Best Old House Neighborhoods 2011: Canada
For the fourth year in a row, we've tracked down North America's most timeless neighborhoods—places where lovingly crafted old houses have extraordinary pasts and unarguably promising futures. With help from our friends at Portland, Oregon-based PreservationDirectory.com—who distributed our nomination forms to more than 14,000 historical societies, neighborhood groups, and preservation nonprofits—we've assembled our biggest-ever list of off-the-beaten-path places that are worth eyeing for a great old home.
From the shores of Nova Scotia to the mountains of British Columbia, our 12 favorite locations for old houses in the land up north.
The Crescents, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
The Crescents was home to Regina's upper-crust residents during the early 20th century. While the affluent still reside here, the neighborhood is also a haven for academics and city types looking for a perfect neighborhood for raising kids. Residents can walk downtown to eat dinner at Regina's gourmand-pleasing restaurants or hike to Mosaic Stadium to watch the Canadian Football League's Saskatchewan Roughriders take on the Montreal Alouettes or the Calgary Stampeders.
Most were built in the early 1900s and are fronted by mature trees and lush landscaping. Houses include Craftsmans, Queen Annes, and Tudors. Prices are from $250,000 to $1,000,000.
Why Buy Here?
The Crescents is a 15-minute walk from downtown Regina, a city of 190,000. But its real selling point is access to Wascana Centre, a 2,300-acre park that's home to the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly building, the Regina Conservatory of Music, and an enormous man-made lake. Thanks to this region's ample natural oil, gas, and potash reserves, the local economy thrives relative to the rest of Canada and the United States.
The London Road Neighborhood, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada
Back in the 1980s, Shell Oil announced plans to demolish a century-old Edwardian-era house in the London Road neighborhood and build a gas station in its place. In response, the London Road Neighbourhood Association immediately circulated a petition, quickly acquiring enough signatures to thwart Shell's plan. Preservation: 1, Big Oil: 0. Now that the battle's been won, residents of this 45-square-block neighborhood, rife with old houses and beautiful gardens, can relax in its three parks, which include playgrounds, tennis courts, and horseshoe pits. London Road is just minutes south of downtown, so theatrical performances at the Yates Memorial Centre or local hockey games at Enmax Centre are just steps away.
The neighborhood has some of the city's oldest Queen Anne, Georgian, and Craftsman houses. Starting around $215,000 (USD), you can get a 1,400-square-foot, 1½-story, 1908 bungalow with room for improvement.
Why Buy Here?
With the help of a powerful neighborhood association, residents continue to support the preservation of London Road's historic homes. Real-estate agents note a steady increase in the value of restored homes here, so sinking cash into a fixer-upper can pay handsomely when the renovation is complete.
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
Newfoundland stands apart from Canada, an island with its own time zone, dictionary of idiomatic English, and buoyant cultural pride. The downtown district of capitol city St. John's, built in a geographical bowl on a protected harbor, is a knot of steep streets where a local politician might live next door to a scruffy musician gigging at the Duke of Duckworth pub. Civic-minded residents boast that downtown St. John's postal code comprises more artists per capita than any other in Canada, and the Newfoundland narrative looms large in the form of a massive gallery, archive, and cultural center called The Rooms that overlooks the area.
"We love our 'jelly bean' houses," says Dale Jarvis of the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, referring to rows of three-story Second Empire rowhouses downtown. These structures hew to a remarkably consistent style, all built in the wake of an 1892 fire that burned St. John's to a nub. Uphill, a smattering of Queen Annes and bungalows reside, perched there by merchants hoping to avoid future blazes. Thanks to offshore oil drilling in the last decade, St. John's dodged the housing bust, but rowhouses with room for improvement can still be had for $250,000; freestanding homes list in the $500,000 range.
Why Buy Here?
You haven't had this much fun with color since Crayola came into your life. Local company Templeton Paints has introduced a line of historic Newfoundland hues; the jelly-bean colors, embraced by owners of the downtown rowhouses, are eye candy—and instant motivation to put your paintin' clothes on.
