A town within the city
By Geoff Kirbyson
This is not your father’s subdivision.
The burgeoning Bridgwater neighbourhood, located in south Winnipeg in the area formerly known as Waverley West, continues to turn what used to be empty fields into an architecturally diverse and highly sought after place to live.
It’s the product of some forward thinking by the province, which bought about 1,200 acres back in the 1970s to bank for future housing, and subsequently added another 200 acres.
“It was recognized there would be a shortage of serviced land in Winnipeg because Lindenwoods and Whyte Ridge were coming to the end of their development cycle,” he says.
A structural plan for the neighbourhood was approved in 2006 and development began the following year.
But Dwayne Rewniak, acting executive director of housing delivery and land development with the province, says Bridgwater will never be confused with the two upper-end neighbourhoods that are often criticized for their high number of cookie-cutter homes.
“We don’t want to see row upon row of stucco homes. We don’t allow for repetition of design. A builder can’t build the exact same house side-by-side. There has to be a certain gap before we’ll allow that,” he says.
Hilton Homes built the first Bridgwater home and has followed up with another 150 over the ensuing eight years. But when he started, Spencer Curtis didn’t think the relationship with his company would last because the architectural guidelines were different from what he had ever seen.
“We were saying, ‘what are you doing? We just want to keep building the way we’ve been building.’ It’s been a big shift for us but we’ve really bought into the vision and that has extended through all of the single-family homes that we’ve delivered,” he says.
The entire Bridgwater development, which is in various stages of construction, includes four neighbourhoods and a town centre.
Bridgwater Forest is the first and most complete residential area. More than 1,070 single-family lots have been sold and when it’s finished, it will boast 1,100 single-family homes and 600 multi-family units.
Bridgwater Lakes, which started coming out of the ground in 2010, is the second neighbourhood and will eventually have 1,190 single-family homes but no multi-family units. Nearly 900 lots have been sold and 500 are currently occupied.
The newest neighbourhood is Bridgwater Trails, where construction has just started. Show homes will be accepting visitors in the fall in the hopes of pumping up the sales of 1,040 single-family homes and another 1,000 multi-family units.
There’s also a fourth plot of land to the southeast, about 400 acres, which is co-owned by Manitoba Housing and still sits empty because it has yet to go through the proper approval processes with the City of Winnipeg.
When all is said and done, Bridgwater will have approximately 5,000 single-family homes, 3,000 multi-family units and a total population of 20,000.
The town centre, however, is what Rewniak is most pumped about. This is where you’ll find a grocery store – it’s expected one of the major national chains will step in to fill the void – pharmacy and gas station as well as mixed use development, featuring retail on the first floor, office space on the second and more residential above that.
All of the amenities and features, which also include several small lakes and a scenic pedestrian bridge, have been designed to be within walking distance of the residents.
“We wanted to achieve a very walkable development. It has been designed so that access to the town centre from all the neighbourhoods will be a short walk. The emphasis is on the pedestrian as opposed to the automobile. I know that’s hard to achieve in the suburbs. It’s making it easier for folks to cycle or walk to the store instead of having to take their vehicle,” he says.
Location is one of the reasons why people are moving to Bridgwater, where maintaining an urban forest creates an instant sense of community.
“The southwestern part of the city has always been strong from a housing starts perspective. Since Kenaston Boulevard opened up, access has been a lot easier,” he says.
It was initially projected to be a 25-year development but given its current pace, Rewniak says it will likely be completed five years ahead of schedule.
(The neighbourhood’s moniker, incidentally, has nothing to do with its proximity to either the Red or Assiniboine rivers. Instead, it’s named after Arthur Bridgwater, who served as chief of the then-Fort Garry Police Department from 1945 to 1974.)
It’s also worth noting that Bridgwater is going to be a largely “visitable” community with 50 per cent of the lots in Lakes and Trails being easily accessible for people with mobility issues, families with young families or elderly grandparents who aren’t crazy about doing stairs.
This means they include no-step entrances, wider doorways and hallways and accessible washrooms on the main floor.
“It also helps people age in place. People aren’t having to make expensive modifications to their homes, like building a ramp. It’s done at the onset so they can live longer in their homes,” Rewniak says.
There’s also a philanthropic angle to Bridgwater as the proceeds from the land sales are reinvested into a housing development and rehabilitation fund that directs profits towards areas of the city that are in need. To date, more than $15 million has been invested into projects such as McFeetors Hall at the University of Winnipeg and the Bell Hotel on Main Street.
The first developer in the area is Red River Co-op, which is building a multi-million-dollar facility, including a 10-lane gas bar, convenience store and car wash.
General manager Doug Wiebe says because its projects get bigger and bigger, it’s increasingly difficult to find the right space in established neighbourhoods and Bridgwater fit the bill.
“Bridgwater is a brand new market and it’s a growing part of the city. We try to get into those growing sectors of the city before they get to be fully developed. This is a green-field development, which allows us to build the size we need,” he says.