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Rotary's First Ever Golf Estates: A Conduit to Stabilizing Housing Prices

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There’s a reason why local Rotarians are genuinely proud when they speak about developing their golf course, and the first ever golf estates in the region – it took a lot of time, effort, patience, and strong will.

The Rotary Club of Fort McMurray is on track with constructing their golf course known as Rotarylinks@Wood Buffalo in Saline Creek - on the south side of the city, and the golf estates called Henning Ridge named after North East Alberta Commissioner, Admiral Victor Henning (Ret.). He was appointed by then Premier Peter Lougheed in the 1970s. Back then – the 500 acres of the Saline Creek Plateau was deemed unsuitable for development, but ideal for recreation. At this point in time, projected completion is in 2016. But, before we dive into the present and the future, let’s delve into Rotary’s past.


Rotary is the oldest international service organization of business and professional individuals. It was started in Chicago in 1905 by Paul Harris, an attorney, and has 1.2 million members in 32,000 clubs – in more than 200 countries, according to the official website. The Charter of the Rotary Club of Winnipeg in 1910 brought the organization to Canada, and made it international. Rotary Club of Fort McMurray was chartered in 1977.

“We are united worldwide (to) provide humanitarian service, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations and help build goodwill and peace in the world,” explains Frank Reitz, past president (2005-2006), Rotary Club of Fort McMurray, and a realtor for Re/Max Fort McMurray. He has held several board positions as well.

“While Rotarians can serve in countless ways, Rotary has focused its efforts in six areas, which reflect some of the most critical and widespread humanitarian needs. These areas include: Peace and Conflict Prevention/Resolution; Disease Prevention and Treatment; Water and Sanitation; Maternal and Child Health; Basic Education and Literacy; Economic and Community Development. With a commitment to achieving lasting change, we work together to empower youth, enhance health; promote peace and most important advance the community,” explains Reitz, who along with his wife, Barb, also a Rotarian and past president, has been a local resident for over 43 years.

“The Rotary Club of Fort McMurray was chartered with a recreation lease on Airport Road. The mandate was to administer the lease and steward the land to provide recreation amenities for the community. One of the early projects was to build an RV Campground and as time (and money) permitted the club undertook to working with the Archery Club, the Motor Cycle Club and the Running Club to provide space for a range, biking trails as well as a triathlon trail for the winter games. As the camp ground operations became profitable, The Rotary Club was able to contribute $2.7-million to construct Rotary House, our Seniors Assisted Living Residence,” continues Reitz who has been in the realty business for 18 years.

Rotary Today

Well-known for its fight to eradicate polio, Rotary International undertook this initiative in 1988, shares Reitz.

“Rotary provides grant funding to polio eradication initiative partners UNICEF and the World Health Organization, which work with the governments and Rotary club members of polio-affected countries to plan and carry out immunization activities. Mass immunizations of children via the oral polio vaccine must continue until global eradication is achieved,” he notes.

“To date, Rotary has contributed more than $1.3-billion to fight polio. Through 2018, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will match two-to-one every dollar Rotary commits to polio eradication (a total of up to $35 million a year). As of 2013, there were only 416 confirmed polio cases in the world, down from about 350,000 a year when the initiative launched in 1988,” Reitz adds.

Thanks to Rotary International’s continuous efforts, history was made in 2013 when India was removed from the list of polio-endemic countries leaving only Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan, according to the local website.

Closer to home, Rotary has partnered with the Dolly Parton Imagination Library that enables children in our city to receive a monthly book from birth until they turn five. The partnership with Rotary International began in 2009 whereby books are provided free of charge with Rotary paying shipping costs.

“Parents are required to register their children. The program is available to all children in the municipality from Fort Fitzgerald to Conklin. Committee members continue to travel the region to meet with leaders and elders to promote the program. Launched in rural areas in November 2010 and urban Wood Buffalo in April 2012, the program receives support from Syncrude Canada ($300,000), the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo ($100,000) and local small business donations exceeding $25,000 and Rotary contributing approximately $150,000 over the next five years to ensure the currently enrolled 3,500 children in the region continue to receive free books until they are five. Numbers are growing. We aspire to exceed 5,000 children under five participating in the program by January 2016.”

