Ontario, British Columbia and Manitoba have fabulous cottaging lakes. Even Saskatchewan
boasts a wide variety. But what about the potential cottager in Alberta? Perhaps oil and fresh water don’t
mix. The province’s few prairie lakes are densely developed and expensive. It’s certainly true of Sylvan Lake
and Pigeon Lake; both are almost completely ringed with development. Consequently, many Albertans endure
eight-hour drives westward to enjoy a cottage where they have the burdensome privilege of paying higher
property taxes than B.C. residents. Prices soar on small, congested lakes like Windermere. Transplanted
eastern Canadians make large sacrifices to return to the old cottage country thousands of kilometres away.
This has shortcomings as well: Hard to have the pals out. If it’s too far to look west and too expensive to
look east, where is the intrepid summer-cottage-bound Albertan to turn?
Recently, some greenhorn cottagers have discovered a gem: A large, untrammelled lake in Central Alberta with excellent water quality, less than two hours from Calgary and only an hour and a half from Edmonton. Eighty square kilometres of water surface and over 50 km of shoreline are home to superb swimming, sandy beaches and sublime prairie vistas. The spacious water surface is perfect for boating, water sports and fishing. It’s not quite Okanagan Lake but it’s close by and hosts one of Alberta’s oldest and most popular provincial parks. It is Gull Lake, just northwest of Red Deer.
Albertan lakeside communities don’t look at all like Muskoka, partly because they were not built in the golden age (“BV” — before vinyl) and partly because there is no unifying vision guiding what gets built. Some developers try to be all things to all people. “Want to haul in an RV, maybe two or three? No problem, sign here.” “Build a triple garage, and then park your trailer too!” No annoying rules sell lots. The problems come later when Annabelle is enjoying her classic log cottage and Joe brings his RV buddies out for the weekend. Headaches ensue, and usually the developer is gone, leaving the municipality to act as referee. Meridian Beach on Gull Lake was designed for those who want to be part of a classic cottage community.
It all started with a picturesque 2.2- km piece of shoreline, sandy beach, lush forest and a clear vision. A canal, seven feet deep, 75 feet wide and a kilometre long, was dug so that Gull Lake’s pristine water laps up to cottagers’ back doors. The waterway contributes to the breathtaking scenery while providing sheltered mooring for watercraft. Walking paths line the canal’s banks and lead the summer ambler to explore timber-framed pavilions, or traverse the historic railroad bridge.
So far so good: A fine lake, picturesque canal, great boat access, interesting bridges, walking trails, playgrounds and beaches. To preserve the distinct character and appeal of all these elements of the classic lakeside community the developer sells the lots directly, and while purchasers build their own cottages, firm architectural guidelines maintain a sense of continuity. Construction is completed or at least well underway on over 60 cottages so far with styles variously described as “Arts and Crafts,” “Craftsman,” “California Bungalow” or “Edwardian.” Log and timber frame are also encouraged. Porches, verandas, timber columns, high- pitched roofs, classic window shapes and natural materials punctuate Meridian Beach’s prairie horizon. Only rear or side drive double garages are allowed, and these buildings must match the style of the house.
If you would like to build a nice cottage and have some security that your neighbours will as well, then this might be a close-at-hand solution. The rules do not require that you build large but you must build pretty — cottages range from 850 square feet to 3,500-plus square feet. People have built larger and fancier than was originally expected. Enforcing the architectural controls does take vigilance but the results are worth it. The agreement with our host municipality, Ponoka County, means that a development permit is not given until our project architect has approved the final drawings and colours.
A complete description of the development can be found on the company website at Inshored.ca including all of the architectural controls. An excellent selection of lots is available as well as one or two fully constructed cottages.
Meridian Beach is a new type of lakeside community in Alberta, hearkening back to Canada’s original conception of the summer cottage. It’s an idyllic backdrop for families, friends and new neighbours to enjoy the kind of extended summer vacations that fill family photo albums (or the iPad’s hard drive.) This classic cottage community is less than two hours from your door. Drive down for a visit — the weekend, a week, the summer or a lifetime. •