Development aims to be new destination for camping, wellness and magical wedding memories — ‘castle’ and all
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PELICAN LAKE — Brett Sheffield took a knee.
He sank into the hilltop’s snow, eyes locked on Justin LeBlanc. If he turned his head, he’d be staring at the wide, white Pelican Lake.
If he turned around, he would spot a three-level mansion, complete with a turret and medieval-style front doors.
“Say yes Justin,” Sheffield cried.
Then he laughed. No proposal here — though the two hope to create a lovers’ getaway.
They and developer Benjamin Nasberg call the Pelican Lake mansion “the castle.” It’s part of their plan to transform 104 acres off Pelican Lake’s shore into a destination for weddings, camping and corporate wellness retreats.
The men envision creating one of the area’s largest developments to date, complete with cottages, yurts, a tennis court and a Nordic spa.
Weddings are the beginning.
Jim Pierce built the 4,000-square-foot castle in 2006.
He had just spent four years travelling in Ireland. His brother Bill owned 104 acres (roughly 100 kilometres south of Brandon and 30 km southeast of Ninette). Bill and Jim’s lives were intertwined — they had created and sold a directional drilling company around 20 years ago — and so, Jim erected the mansion.
Up went the spire, the faux torches beside the wooden door and the fake owl perched by the walkway. Jim created five bedrooms, and another two in the guest house.
Windows overlook the expansive Pelican Lake.
Beyond the house are four valleys, a campground and up to 15 kilometres of trails used for cross-country skiing and hiking.
The Pierces’ land spans roughly three kilometres of lakefront.
“It’s a very intricate piece of property,” noted Marilyn Pierce, Bill’s wife.
The couple moved into the home in 2015.
Marilyn sat in her kitchen Tuesday, flipping through photos of her daughter Katie’s wedding.
Here’s Katie, dressed in white, on a stretch of beach near Pelican Lake. And here’s Katie kissing her beloved on the castle’s front lawn, a wooden arbour behind them.
“For weddings… there’s tons and tons of spots (on this land),” Marilyn said.
She loves the valleys and the hill with a bench overlooking the water, but the family is changing — Jim died five years ago, she’s turned 60, another daughter is pregnant — and so, now is kind of time to go.
The couple put their acreage up for sale shortly after Katie’s 2021 wedding. They knew it would take time to sell, Marilyn said.
They’ve been keeping up their campground — it’s a few minutes from their house, with 33 fully serviced lots — and taking their pontoon boat out when they can.
The next chapter comes on April 1, when Marilyn and Bill hand over the property and leave the province for family and travel.
“It was an absolutely perfect fit,” Sheffield said.
And random, he admitted.
He and Nasberg have been friends for years. The two began chatting last fall about the beauty of Pembina Valley — Sheffield is from Pilot Mound — and how it might be a good idea to develop some land.
Sheffield, 37, is an entrepreneur. Canadian Business named his company, NextGen Drainage Solutions, one of the 500 fastest growing companies in 2019. Seven years earlier, Sheffield was named the student entrepreneur champion for central Canada by advancing Canadian entrepreneurship.
Nasberg, 35, is the CEO of Carbone Restaurant Group, which includes Fast Fired by Carbone.
Sheffield had seen a listing for the Pierces’ property. He reached out, and in September, he and Nasberg visited.
“When we all went to see it, there was just so much more potential than we had dreamed of,” Sheffield said.
The pair bought it on the spot. They wouldn’t disclose the price tag, but “it was quite expensive,” Sheffield said.
“I remember driving up for the first time, and I’m like… ‘There’s no way I’m in the right place. We live in the prairies,’” said LeBlanc, 31. “All of a sudden this gorgeous lake pops up.”
LeBlanc works with Sheffield on NextGen, and now, on the castle. He’s reaching out to contacts in the wedding industry, a space he used to frequent as a caterer.
“We want to make (this) like a retreat — a home away from home, or a resort wedding, but within Manitoba,” he said.
There’s work to do. An interior designer is set to arrive next week, bringing suggestions and selections. The developers, through the newly minted Castle View Developments, plan to invest $100,000 in the castle, Nasberg said. He owns the company.
Another branch — Castle View Events — is booking weddings for the summer. One is set for October, according to LeBlanc.
The men are planning for a weekend stay per couple. A two-night, three-day booking — likely a Saturday wedding — with prices varying depending on the party size.
