House Beautiful: They never want for company

In their waterfront home at Arbutus Ridge, Brenda and Joe say they are living the dream.

“You know that song, The Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel? Well, that’s exactly what it’s like up here,” said a smiling Brenda as she stepped onto her deck to reveal the utter quiet, not to mention some spectacular views.

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She and her husband came to visit friends in Victoria 12 years ago and on a whim they drove up to see the development. They ended up buying a waterfront lot that day.

“We had been looking at real estate all across Canada, thinking about retirement in about 10 years.

“We had looked at all kinds of waterfront from Lake Huron west, including Lake Okanagan, Osoyoos Lake and we even looked at Parksville, Qualicum and Nanaimo. We never considered the lower Island, but then we came here and thought: My gawd, this is it.

“It became a dream in motion for us.”

They originally planned to move out later, but Brenda’s parents died unexpectedly, and shortly afterwards Brenda herself, then 48, faced some health issues. That’s when they decided to take the plunge, and nine years ago they retired to the adult community just north of Mill Bay.

They bought a small rancher to live in while building, and in that first year had 30 friends come to visit. “Now we average about 18 every year and some of them come to stay for two weeks,” said Brenda, a former marketing expert in boardroom automation. “I’m basically running a B&B now,” she joked.

Nobody ever came to visit when they lived in Calgary, said the deadpan Joe, a medical technologies professional who specialized in bio chemistry but also had a career in house building.

They eventually sold their first lot, after deciding that building was too costly, and bought another place on the ridge. “But we never gave up on the dream of waterfront and eventually this house came up for sale,” she said. “So after three moves, we finally landed on the waterfront again.

“We put in a lot of sweat equity to make it happen. We’re a good team.”

Their “new” home is only a dozen years old and they moved in three years ago.

“We couldn’t believe the value. We used to live on a golf course in Calgary in a very modest house, and we paid the same here. I tell people it’s the best-kept secret in Canada and realize I sound like I’m smoking drugs.”

They did little on the main level except take out some carpet and add more hardwood floors, but decided to redevelop the lower floor, previously an art studio.

It is now a large entertainment area, “a man room,” with two guest suites off the main area and a shared bathroom with huge jetted tub and shower. “Our guests say it feels like a resort,” said Brenda. “There is so much to do in this valley and in Victoria. Entertaining friends has become a big part of our lives.”

In the “man room” they replaced the old linoleum with dense, sand-coloured, thick pile carpet, created an L-shaped office in one corner, a mini kitchen, added a pool table, big-screen television and deep leather sofas.

They also re-landscaped a terrace off the ground floor, with new plantings to replace the moss lawn, and an outdoor hot tub.

Joe said one of the most exciting things was discovering “all the really great, local and very reasonable trades. We used Harold Padur at Amro Construction in Cobble Hill as our contractor.” (Brenda said it was like hiring another husband.)

“The people here are more folksy than in Calgary,” said Joe. “They’re real artisans who take their crafts seriously, whether it’s electricians, plumbers, drywallers, tile people. You get extremely good value here.”

Their favourite helper is Brian Lee, whose J and B Small Loads does hauling jobs. “He is such a likable old, retired guy and I think he does it because he likes it.”

Brenda said one of her favourite things is the fact both she and Joe have their own space.

“We are not stuck together in retirement,” she said. “I spend a lot of time in my office on the main level. I love listening to music, cooking, gardening, still do some business consulting and am on four volunteer boards. Joe’s level is for sports, computers, finances and indulging in his love of genealogy.

“And we’ve met so many great people — from Wales, England, the States, Ontario — and there are so many ways to connect and meet. There are 40 different clubs here at Arbutus Ridge, from golf and tennis to ceramics and hiking. And everybody pays the same monthly rate of about $280 for 24-hour gated security, care of all the common areas, access to the clubhouse, pool and exercise rooms. We also have a marina and RV storage.”

The development has 614 homes ranging in age from 26 years to new, and close to 30 per cent of residents still work, many from home.

“In the short time we’ve been here we’ve met more people than we knew the whole time we lived in Calgary and London, Ont.,” said Joe, who explained they used to know only their immediate neighbours and tended to socialize with people from work.

Most people at Arbutus Ridge are in their mid 50s now but even the “pioneers” seem young, said Brenda, who recalled the day she joined a hiking group and was a little out of shape.

“I saw a much-older woman there and thought, ‘Well, at least I can whip her butt.’ But I could hardly keep up. I think people here stay healthier and turn their canes into walking sticks,” she said.

“We are so excited to be living in this climate. This area is just a gold mine of quality resort living — and we can lock and load when we want to get away.”

They have been travelling the world in recent years and she credits her health scare with that, too. “It changed our perspective, changed everything. It helped us reframe our lives.”

It has been fun adapting to a more contemporary homestyle, too.

“We don’t have a kitchen table anymore. We sit on stools at the bar and we ended up buying quite a bit of new furniture, because the old stuff didn’t seem to match.

“I call this my Elvis couch,” she said, pointing to a curved off-white sofa and matching oval ottoman where they curl up to enjoy books by the fire, or look out to sea.

Neighbour Nancy Wood said a renaissance is happening at Arbutus Ridge as new people move in and renovate dated homes.

“It is delightful to see the creativity happening, and Brenda has been an amazing friend to many at the Ridge,” Wood said. “The night we moved in seven years ago, she arrived with a big basket with a pre-cooked dinner, champagne and a welcome card. She and Joe have also offered their home to others while they are on vacation — they are happy to share their piece of paradise.”

housebeautiful@timescolonist.com

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