Current Cohousing in Ottawa
* Terra Firma -- Multigenerational 10-unit row houses
* Soul Sisters -- Older adults 4-unit building
* Wolf Willow -- Older adults 21-unit building in Saskatoon
* Urban Green -- Eco-centric 26-unit building in Edmonton
* Vancouver -- Multigenerational 31-unit mix in urban Vancouver
* Prairie Spruce -- Multigenerational 21-unit building in Regina
* Wind Song Cohousing -- Eco-centric 34-unit townhomes in Langley
Close up ---> Current Cohousing in Ottawa
Terra Firma -- existing Cohousing Community since 1997
Terra Firma cohousing began in 1992 as the dream of a few people. Over the next five years, the group expanded through word-of-mouth. Open houses and information meetings were held to further grow the group. Over 125 people attended. During that time the core group brainstormed and dreamed about their ideal cohousing community, which would consist of 15 to 25 houses custom designed with parking on the periphery and lots of opportunities for interaction in the middle.
Terra Firma member Steven Fick, interviewed in 2019
During that time, we had long discussions about whether we were going to stay in the city or move to a rural property, and we attempted to move forward on purchasing properties for development but could never get enough people with enough money to move forward. In 1997 the group bought two existing three-door row houses with the idea of creating cohousing from existing buildings.
There were 10 owners, out of the core group, who were willing to buy the six units. We varied in terms of financial commitment with some families paying their full share of the mortgage while other families paid the minimum. It was a huge leap of faith and trust.
Terra Firma residents share the following physical amenities:
- open multiuse living space with small kitchen
- guest room with bathroom, laundry, shared lounge area
- sauna, hot tub, a variety of exercise equipment
- shared bike and waste bin storage
- large shared backyard, play structure, and multiple sheds
Their common interior space has some eco features like solar panels and in-floor heating.
Next year, we will be celebrating our 25th anniversary here. The original 10 owners are still here forming 7 households, an additional three families have bought houses next-door to our property in order to be part of the social entity which is Terra Firma cohousing. An 11th household is part of the larger social group.
And so we began the experiment. On the day we took possession, we pulled down the fences between the six backyards and celebrated. Some of the neighbours in the community got scared by this and began a legal/political challenge to limit us. Eventually this brought the larger community out in support of us.
Since then, we have done a major renovation to build a seventh unit and a common space between the two existing buildings. Each of the original six units has been renovated and or upgraded. We switched from joint ownership and a co-tenancy agreement to becoming a condo, so that each family would be able to have their own mortgage and their own equity in their own unit.
Before Covid, we had common meals twice a week from September till June. Although Covid put a stop to the larger social gatherings, cohousing turned out to be a perfect place to live during a pandemic. We’ve continued to support each other and offer emotional and social support during isolation.
To what do we attribute our success?
First of all, this wasn't just one person's dream, and it wasn't just one person who has made this possible. Many of the members have gone above and beyond in giving of their time, energy, and financial resources to create our cohousing community. Secondly, we have repeatedly found ways to deal with conflict and move forward. We have used mediation, early on we used the Myers Briggs personality test to help us understand each other, we have gotten creative to find ways to hear each other, and we have bent over backwards to accept each other and our differences.
The Soul Sisters -- have MOVED IN!!! as of December 2022
Ottawa Cohousing toured the active construction site with interested participants in July 2022. Expansive use of natural light is evident and customized spatial features have been designed into each unit. In floor heating is utilized. Extra special features have been incorporated, like a central elevator, a personal electric fire place for each unit in addition to a gas fire place for the commons living area.
The Soul Sisters are good friends, who for many years dreamt of aging together in place. They enjoy many common interests and are currently all single, each living comfortably alone in their own homes. The inevitable reality of the aging process has been become increasingly apparent for them. Their intent is not to provide each other ongoing physical care but rather the assurance that they will support each other to ensure that appropriate resources are put in place.
About five years ago they began to give serious consideration to the great benefits of creating a shared life together. Aging, naturally, brings challenges… health issues, loneliness, and isolation. While each of them has loving families, many of those live far away. They are choosing to leave homes that they love, neighbourhoods that they know and neighbours that they value because, they believe that living with supportive friends is more realistic and supportive than living alone, at this stage of their lives. After meeting regularly on their own to start with and then with a hired coach having expertise and personal experience in cohousing, a plan/vision gradually emerged. A Mission Statement, Mandate, and statement of mutually agreed upon Values was developed and agreed upon. Their starting dream was of a cluster of tiny houses grouped around a common house in the country. This gradually morphed into a long semi comprised of four individual small apartment units and a common area (for shared meals, crafts, entertaining and guest accommodations), located in the city.
After deciding to hire an architect, Rosaline J. Hill Architect Inc., the project really started to move forward. To fit to a standard city lot, the house had to be efficient and conform to the City of Ottawa’s requirements.
Their site is in the heart of Ottawa, close to public transportation, health care and volunteering. A legal firm in Toronto was engaged to assist in formulating legal documents, such as joint ownership, shared responsibilities, and succession planning, while many of the daunting details, like insurance, were hammered out with the assistance of various experts within their array of friends and business associates.
The Covid situation and restrictions presented many additional challenges, not the least of which was delays in permitting. However, with the assistance of some seed money, the Soul Sisters were ready and able to acquire a suitable property prior to the most recent surge in real estate prices. Their financing for the build included the commitment to give the money realized by the sale of each of their homes towards the common project.
The Soul Sisters have had the advantage having known each other well prior to starting their journey as an intentional community. They have promised each other continued friendship, support and advocacy when needed.
Examples of Canadian Cohousing Communities
Wolf Willow -- existing Cohousing Community since 2012
Community Type: Seniors Community
Number of Homes: 21
Common House: 4500 sq. ft
Location: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Urban Green -- under construction
Community Type: Multigenerational - Net Zero building
Number of Homes: 26
Common House: 4000 sq. ft
Location: Edmonton, Alberta
Vancouver -- existing Cohousing Community since 2016
Community Type: Multigenerational
Number of Homes: 31
Common House: 6200 sq. ft.
Location: Metro Vancouver, British Columbia
Prairie Spruce -- existing Cohousing Community since 2019
Community Type: Multigenerational
Number of Homes: 21
Common House: 3232 sq. ft
Location: Regina, Saskatchewan
Wind Song Cohousing -- existing Cohousing Community since 1996
Community Type: Multigenerational - Eco Centric, (award winning design)
Number of Homes: 34
Common House: 5000 sq. ft
Location: Langley, British Columbia