Listening to the rustling leaves of aspen and birch trees and eyeing the soaring peaks of the Canadian Rockies encircling you, you could be forgiven for thinking you were enjoying a summer day in Jasper or Banff. In fact, this is Fernie, where excavators are busy installing services for lots in the 243-hectare Montane residential development, just a five-minute walk from the middle of the historic southeast B.C. coal mining city.
Simon Howse, an Aussie expatriate and general manager of Parastone Developments, recently spent a morning conducting a tour of the site, explaining how the original development concept called for homes around a multimillion-dollar exclusive golf course designed by golf pro Greg Norman. The idea failed to get off the ground, and the site lay ignored for more than a decade.
Then came a fateful meeting in San Francisco between Howse and the landowners, a U.S.-based hedge fund. Howse presented an entirely new concept based on a community-shared farm garden, a beautiful 100-year-old barn and a sprawling network of publicly accessible trails for walking, hiking and mountain biking, and for cross-country skiing in winter. An estimated 70 per cent of the land will be kept as greenways and parks throughout Montane.
“As I was explaining it to the landowners, the head guy gets up and says he’ll be back in a minute,” Howse said. “He comes back in with a jar of honey and says, ‘My wife has got bees — a taste.’” The deal followed shortly after. Howse says the shift away from golf makes sense for Montane. There are already several courses in the area. Buyers evidently like the idea because Montane’s first two stages in the 45-lot Terraces neighbourhood sold out earlier this year.
Howse has erected a billboard-mounted map on the road to the property to show what a community based on a shared garden and trails looks like. There is a large area dedicated to farmland and community garden, with a resident gardener. Owners will have the choice of raising their own produce or purchasing from the garden. Other amenities include an amphitheatre, events pavilion, market plaza and playground for kids.
A special feature is a 100-year-old barn — currently home to miniature ponies, it calls to mind the pit ponies used years ago to haul thermal coal out of the nearby mines — which will be a community gathering place. On Coal Creek, which skirts the development, Parastone plans to enhance a local swimming area.
Elsewhere, bike and pedestrian paths would give residents direct access to Fernie’s downtown, which Rolling Stone magazine dubbed the coolest town in North America and Outside magazine ranked as among its top 20 dream towns. It has also been voted as one of the top powder ski destinations, and the area draws tens of thousands of mountain bikers each year to its extensive trail system.
The city of 5,000, located 585 kilometres east of Vancouver, offers many of the modern amenities of a city, including the Elk Valley Hospital, a campus of the College of the Rockies, an aquatic centre and mountain bike and skate park.