Real Estate

The Move: This burnt-out Ontario nurse found a breath of fresh air in Alberta

Lisa and Rob Moreland were frazzled until new jobs and a new build in Cochrane gave them a reprieve from the grind
Andrea Yu
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The buyers: Lisa Moreland, a 41-year-old licensed practical nurse; her husband, Rob, a 47-year-old electrician; and sons Connor, who’s 13, and Caleb, who’s 11.

The budget: $600,000

The backstory: The Morelands had lived in the same three-bedroom house in Brantford, Ontario, since they bought it for $295,000 in 2010. They were a relatably busy family: Rob worked as an electrician at a steel factory in Hamilton, while Lisa was employed as a nurse at Brantford General Hospital. Twelve-hour shifts were the norm. The couple spent most of their free time shuttling Connor and Caleb between rep hockey practices and games across the province.

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Every summer, the outdoorsy Morelands invested in a hard-earned vacation, whether hiking in Lake Placid or camping up near scenic Collingwood. In the summer of 2021, when the pandemic put the kibosh on their plans to visit North Dakota, the Morelands instead rented an Airbnb in Canmore, Alberta. “I fell in love with the mountains,” Lisa says. The boys were sweet on the Rockies, too. “They were constantly taking pictures on their phones and asking, ‘When can we go on another hike?’” By day three, that question changed to: What if we just lived here?

Rob, who spent much of the vacation capturing drone shots of nearby elk—and who had worked in restaurant kitchens in Calgary during his 20s—was easily sold on the idea. Once the Morelands were back in Brantford, Rob started researching real estate prices in Alberta, as well as how much they could get for their current property. Lisa, whose hospital unit was consistently short-staffed, kept hearing about colleagues who moved out of province for work, where the pay and conditions seemed better. “I wanted a fresh start,” she says.

In August of 2021, the couple reconnected with their old realtor, who estimated they could net $1,200,000 for their Brantford home, a huge appreciation courtesy of Ontario’s out-of-control market. In Alberta, they could get a decent-sized home for roughly half that. The prospect of living mortgage-free was also enticing. “Instead of living paycheque to paycheque,” Lisa says, “we could go on more trips with the kids. We could give them a better life.”

READ: The Move: Why one family left Toronto for Vancouver Island…and 14 goats

The hunt: The Morelands were eyeing properties close to their beloved mountains but also Calgary, where it’s easier to find jobs. Canmore, often hopping with holidayers, was too expensive. Instead, they zeroed in on Cochrane, a close-knit community of 35,000 known for its Western-themed main drag (and located a 45-minute drive from Cowtown). “We never actually saw Cochrane when we were in Alberta,” Lisa says. “But I knew it had that small-town feel that I love.” 

The couple’s list of property-specific must-haves included three bedrooms and bathrooms, a backyard big enough for a hot tub and a two-car garage with space for a workshop for Rob. “I love tinkering,” he says. “I have a lot of tools for woodworking and electrical and I often just take apart things to fix them, like my wife’s hair straightener.” Connor and Caleb were just middle schoolers at that point, but Lisa and Rob made sure their new home would be close to good high schools.

MORE: This Ontario family found space and affordability in Calgary

That summer, the couple video-toured their way through eight properties: one needed a deep reno and another wouldn’t accommodate Lisa’s hot tub dream. They put in an offer of $425,000 on a privately listed property with a massive open-concept kitchen but lost out to a higher bid. By October, their realtor suggested changing tack: an enclave of new homes was being built by a Cochrane developer, and there were pre-builds available. “The model home was almost exactly what we were looking for,” Lisa says. It had a much-desired open-concept kitchen with wall ovens and an island; a two-car garage for Rob to tinker in; three bedrooms plus a bonus room for a den; and a big, hot tub–friendly back lot. 

The starting price for the property was $419,000, but Rob and Lisa decided to throw in an extra $6,000 to extend the back of the house by two feet. “Secondary and tertiary bedrooms in Alberta are quite small,” Lisa said. “The kids like to spend time in their rooms—they’ll be teenagers soon—so we wanted to give them that little bit of extra space.” The home’s completion date was set for July of 2022. “We were like, ‘Holy crap. We just bought a house in a town we haven’t been to,’” Lisa says. “It took me a moment to be like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re moving away!’”

Last March, the Morelands sold their Brantford house for $1,025,000—above the list price of $988,000 but a disappointing drop from the $1,200,000 figure their realtor had ballparked the summer before. (The wider Ontario market had slowed to a medium roar by that point.) Still, the profit was extra money in the bank, and regular photo and video progress reports from their Alberta realtor lifted their spirits. Connor and Caleb finished out their school year, their parents split their belongings between U-Haul crates and their two cars, and the family made the three-day drive to Alberta. When they pulled up to their property on possession day, Rob says there were deer in the backyard.

The couple took time off before looking for work, but Rob quickly landed a role as an electrician with a small Alberta company that services cranes. Lisa got a nursing job on the pulmonary-thoracic floor of a hospital in Calgary that September, right after the kids started school. “I don’t dread going into work because I know that we’ll always be fully staffed,” Lisa says. “I haven’t yet worked a shift where we’re short. The patients even seem friendlier.”

True to form, the Morelands also enrolled their sons in a local hockey league, with Rob assuming the role of head coach for Caleb’s team. The Morelands regularly attend potlucks with other hockey families, and Lisa has recently connected with other area moms through a local Facebook group. She’s noticed that many of the members are Ontario transplants, just like her.