The West Broadway Neighborhood, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Aside from born-and-bred Winnipeggers, the residents of West Broadway include folks of West African, Middle Eastern, and Eastern European descent. The neighborhood is also popular among artists and art students, many of whom volunteer or take classes at Art City, a nonprofit that offers photography, sculpture, and other classes to West Broadway residents throughout the year. This is a friendly, eco-minded neighborhood, where public gardens and composting drop-offs are par for the course. A popular meet-up spot is Stella's Café & Bakery, a beloved local chain that opened here two years ago. "When Stella's moved in, it kind of legitimized this area," says Drew Perry, an instructor at local Yoga North. "It's definitely turned the corner."
This densely packed neighborhood—5,200 residents in less than a square mile—dates to the late 1800s. In the years around the turn of the century, merchants and transportation magnates built fabulous homes along Balmoral and Spence streets. Much of the area's character stems from 208 two-and-a-half-story Queen Annes, stucco Foursquares, and Tudors, which list from $180,000. With luck, you may find 12-foot ceilings, maple and oak floors and moldings, and massive double-pocket doors with etched glass panels inside.
Why Buy Here?
"It's going to be the trendy new neighborhood," says Brian Grant of the West Broadway Development Corporation. This organization puts its money where its mouth is, having helped the area score some $16.5 million in government aid for both public and private projects in the past 10 years. Now's a good time to get in and claim your share of the pie.
Cranbrook, British Columbia, Canada
Trains put Cranbrook on the map—literally. There was hardly a town to speak of until 1898, when the Canadian Pacific Railway established a station here. Nestled in the Columbia Valley at the foot of the Rockies, Cranbrook became a vital hub for moving coal, ore, lumber, and people through the region. While the railroad—along with the energy sector—remains an important component of the city's economy today, the trains themselves are the draw for visitors to the city's Canadian Museum of Rail Travel, chockablock with restored classic railcars and locomotives. Others, including outdoorsy retirees looking for a slow, picturesque pace, come for the snow-capped mountains and parks; this outdoor enthusiast's dream locale draws many a hiker, biker, climber, and snowshoer. When the city's 20,000 residents aren't skating on the city's ice rinks or fishing in the trout-stocked Idlewild Park lake, they might be at a game supporting the local junior hockey team, the Kootenay Ice.
Cranbrook's period homes are concentrated in the historic Baker Hill neighborhood, which is home to the 1888 Queen Anne–style house built for city founder Colonel James Baker. Also within the neighborhood's four-block radius are Craftsman bungalows and vernacular-style cottages built for railway and lumber-industry workers; these smaller homes start at $200,000 (USD).
Why Buy Here?
A center for regional industry situated within 60 minutes of four ski areas, Cranbrook offers the advantages of the area's largest economic engine with the feeling of a small town.
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada
In the middle of crescent-shaped Prince Edward Island sits Charlottetown, the province's oldest, largest city. Believe it or not, the country was born here, after an 1864 statesmen's meeting in the city's neoclassical Province House. Charlottetown, established as the colonial capital in 1765, contained 500 lots: five large sections carved into 100 properties each. What went up on those plots is a who's who of domestic architecture spanning 200 years. Most structures are of the early-19th-century wood-sheathed sort, though some brick buildings recall a fire that ripped through in 1866. The city's 33,000 residents are of all ages, here for the universities, incredible views, active lifestyle, and tourism opportunities, as well as the historical architecture.
"Charlottetown has examples of the Georgian, Queen Anne, and Arts and Crafts styles you'd find in Britain, as well as the versions that became popular in the U.S.," says James W. Macnutt, author of Heritage Houses of Prince Edward Island. The 500 Lots, as locals call it, is also home to Gothic Revival, Second Empire, Italianate, and a notable stock of Colonial Revivals. Diamonds in the rough may go for $120,000 (USD), but prices over a half-million aren't rare.
Why Buy Here?
The city is experiencing growth, thanks to employers like Invesco, Ceridian, and several biotechnology companies, plus a steady stream of travelers who come for the annual SummerFest, a weeklong waterfront party for families, and the Jack Frost Festival, a winter wonderland for kids created from 2,000 tons of compacted snow.