Over the last 37 years both Rotary Clubs (Fort McMurray and Oilsands – chartered in 1983) have been major contributors to the community by funding and creating partnerships to ensure sustainability of events and groups such as the “Oilsands Rotary Music Festival, 868 YMM-Rotary Northstar RCACS (Air Cadets) ($5,000 - $7,500/a), Leadership Wood Buffalo ($2,500/a), Lifeline Program ($100,000) a first - making Fort McMurray seniors the only users in North America to receive the service free; Fort McMurray Firefighters Social Society PAD Program ($62,000 Rotary purchased AEDs), Keyano Student Bursary ($1,500/a), sponsored the Tom Jackson – Singing for Supper Program for Food Bank and K of C Christmas Dinner, The Hub Literacy Program – Alphabet Soup ($11,000), sponsored presentation of “Clean Scene” Program for Fort McMurray School Districts (Mike Ryan, presenter) multiple times, Junior Curling initiative ($25,000) to allow all school aged children to participate in school curling program,” shares Reitz.

In addition, “through Rotary International Youth Programs, Fort McMurray Rotarians have sponsored numerous high school students on international cultural exchanges; have funded underprivileged/at risk students to outreach and leadership development programs through Rotary’s RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards) & RYPEN (Rotary Youth Program of Enrichment) Programs.”

Back to golf and golf estates. Building an 18-hole course was on the agenda from the early days – on the 200-acre recreation lease. However, challenges like the delay in land release from the province, and the twinning of highway 69 persisted. Fundraising efforts continue. Rotary is actively working with local businesses to secure sponsorships for various holes.

“This is an aggressive project adjacent to Henning Ridge designed to enhance the subdivision development. Rotary’s vision for the campground and recreation lease has always been to enhance and enrich its use in the community. As a result of the Municipality’s “Design Charrette” exercise in 2003-04 to develop an Area Structure Plan, the public workshops identified a golf course to be an important feature of the plan. Faced with closing the campground, Rotary undertook this major project beginning in 2005 with a meeting with the province to begin the approvals process for this major project,” Reitz explains.

The new golf course has a construction cost of $16-million. It will be operated through a non-profit board, with profits following operation costs dedicated to Rotary’s aforementioned community projects.

And, then there’s the reality that “Fort McMurray has never had lots next to a golf course. Our developer has been kind enough to market the connecting lots to the golf course. We have about 136 lots that will back onto, or abut the golf course. We’ll get a finders’ fee, which will go to the development of the golf course,” adds Reitz.

First Ever Golf Estates in Fort McMurray

Saline Creek Limited Partnership has been formed by Rotary to develop Henning Ridge Golf Estates. Local builders and developers in the partnership included long term local builders like Qualico, Bold Homes, Cherrywood Homes, Vistar, Parwest Management as well as a number of local non-builder investors.

Mike Walsh, former partner with MNP LLP, Chartered Accountants, in Fort McMurray has been engaged to help manage the project for the partnership. Walsh moved to Fort McMurray in the late 60s. His father founded what is now Re/Max Fort McMurray, and the family has been responsible for developing over 15 major subdivisions like Lakewood, Westwood, and Timber Ridge, to name a few.

Walsh dubs the golf estates a “feel good community project.” And, by the time all is said and done in eight years – the quarter of a billion dollar project has a goal to help alleviate exceedingly high real estate prices in Fort McMurray. The first phase will see 150 lots available in spring of 2015, and the remaining 140 in the summer.

“Stabilizing prices was one of Rotary’s objectives. We don’t undermine the market, but the market won’t bear the high costs anymore. So we wanted to make the lot prices reasonable and keep the housing prices in check. It’s a true partnership,” Walsh notes.

Single family non-executive lots are about 32 to 44 feet. They start from $250,000 to $300,000 with higher-end 60-foot lots backing into the golf course sitting at $400,000 to $450,000. The subdivision has been planned to ensure it is not crammed, or dense, and designed to reduce congestion. Even the 32-feet lots have been designed to be deeper with more yard space.

“Our real estate market has been pushed to the max. We wanted to be reasonable,” adds Walsh. Bryce Kumka agrees. Past president of Rotary, and a Rotarian for the last six years, Kumka is the senior account executive for Rogers Insurance. He says when shovels were finally in the ground in 2013 also when he was Rotary’s president – it was the beginning of the largest volunteer project in town undertaken by about 30 people.

“We had our challenges. It took the government 10 years to accept our proposal. But, together with the community we’ll make it happen. I look forward to playing golf there one day,” Kumka says.

Another avid award-winning golfer shares these sentiments, and that’s well-known community leader Colin Solbak. He was present on the night the Rotary Club of Fort McMurray was chartered 37 years ago, and became a Rotarian in 1986.

