Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Real rock bottom prices!

Former mining town's homes are dirt cheap

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WAYNE RILEY watched moving trucks empty half of the homes in his northern Manitoba town when the mine closed. Now he is fielding 20 calls a week from potential buyers as far away as Florida and California.

The lure of Leaf Rapids is low housing prices -- a four-bedroom bungalow starts at about $8,500.

So far, 50 homes have sold in a year, bringing the recently "rebranded" town closer to living up to its new slogan: "Where your dreams become reality."

Leaf Rapids' newest residents are a diverse bunch, from American fishermen to Alberta military families.

"Man alive! When you get people coming here from Saskatchewan, Alberta and Ontario, you must be doing something right," says Riley, the community development corporation's general manager.

Leaf Rapids' population has dropped from 1,300 to 400 since the zinc-copper mine closed a year ago.

But the town has nearly $1 million in funds mostly from government agencies and the mine's owners to spend on maintaining 150 empty homes and connecting their owners with potential buyers before the end of the year.

A slick new Web site, a photo-filled brochure, and newspaper advertisements produced by a Winnipeg communications company describe the town as an affordable resort community perfect for cottagers, families and retirees.

A three bedroom, two bathroom home with a white picket fence, central air conditioning and a wood stove is selling for $8,000. A pink four bedroom home with big front windows and a garage is going for $10,000. All the prices include lots. Before the mine closed, homes were selling for about $40,000.

"It's a steal of a deal," said town mayor Barbara Bloodworth, who doubles as the school secretary. "One lady called and told us we had a typo in the ad, that we must have meant $85,000. We said 'Nope, it's $8,500.'"

The town lies 1,000 kilometres north of Winnipeg. Built in the early 1970s, it's planned so each house backs onto the wilderness but is a 10-minute walk down paved roads to the town centre, a mall-like building with everything from a curling rink to a 800-student capacity school. Nearby are sandy beaches and fishing in lakes and the Churchill River.

Leaf Rapid's newest residents are Winnipeggers Curtis and Irene Reykdal and their 16-year-old daughter Nancee-Lynn.

Curtis Reykdal is a former air force mechanic looking forward to a semi-retirement filled with grouse hunting and fishing. Earlier this week, he was finishing odd jobs on his newly purchased $18,000 home and waiting for the moving truck to arrive.

"Obviously the affordability of the house was a big factor. With a military pension, I can't afford a $1,200 a month mortgage," said Reykdal. "From the beginning we knew we wanted to live in cottage country full-time and this town has all the amenities. Even the golf course is free."

His enthusiasm over the town has even convinced another retired officer and his wife from Cold Lake, Alta., to buy a home in Leaf Rapids and enroll their three children in the school. Town promoters like Riley are counting on such word-of-mouth endorsement.

After a painful year of saying goodbye to close friends and winning a struggle with creditors over mortgages, residents are starting to feel re-energized, said Bloodworth.

"We have a constant stream of visitors in town these days and everyone is talking about it," she says.

"This is the exciting part. You have new faces here and people are coming up and saying what a beautiful place this is. We are starting to build up a community again."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 25, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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