I Didn’t Start The Canadian Wildfires (Promise)
Last month, I was in eastern Canada.
This part of the world has been getting a lot of bad press lately—thanks to forest fires that have resulted in huge plumes of smoke drifting south to the States, poisoning the air in NYC and elsewhere.
You’ve probably seen the pictures—which made New York look like a post-apocalyptic movie.
This is the worst wildfire season in Canadian history, and it’s started early—hitting every Canadian province and territory except for remote and icy Nunavut.
The wildfires mostly did not interfere with our trip… mostly (more on that shortly)… but when I left Canada, I flew to New York—and it was like the smoke was following me!
My trip to Canada had nothing to do with starting fires… I promise…
No, it was a simple family vacation: me, Kathleen, and the kids.
Well, a family vacation with a mission… we were there to inspect a piece of land we own. And possibly to start a family project.
Let me explain…
A Legacy Investment…
Sometimes real estate is a longer-term hold than you expect.
I usually go into any property purchase with a plan to hold for at least three to five years. I’ve held properties much longer, but rarely have had a round trip in less than three years.
Buy to renovate and flip and your timeline might be a little as 12 months, depending on how much work you’re doing on the property. I know a guy who was able for a short time to buy properties, do minor repairs, paint, and flip. He was in and out in less than six months. Of course, the upfront research time for the individual properties took time and a fair amount of effort.
Pre-construction condos can turn around in less than three years depending on the construction time and whether or not you can sell the unit before the building is completed. I did this only once in my years of real estate investing overseas. It was a beachfront condo in Estepona, Spain, when the market was starting to get frothy.
Land speculation is a different animal.
I’ve owned this parcel of land in Canada for about 20 years. It’s on an island in Nova Scotia…
A developer friend originally bought the land (on an island known as McLean Island), carved it up into lots, and ran basic infrastructure.
The idea was to flip the lots within three years.
The reality is that only a few of us who bought in sold that quickly. The market had softened by the time the development process was completed.
In the years since, I’ve listed the property every once in a while, with no bites.
Meanwhile, I wasn’t put out holding onto the property. It didn’t cost much and the property taxes weren’t anything to speak of… and it’s 7 acres of wooded oceanfront.
Then the pandemic ended and the real estate agent I had last listed with wrote to ask if I was still interested in selling. A quick family meeting and the answer was no.
My son, Jackson, didn’t know we owned the land. When he found out, he asked if we could build a log cabin for family trips that we could rent out when we weren’t using it.
That suggestion worked for me as long as he took the lead, which he told me he was up for doing. I don’t have time to build a log cabin in Canada right now.
Twenty years after buying the land, we visited it for the first time last month…
… And A Family Project
The idea of building a log cabin on an island is romantic, but we figured we’d better go see the island for ourselves before committing to the plan.
So, we made it our annual family holiday.
This is a wild and beautiful part of the world—a true escape. It’s super-safe and life is simple. There’s lots of wide-open spaces and dramatic coastline…
It was a lot of fun scouting out the 7 acres, thinking about the best place to build a cabin.
Here we are meeting a man about our plans…
Our land has 70 years of growth on it—and no one has done anything on the land for at least 20 years. There were lots of fallen trees from hurricane Fiona last September…
We bought chainsaws and hatchets and me, Jackson, and my son-in-law Harry spent a day lumberjacking.
We cut a path through the forest to reach the coast… (see, no fires were needed for us to clear our property.)
The island was right next to some of the wildfires—and was covered in smoke. But it wasn’t so bad deep in the woods where we were cutting…
We started to develop a connection to the land while we were there…
I’m very glad we made the trip. But I still haven’t worked out the exact next steps in our cabin-building plan…
We started speaking with a company that does pre-fabricated log cabins, but everyone else was busy for the summer season already—they didn’t have much time to even talk with us.
Then the fires started which took everyone’s attention…
Each person we spoke with for advice or help, only knew their part of the process. When I tried to get the name of someone who could help manage the entire project… no one knew what to say. The locals didn’t know anyone who did that. It seems that the landowner usually functions as the planner and the general contractor for their own project…
We need a surveyor to lay out the plan for where to build on the property… and where to put the septic. One surveyor told us we probably could only build one structure. Another told us it was just one septic system that was allowed per lot… no matter the size of the lot. Assuming the second guy was correct, that means we need to plan the entire compound first and then install a septic system big enough for all future construction. No one really knew how to think about that.
We have some contacts and will start conversations via email… but Jackson will have to go back in person to really make progress.
The scouting trip fulfilled its purpose… Jackson is still eager to work on the project after the visit.
My 20-year-old, 7-acre land investment in the Canadian wilderness has evolved from a potential quick flip to a family legacy undertaking… and a father-son project.
I can’t imagine a better investment than that.
Editor, Offshore Living Letter