The Calgary Herald’s Claire Young takes a look at Section23’s deep roots in Alberta’s ranching history and our promising future in land and community development. (Photo: Adrian Shellard / Calgary Herald)

The Ollerenshaw family first established its ranch 75 years ago on land south of Calgary. This month, Robert Ollerenshaw introduced a full-fledged development company, able to plan and develop master-planned communities as well as to build new homes and help families plant their own seeds of history. It’s through this land, and a long partnership with Hopewell Residential in communities including Copperfield, New Brighton and Mahogany, that has led to the formation of this new development company.

Ollerenshaw’s grandfather moved to Canada in 1911, living near Medicine Hat and then Calgary, with a passion for horses.

“My father purchased Section 24 back in the 1940s, then married my mother in 1951. Then in 1958, he purchased the adjoining Section 23 land, which is where the (company) name came from,” Ollerenshaw says, noting his father did mixed farming with cattle and cereal grain production.

But, as his father pointed out to him, ranching was not Ollerenshaw’s main passion. Architecture, on the other hand, was. He earned his master’s degree in architecture at the University of Calgary and designed high-end homes through his company, Section23 Design, in Alberta and British Columbia.

“In the last 10 years or so we had the opportunity to do some joint-ventures with Hopewell Residential out at Copperfield, which included some of our farmland. That was my first foray into the development business,” Ollerenshaw says.

“Planning and creating a community is very similar to how designing a house for a client. The magnitude is different, but it’s still a creative process. We were very fortunate to work with a very forward-thinking company such as Hopewell.”

Chris Plosz and Brad Wright joined Section23 as president and vice-president of urban design and architecture, respectively, from Hopewell earlier this year. Bringing all the expertise of company together, along with the recent acquisition of half of Baywest Homes to own it equally with Bordeaux Properties, gives the company a lot of latitude in taking on projects.

“Now we can do everything from within our office,” says Plosz. “That was one of the big things, whether it was a vision of the ranch site or Rangeview or the seniors’ residence in cSPACE. We want to be able to execute on the vision of all of these. Some of them haven’t been done before but the only way to do them is to take control over it.”

In one of its first independent development projects, Section23 retained a piece of Mahogany and is developing plans for the Ollerenshaw Ranch Site.

“I realized that in a lot of modern developments, the developer will purchase land and basically wipe out the history of where it came from – the buildings, the homes and everything else,” says Ollerenshaw. “Being the landowner of this property, I saw an opportunity to retain some of that. What I wanted to do was share that experience as a legacy for our family to the community by providing experiential opportunities for children, seniors, everyone of all ages.”

The idea is to have an operational farm site with small farm animals, a petting zoo, community gardens, green houses, a farmers’ market, a cooking school and a restaurant. Nearby are two school sites and a parcel for a seniors’ development.

“The idea is to make it amenable for people of all ages. Also have some of the seniors be part of the operation – meet with the kids, talk about their history. Also it gives an opportunity to residents to learn where the land came from,” Ollerenshaw says.

The design development for the ranch site is underway, and Section23 hopes to be in the ground in 2017.

As it works on the ranch site, Section23 has two quarter-sections of land within the Rangeview area structure plan, just south of the South Calgary Hospital and east of Seton, to begin developing. Further land includes Garden Village and Hotchkiss in the southeast and Davy Creek and Sinton Lands in and near Airdrie, some to be developed in partnership with Hopewell, and others on its own.

There is a philosophical connection between ranching and land development, says Ollerenshaw.
“You try to get the best use for your land as a farmer and a rancher. Sometimes you will convert it into pasture where you will produce more cattle, but you have to find that balance between crop production and cattle production. In terms of development, we kind of do the same thing. What can we do, what areas can we capitalize on, whether it’s a wetland area. With Mahogany, what can we do that is really different that would benefit the community? There’s a synergy between the two industries.”

Mostly, it is a relationship that needs to be fostered, as Ollerenshaw learned from his father.

“My father really strongly believed that agriculture had an important part to play and it needed to be recognized for its many contributions to our daily lives. He had one motto for his life: he said, ‘Be sure to take care of the land, and the land will take care of you.’”