Leslieville, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Once gritty and industrial, the east-end Toronto neighborhood of Leslieville (population: 27,000) has gained traction as families, artists, and business owners arrive in droves, lured by the fashionable scene, safe and walkable streets, proximity to local beaches, and—at least by pricey Toronto standards—affordable housing offered here. "Leslieville has completely changed in the past three years," says Jasmin George, who works at the children's boutique Baby on the Hip. Hers is one of many new businesses that have opened in Leslieville in recent years, including pubs, restaurants, markets, bakeries, and a cheese shop.
"There's definitely something enchanting about this place," says David Dunkelman, a Realtor who runs TorontoNeighbourhoodGuide.com. Three-story Victorian-era rowhouses with steeply pitched gables line narrow, tree-bordered streets. Prices for two-story rowhouses and vernacular-style cottages start at $300,000 (USD).
Why Buy Here?
It's one of a few desirable nabes near Toronto's center where a reasonably priced home can be scored. Downtown is a swift 15 minutes by car or trolley, and the nearby Lake Ontario beaches can be reached via foot or bike.
Le Plateau Mont-Royal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
"The Plateau is the place to be in Montreal right now," says Franny Mathieu, a barista at Toi, Moi & Café, the sort of highfalutin hangout that likens flavoring coffee to no-nos like "pouring grenadine syrup in a Bordeaux." Le Plateau Mont-Royal, or "Mount Royal Plateau," borders both downtown and the city's namesake peak, which shoulders a green space designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the same man who helped design New York City's Central Park. Anglophone and Francophone residents tend to walk to the chic boutiques and spoken-word performances—and not just because parking is a challenge. Even though climbing rents are prying students from their flats, the neighborhood remains an ideal congregating spot—a 10-minute bike ride from any of Montreal's four universities.
The Plateau is one of the best places to find examples of Montreal tenements—two- or three-story structures known locally as 2- or 3-plexes—built between 1880 and 1915 from local limestone, brick, or wood (for the latter, 3-by-11-inch boards are stacked like masonry). Their standout feature: every-which-way exterior metal staircases, which give tenants direct door-to-street access. Historically, families bought these larger buildings as a hedge against retirement, renting out the top floor or two. But today, conversion into single-family dwellings is common. A 3-plex in need of work might—quickly—fetch $600,000 (USD), a 2-plex about 20 percent less.
Why Buy Here?
If the thought of shoveling snow from steep metal stairs makes you think twice, imagine borough-administered grants for restoring historic properties—in 2010, 119 homeowners received a total $1,480,000—and, for now anyway, fixed-rate mortgages at less than 4 percent.
Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada
"If you're looking for a town with historic buildings, you came to the right place," says Bill Holmes, casino manager at Diamond Tooth Gerties Gambling Hall. Indeed, the town boasts more than 100 houses from the gold rush days along Front Street and the picket-fence-lined back lanes. Founded in 1896 at the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike rivers, the Klondike Gold Rush's former epicenter is experiencing another boom, thanks to a recent discovery of gold south of town. The other treasure comes from the pockets of 60,000 annual tourists, who gawk at the aurora borealis, attend Dawson City's art, music, and film festivals, tour writer Jack London's cabin, and peruse the work of local artists. The hubbub recedes during the frigid winters, when the permanent population of about 1,800 takes to hosting cozy dinner parties. Moosso buco, anyone?
The city's housing heritage includes frontier vernacular-style homes gussied up with Edwardian and Victorian architectural frills such as patterned shingles and columned porches, and often girded with corrugated-metal roofs. Many of the cheery colored homes stand on wood cribbing that allows for re-leveling when the permafrost heaves, and cost from $175,000 to $300,000.
Why Buy Here?
Aside from the chance to strike it rich, owners of historic properties can apply for a matching grant from Yukon Territory: up to $10,000 a year for exterior preservation or $20,000 for an officially designated historic property.
