NIVERVILLE — Clarence Braun cruises past dirt lot after dirt lot.
He passes a front loader, a dump truck. Piles of gravel. A field that "will be a road," half-done homes lacking the "for sale" signs at the front.
He turns onto another street in mid-development.
"Everything down here is sold," the realtor says, motioning to the overturned sod.
It’s a common phrase for him as he drives through Niverville. The community is Manitoba’s fastest growing; it’s the fifth fastest in Canada.
Developers, and the town, are straining to keep up.
Braun takes the construction-laden Main Street past the new Dairy Queen — Smitty’s is set to open nearby — and beyond the field a new hotel and apartment complex will call home.
He later stops by Niverville’s $19.5-million recreation complex, built in 2021, which attaches to a new high school and daycare. The land by the school is getting ready for more development — houses.
"I’ve probably got about 35 properties listed on the commercial side that are being built right now," Braun said. "As they’re built, they’re filled."
It wasn’t the case when Braun, 66, was younger. In 1991, the town’s population was around 1,775. The number has more than tripled in the past 30 years.
Niverville has 5,947 residents, according to Statistics Canada’s 2021 census. It’s a near 30 per cent population increase since the 2016 census.
The community is young: 28.3 per cent of residents are under the age of 15, and the average age is 33.
Braun — a former town mayor — can’t put his finger on the growth’s cause. Back in the ’90s, developers would lose money by putting up homes. The area is about 35 kilometres south of the Perimeter, past Saint Adolphe.
Braun said he ran for mayor in 1995 because he believed the tiny town could grow.
"We tore up the development agreement that the previous councils had written," Braun said. "It was obvious we didn’t have enough demand for our lots."
“We tore up the development agreement that the previous councils had written... It was obvious we didn’t have enough demand for our lots.” – Clarence Braun
Council reduced the costs placed on developers and instead charged new residents more over time, he said.
Braun didn’t run after his second term in 2002. He said he’d originally planned to hold just one term.
Mayor Myron Dyck began on council in 2004. He’s in his eighth year as mayor.
In 2004, a residential developer came to Niverville and offered to buy 80 acres for up to 500 homes. People thought the developer was crazy, Dyck said.
The development, Fifth Avenue Estates, is now essentially sold out — even the empty lots are spoken for. It’s approximately 200 acres.
"Since about 2009, we haven’t really been focused on residential growth at all," Dyck said. "Since then, we’ve had other developers come to us."
The rural community’s proximity to Winnipeg could be a draw for people, Braun speculates.
And, there’s been a desire from many sides — council, business, churches and everyday residents — to expand the town.
Niverville’s council undertook strategic planning research in 2009, Dyck said. They found the area was 85 per cent residential and 15 per cent business. A healthy average is more 60 per cent and 40 per cent, respectively, Dyck said.
"You do not survive very long if your sole source of income is your residential tax base," he said. "The amount that you would need to put on taxes for residential dwellings only, it’s not financially smart."
“You do not survive very long if your sole source of income is your residential tax base... The amount that you would need to put on taxes for residential dwellings only, it’s not financially smart.” – Mayor Myron Dyck
So, council added business incentive grants, changed zoning to allow for mixed-use buildings and bought out the business park they shared with the Rural Municipality of Hanover so they could develop as they pleased.
Business was slow to trickle in until the population hit the 4,000 to 5,000 mark, Dyck said.
"A lot of business has to do with access to employees and access to customers," he said.
Meantime, the population snowballed.
Dyck compared it to getting pregnant and preparing for one child, then learning you have six on the way.
"It’s like, ‘Oh, what do you mean? I only bought one crib… How am I going to pay for that?’" Dyck said. "It’s wonderful on the one hand, but it does provide its challenges to try to keep up."
Niverville has seen roughly 30 per cent growth for the last 15 years, according to the town.
"The town is always needing to put in new sewage, new water, new roads," said Amanda Wiens, president of the Niverville Chamber of Commerce. "We need to grow our business community just to cover some of that infrastructure."
Wiens married into Wiens Furniture, a three-decade-old shop down Main Street. It’s evolved with the town: what was once a catch-all store for hardware and groceries has become a 20,000 square foot furniture space with recent renovations.
"It’s because the town’s growing," Wiens said, adding residents have been supportive.
Still, roughly half of clients come from Winnipeg, she said.
"We can compete against some of the boutique places in Winnipeg because our taxes are lower, and our overhead’s just a little bit lower… so then we can compete on price," she said.
Niverville has around 110 businesses, according to Eric King, the town’s chief administrative officer. This doesn’t include the businesses people run from their homes.
There’s still an imbalance of residents to businesses, Wiens said. She’s hopeful new companies will fill gaps.
"I’ve heard that we’re on track to be probably the next city in Manitoba," she said. "(There’s) so much to do before we get there."
“I’ve heard that we’re on track to be probably the next city in Manitoba... (There’s) so much to do before we get there.” – Amanda Wiens
The trick is to keep the sense of community as it happens, Wiens noted.
Community is what brought sisters Melanie Ducharme and Danielle Auld home to Niverville after living in Winnipeg.
Their kids play in the front yard without worry, maybe before heading to a dance class or soccer practice, Ducharme, 40, said. She and Auld, 37, own Prairie Soul Dance Company and teach children of young families.
"We love the small town feel," Ducharme said, adding the kids were set to dance at the town fair this weekend.
Kelsey Brown began renting a house in Niverville three weeks ago.
The 28-year-old held her two children tight on her way in to Niverville Bigway, the town grocery store (which is expanding).
"There’s so much stuff you can bike to here," Brown said. "It’s so much safer here (than in the city)."
There’s the park, the recreation centre, the splash pads, the coffee shop. Rent is reasonable compared to other towns, she added.
Candace Alarie has cemented her business, Soak Bath Co., in Niverville. It began in her basement in 2019. Eventually, the 1,200 square foot space was too small.
"I know that because Niverville is expanding so much, we as a town are needing more employment opportunities," she said.
She wasn’t worried about filling her new 3,000 square foot space with staff. Some people come from nearby communities.
"Any time we have a job posting out, there are so many applicants," Alarie said.
She took a quick break from work Monday to get her hair done. The salon was steps away.
A short commute would take her to the doctor, the dentist and the pharmacy. The strip is near the Heritage Centre Campus, which includes a personal care home, a day care, a restaurant, an event centre and a life lease residence.
"There’s no need to do the Winnipeg commute anymore," Alarie said.
The town projects Niverville’s population at 7,800 in five years, 10,200 in 10 years and 16,500 by 2042.
Niverville’s business park has been opening 20 to 30 acres of sites per year for the past five years.
The town will introduce its Manitoba Junior Hockey League team, the Nighthawks, this fall.
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So far in 2022, the midpoint single-family detached home price in Niverville is $429,900. It’s a more than $100,000 increase from 2018’s midpoint of $325,760.
Last year, the midpoint for the same type of house cost $399,550.
Half of home sales in Niverville this year have been new builds, which is “very high,” according to Peter Squire, vice-president of external relations and market intelligence for the Winnipeg Regional Real Estate Board.
Most homes are resales, Squire said. The number of new builds is indicative of the town’s growth, he added.
New home builds made up 48 per cent of purchases in 2021.
There were 175 residential sales last year, including 132 single family homes and 19 condos. House sales have slowed in the first half of 2022 compared to 2021 — 66 purchases from 83 — but that’s consistent with the real estate market across Manitoba, Squire said.
Niverville had 31 active listings as of June 2.
The average home in Niverville, assessed at $287,100, pays municipal property taxes of $1,958 (excluding the school tax).