The community of Beachwood Estates, High River Alberta, is doomed. It has been for a while. Once vibrant and full of life, the place is now empty, every last soul forced to move away. The boulevards are quiet, the dwellings quiet, nothing but total silence and come nightfall, total darkness. In the coming months, the many fine homes found here will be moved out or demolished, the streets torn up and the land given back to nature. Soon enough, it’ll be as it once was.
The lesson here…I guess building atop a flood plain is not such a good idea.
Tag along as we take a tour. We’ll hit the pavement, channelling Heston’s “Omega Man” character, soaking up all the strange emptiness in places where there should be people, but isn’t. We’ll capture everything in its blessed entirety, as it is, before the “machinery that brings destruction” arrives a couple weeks hence. A snapshot of Beachwood Estates, in all its glory, before it’s gone. Here, on the wrong side of the wall. Does it hold title as the “Creepiest Neighborhood in the World”? Only if your name is “Seph Frickin’ Lawless”! For us, it seem nothing short of idyllic and peaceful. No Walking Dead were seen.
Beachwood (sometimes Beechwood, in error) dates from the late 1980s/early 1990s and is at the far western edge of High River. The land around is well treed, the Highwood River perhaps half a click or so to the north. Houses are estate style, large, of mixed design following no particular style philosophy, but all generally pleasing in appearance (there’s a couple stinkers). Each is on a good sized plot of land. Streets are wide, most houses being located on cul-de-sacs. The main road follows historic MacLeod Trail.
Nature abounds, a pastoral setting if there ever was one, and no doubt a fine place to live in the day. If not for the river, often a pussycat, but with the potential for trouble, it be damn near perfect. History confirms, that waterway has an ugly side.
Once in a while, every couple/few decades or so, when the snow pack in the mountains is particularly high and melts quickly, it sends down a torrent of water. This liquid bulldozer takes out everything in its way. Flood plains, those flat gravely expanses, treed belts of land on either side of the Highwood look peaceful and bucolic most of the time. But come high water, anything on them, like says houses, houses like those in Beachwood Estates, well, they’re done for. Welcome to a world of soaked basements, structural damage, ruined possessions, mould and mud. Not pretty!
Everyone knew the potential, everyone knew it’d happen…one day…some day. Heads in the sand by those who lived here? Perhaps. Ditto for those who developed the place? No, just greed. An inept local government that allowed it to happen? Yes, if you believe the people we spoke with.
Sure enough, in 2013, the river let loose and the neighbourhood was here flooded. Badly. In fact much of the town was under water. A fix was needed.
Plans were soon put in place to build an earthen berm around much of High River, the parts south of the waterway most susceptible to future flooding. For reasons not fully explained to this author, Beachwood Estates (jokingly called Wetwood or Wetfeet Estates by those we spoke with), was not in the plans, the people living there given one option…hit the road Jack! This was after most had already fixed up their places.
Fast forward to 2017, Beachwood Estates is now in no-man’s land on the wrong side of the “Trump Wall” (so love calling it that) and devoid of residents. Entry is only by foot, the place being blocked off from the rest of town by that massive berm, and any other roads in from the south gated and closed off.
The flood wall, by the way, is not without controversy. Ask the locals. We did. Worries are it’ll act like a huge cistern, keeping water in, should it ever be breached. Thought that very thing myself before ever chatting to anyone about it.
Back to the story…the houses, now vacant, were put up for auction, the stipulation they be moved away afterwards. The bidding was slow to begin, but near the end got hot and heavy for some properties (of some 30 in total). The lowest house went for some 30k, the highest a cool quarter million and some change. Keep in mind, these places in their prime, pre-2013, were valued at 800k to one million for most.
Those that bid highest have a certain time to get the houses off of the property. Moving costs, it’s estimated could be 50-100k or more, depending on distance and other factors. Then, remember, a new foundation needs to be waiting at the other end. That will cost!
While it seems like these places could be had for bargain prices, one has to question the additional costs involved and if in the end it’s worth it. That foundation mentioned before, land to put it on, damage from being moved, perhaps hidden damage from the flood? What’s the real cost? Imagine some people will snap out of their post-auction high and realize, it may not be worth it. Any houses not moved within a certain time will be demolished with the bidders loosing their deposits. Streets and infrastructure will then be torn up and the whole place allowed to revert back to nature. There should be zero signs of Beachwood Estates come this time next year, if not sooner. It’ll be but a memory.
BIGDoer.com visited the estates twice, the second on the final day of bidding. Was sort of expecting it to be busy both times, doubly so for number two, everyone getting in a last look, curious what the fuss was about, eyeing up what they planed to purchase and so on. But it was strangely quiet. That one has to walk in up and over the flood wall, sometimes through mud and snow, I guess kept most away. It wasn’t trespassing to walk the streets, by the way, but each property was off limits (we got permission anyway). Once the remediation begins this could change and everything might be a no-go zone, for a time anyway. Then I suspect it’ll become a recreational green space.
We asked if we could get inside some of the most interesting houses but were told no, we could only view the exteriors. And then, only if we behaved ourselves. Us, trouble? The houses are vacant so I suppose there was not much to see in them anyway. Still, it would have fun.
It felt rather strange walking the neighbourhood. The streets were cleared of snow, ditto for the sidewalks. The houses looked occupied. Vandals had not really made a mark. It looked alive. At least before night fell. Fully expecting someone to step out of a house, jump in their car and drive away. Fully expected to see a Purolator Van drop off a delivery. Fully expected to see residents out walking dogs…kids out playing…people. But there was nothing.
Strange and weird, perhaps a tad spooky, a bundle of emotions all swirling about, and of course sad. All the memories of the place, from the families that resided here, done. Dreams, lost. Fine homes, gone. Thanks for the good times, it was nice knowing you. RIP Beachwood Estates, 1990ish–2017.
We’ve made an attempt to reach out to some building mover to document one of these homes being taken away. We’d love to see it happen, document it, and I bet our readers would be into it too. So far we’ve not heard back from any. But you never know…
Joining us for the second visit was fellow camera jockey Byron Robb. Always love to hang with like minded types, those who get it, that it’s far more about the experience and good times than it is the photos that come of it. Good pictures are the icing. The fun is where the real memories are made.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: February, 2017.
Location: High River, AB.
Article references (and thanks): Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun, High River Times, Byron Robb.
These houses are private property. BIGDoer.com visited with permission.