A $2,000 cheque will net a night’s stay in the castle. It’s open for booking as a getaway or for other events, Nasberg said.
Fourteen people can fit comfortably in the mansion and guest house, Sheffield said. Other guests can stay in nearby Ninette or Brandon.
The team is planning to build around 20 yurts on-site, in a corner of the acreage, according to Scott Kurz, an employee with Iris Construction Management who’s working with Castle View.
The yurts will ideally be built and ready for use in the next year, though nothing is confirmed, Kurz said.
“We’re going to work with a lot of wedding planners,” LeBlanc added.
Catering, outdoor tents, the ceremony’s location on the acreage — all will be at the couple’s discretion, he said.
“However you want to set up your vision is how we want it to be,” Sheffield added.
Renting out the castle — and potential development projects on-site — will spur local jobs, he said. He expects to corral local photographers, caterers, maintenance staff and construction workers.
There should be contracts for yoga instructors and team-building activity leaders as wellness retreat bookings roll in, Sheffield added. The retreats are flexible, with planning done by Castle View or the paying company.
“It’s just getting out in nature, having 104 acres to yourself,” Sheffield said.
The developers plan to create a yoga space on the hilltop overlooking Pelican Lake. A yoga instructor may teach downward dog in the spot where Sheffield faux proposed to LeBlanc.
The trails — which lead to Ninette — will be maintained year-round, Sheffield said.
He and his partners’ dreams surpass the acreage’s current state.
“They’re brainstorming, they’re coming up with ideas,” said Darren Seymour, reeve of the RM of Prairie Lakes.
All 104 acres fall in the municipality.
The fully developed property might see 60 cabins, 100 fully serviced spaces at the trailer campground (tripling the current site), a swath of yurts and a Nordic spa. At least, those are the developers’ goals.
Nasberg expects overall development to cost $30 million. The money will come from investors and traditional financing, he said without further details.
Castle View hadn’t formally discussed plans with council as of Wednesday, though Seymour and the municipality’s chief administrative officer have sat down with the developers.
“We’re excited about any growth,” Seymour said. “In rural Manitoba, to get growth is a benefit to any municipality.”
He has visions for Pelican Lake: it could become a tourism hotbed, a rival to Falcon and Clear lakes, he said.
Around a decade ago, an aeration field was put in Pelican Lake. Another was added seven years ago.
Before the technology, fish would die during the winter due to low oxygen levels, Seymour said. In the summer, the water was green.
“This last summer, you could jump in the lake and see your feet,” Seymour said. “That was unheard of in Pelican Lake.”
Fishing is better, he added. The lake’s water level is controlled via diversion channels.
“There are certainly strategic hoops in the planning part that we have to go through… to make sure we can accommodate things that (Castle View is) planning,” Seymour said.
He reiterated his excitement for growth, calling the area a hidden gem.
The RM of Prairie Lakes has a population of 1,423. It covers much of Pelican Lake.
Building cottages near the castle is conditional on the municipality’s approval.
“There is a very low chance of that not taking place,” Nasberg said. “If it did, then whoever signed for a pre-sale would simply get their money back.”
Castle View is pre-selling 16 lakefront lots starting at $149,999, to begin. Some sites are 80 feet wide, while others stretch 200 feet.
“I think (the development) will be great for the area,” said Rhonda Beare while inside Secret Seconds N’ More, Ninette’s thrift shop.
Beare is the municipality’s former economic development officer. The area needs more seasonal and overnight camping spots — future cottages should go over very well, she said.
“I think it’ll enhance all the services in our area. Ninette’s kind of becoming a beach town.”
She hopes Castle View’s economic impact will boost Southwest Community Options, the non-profit she heads which provides housing and day programming for people with intellectual disabilities.
Sheffield walked down the castle’s sloping driveway, visualizing future events.
“You have a wedding under 16 people, you set the tables up and you (can) do a farm-style wedding… and you’re overlooking the whole lake,” he said.
There are lower platforms for bigger groups and beach stretches for summer affairs.
“You can choose castle venue, you can choose lakeview venue, that kind of thing,” he said.
Bill and Marilyn Pierce have signed off on the plan. It seems daughter Katie’s wedding was just the start.
“They’re going to take it to the next level,” Marilyn said. “We’re happy for them.”
The developers are booking events at www.castleonthelake.ca.
Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.