Central Halifax, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
"You have to be a certain kind of person to live in Halifax," says real-estate agent Pam Cherington. "The kind who's concerned about quality of life." A love of the water doesn't hurt, either, since this so-called sleepy city of nearly 400,000 is surrounded by the stuff. Some of the most enviable old homes belong to residents of the Central Halifax neighborhood on the Halifax Peninsula, with its brightly painted townhouses and a five-minute walk to downtown and its restaurants, cafes, and brew pubs—all part of the appeal for the young professionals and growing families who move here. Halifax has a number of universities, too, so there's a steady influx of young people, some of whom never leave.
The draw here is the late-19th-century cedar-shingled townhouses, with high ceilings, original pine or Douglas fir millwork, and thick crown moldings. Some are two stories with flat roofs; others are two-and-a-half stories with pitched roofs and dormers. The houses, built by Nova Scotia's sea captains, merchants, and businessmen, can be found in conditions from rundown to impeccably renovated, for prices from just north of $200,000 (USD) on up.
Why Buy Here?
The area declined during the 1980s and '90s, but has spent the last decade as a destination for house flippers, who updated many a kitchen or bathroom. Those obsessed with attractive resale values, however, have mostly moved on, and those coming in are more likely looking to build a community and stay for the long haul.
Saint Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada
Hailed as the "Jewel in the Crown of New Brunswick," this coastal village in the Bay of Fundy was one of Canada's first pre-fab communities: British loyalists escaping persecution in the American colonies settled here in 1783, some transporting their dismantled homes for rebuilding. Late-1800s Canadian and American urbanites turned Saint Andrews into a summer playground, and the majestic Tudor-style Algonquin Hotel, built in 1889, stands today. Current residents find Saint Andrews a social place despite a high-season population of just 4,000: Locals tee off seaside, watch whales on the bay, and stroll the town's three-mile walking loop. One thing you won't spy here: big-box or chain stores. Local bylaws prohibit them, so Water Street's shops are the 1880s originals.
You'll find Cape Cod–style cottages and other early homes put up by Saint Andrews' first-wave settlers, and center-hall Georgians built in the 1830s. A meticulously restored 1770 Cape will set you back about $360,000; one needing TLC might list at $120,000. Big spenders: Note the $699,000 listing of New Brunswick's most photographed home, a 1912 French Eclectic farmhouse with a harbor view and thatched-style roof and turret said to emulate explorer Jacques Cartier's house in Brittany.
Why Buy Here?
Saint Andrews offers more house for your money compared with similar locales farther down the coast, says area real-estate agent Mark Gauley. That may be why it attracts American ex-pats and retirees looking to try out small-town living. It's a 5-hour car ride to Boston—8 to Montreal—should you need a break from the daily waxing and waning of the 28-foot tides. We expect you won't.
Old Town, Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada
Tourists flock to Yellowknife each winter to witness the northern lights—and occasionally strip to their underwear to see if they can endure the city's minus-40 F temperatures. "It's adventure tourism to them," says Elijah Forget, a lifelong resident. Despite the harsh winters, some visitors stay for the long haul. "It's a breath of fresh air," says Forget. "You're so far away from urban centers and highways." Indeed, this remote city of 20,000 between a forest and the 600-mile long Great Slave Lake is about 300 miles south of the Arctic Circle. But historic Old Town, a 1940s waterfront neighborhood established when gold rushers mobbed Yellowknife's mines, offers companionship. Come summer, locals gather at the Wildcat Cafe to feast on daily fish specials before heading to the marina to fetch their boats for a lazy day on the lake.
Some of Old Town's houses were built by no-nonsense miners, who used local timber to build stout but sturdy log cabins. Many of those remaining have been clad in vinyl or clapboard siding. Prices range from $250,000 (USD) for a major fixer-upper up to $700,000 for a house that's been renovated with additions and modern amenities. Old Town also has a well-established houseboat community.
Why Buy Here?
The last gold mine shut down a decade ago, but Yellowknife's economy has found new life in diamond mines. This is the capital of the Northwest Territories, so there are government jobs here, too. Yellowknife has one of the highest family income rates, and lowest unemployment rates, in Canada.