A semi-retired chartered accountant, Solbak, who was an integral part of developing the local youth baseball scene, sits on the planning/construction committee for the project, and says the golf course is a real need.

“The community needs this badly. We know there’s a demand for another golf course. We have a great architect in Les Furber from Canmore, B.C., who has designed a really good course,” enthuses Solbak.

Partnership with Keyano

Speaking of community, key partners like Keyano College, and the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo are working closely with Rotary on the project.

“We’ve had water and sewer challenges, and both Keyano and the Municipality helped us overcome them. Our lands overlap with Keyano so a lot of infrastructure is being developed together. Rotary is developing the storm water ponds on the golf course to support the Henning Ridge subdivision for both the Rotary and Keyano developments. The water from the subdivisions is needed by the course for irrigation. The cost of the ponds is being shared by all -it works well for everyone,” Walsh highlights.

Kim Jenkins is at the helm of Keyano’s collaboration with Rotary on the golf estates. Keyano’s CEO for the Land Trust, Jenkins has been in Fort McMurray for 34 years. Keyano’s Saline Creek Plateau Project is being overseen by him.

“The subdivision has been named ‘Highlands at Henning Ridge,’ and will be considered part of the Rotary ‘Golf Club Community.’ It is located on the southeast corner of our Saline Creek property near the corner of Highway 69 and Snow Eagle Drive,” notes Jenkins.

Keyano’s residential area of Phase 1 is approximately 6.7 acres with 47 single family lots about 40 feet. Prices range from $299,000 - $359,000, and these are available for sale now.

The residential area of Stage 5 Phase 2 has single family lots approximately 7.25 acres.

There are 79 lots made up of 38 Duplexes, 31 Jewel Boxes and 10 Standard lot sizes ranging from 25’ – 44’ lots, and prices range from $225,000 - $299,00. Lot sales for this area are anticipated to start in July of 2015.

Stage 5 is attached to the golf course, and will feature streets named after Rotarians who were also educators.

“We have picked Doug Schmit, past president of Keyano College, and Jerry Heck, Vice President, Stakeholder Relations and Growth at CAREERS: The Next Generation.”

“On the whole the Keyano College Land Trust, which oversees the Saline Creek Plateau Project has a development timeline of 12-15 years with a gross site area of approximately 478 acres,” explains Jenkins, who has been with Keyano for 18 months, and spent 32 years with the Fort McMurray Catholic District, five of these as the Superintendent.

Construction cost over the next 15 years is projected to be $350-million. Estimated revenue for Keyano is about 100 million dollars over the 12-15 years depending on the market. The multi-family area is approximately 28 acres, with a possible commercial development of approximately 45 acres. Additionally, there are two dual school sites; one recreational complex site 30 acres, and projected population of approximately 7,000.

“This will be a major subdivision. We’ll have a house here for everyone. We’ll have high-end houses, duplexes, houses by the golf course. We are a golf-crazy town.”

Working with Rotary has been an ideal collaboration, notes Jenkins.

“This is a pioneer project. We don’t see each other as competition. This is more than building houses; it’s building community. That’s what makes it easy to work together and not see each other as competition.”

“I knew I wanted to work for five more years before retiring. We worked hard to create a good school system because of graduates and the impact that has on Fort McMurray – a place where you would want to move to – parents would see that. Education is designed to give back to the community. This is why I couldn’t turn down this opportunity to turn raw land into housing, and building Fort McMurray. I’m enjoying this new challenge,” Jenkins continues.

And, like his fellow partners, getting those out of control housing prices stabilized, is Jenkins’ goal too.

“Our community can’t afford these higher and higher prices. We aren’t slapping another subdivision together. We have a wide range of product – with so much available on the Saline Creek ravine – from starter homes to high-end houses. This is where you want to live, work, and play. We’ll have boutique shops; commercial shopping. You can leave your car home, and bike,” enthuses Jenkins.

A busy construction scene is nothing new to Fort McMurray – but, a project geared at stabilizing out of control prices in the region - is certainly a breath of fresh air. Rotary’s first golf estates will be historic for this, and many reasons, and a welcome addition to our growing, beautiful city.

Photographs by Dan Sorenson


Kiran is a national award-winning communications specialist, freelance journalist, and social media consultant. She loves telling community stories, and is a strong advocate for inclusion, diversity, women’s rights, and multiculturalism. Got story ideas? Contact her via Twitter: @KiranMK0822.