with the lot next door. Kitchen shown above.


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