Real Estate

The Move: Why two pilots willing to put down roots anywhere in Canada landed in Calgary.

For first-time buyers Sylvie and Riley, their property search included a basement bachelor pad and a “murder home” before eventually finding new digs 
Andrea Yu
IMG_3353 (1)_1

The buyers:

Sylvie Bouffard, a 25-year-old regional-airline pilot, and Riley Dewar, a 27-year-old corporate-jet pilot.

The budget:


The backstory:

Sylvie and Riley are originally from opposite sides of the country—her from Ottawa and him from Squamish, British Columbia. In 2020, they met somewhere close to the middle, while working as air-ambulance pilots in La Ronge, a remote community in northern Saskatchewan. They were used to airlifting victims of ATV and snowmobile accidents to hospitals, but during the pandemic, they serviced more and more patients afflicted with COVID. “It was nice to be in the same field at that time,” Sylvie says. “When we needed to rant after a long day, we each had someone who could understand us.”

RELATED: The Move: This Ontario family found space and affordability in Calgary

In November of 2020, the couple moved in together, renting a three-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot house in La Ronge for $1,200 a month. It was an older property, but it had a large porch overlooking the backyard, where they often enjoyed meals when the weather permitted. Sylvie and Riley shared a love of the outdoors, which they satisfied by camping, hiking and paddleboarding in the wilds of La Ronge. Still, neither of them were too keen on staying there for long. Aside from the abundance of outdoor recreation, there wasn’t a whole lot to do in town, an area known for having high crime rates. (“I wouldn’t walk alone at night,” Sylvie says.) Plus, their MedEvac jobs often meant working 12-hour shifts, on-call and for low pay.Sylvie and Riley both hoped to find better-salaried work as commercial pilots. They were willing to live anywhere in Canada, so long as their future home was located in a safe community and was roomy enough to house the family they eventually hoped to start. Affordability was also a priority, which ruled out Toronto and Vancouver. Calgary, on the other hand, seemed reasonable. The idea of being close to the mountains scratched their adventurous itch, and Riley’s dad was located in Kelowna, a six-hour drive away. 

READ: The Move: Kelowna, B.C. to Nova Scotia for a breath of fresh air

By March of 2021, Riley had secured a job as a corporate-jet pilot for a private charter company in Calgary and took over the basement of his friend’s mom (for free) who had an apartment in Airdrie, a suburb just north of the Calgary International Airport. Sylvie found work with another local airline and moved into Riley’s bachelor pad that July. A week after her arrival, the search for their dream home finally began.

The hunt:

Sylvie and Riley’s ideal property had to fit a few key criteria: detached, with two or three bedrooms (for overnight visitors), a decently sized yard (for Lou, Sylvie’s newly adopted Labradoodle), a price tag close to $500,000 and located in a quiet neighbourhood, preferably near the airport (for obvious reasons). Riley, who describes himself as “not a city person,” wasn’t keen on living right downtown. Instead, the couple started looking in a friendly, known area with lots of green space: Airdrie.

Right off the bat, they viewed five houses. Among them was an older, six-bedroom house on a corner lot, which Sylvie and Riley nicknamed the “murder house” for its peeling wallpaper, musty cigarette smell and creepy basement, complete with a dark, narrow hallway. There was also the “museum house,” a three-bedroom split-level bungalow that was newly renovated and listed for $415,000. “It was too sterile,” Sylvie says. “It was very white and very staged. It didn’t feel homey at all.” 

The top contender was a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom detached property on a cul-de-sac in Airdrie’s Reunion-Williamstown neighbourhood, just “90 steps” from their basement apartment. It had an open-concept living room and kitchen on the main floor, three bedrooms on the upper level and an unfinished basement that was ripe for renovation. The house itself sat on a large, pie-shaped lot with a narrow front yard and a fully fenced backyard—ideal for Lou, and ideal for enjoying private outdoor meals in the summer months. “It was miles nicer than anything else we’d seen,” says Riley.

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

The home was listed at $500,000—the very top end of the couple’s budget—but their agent thought they could get it for $490,000. Sylvie and Riley had scheduled another batch of viewings for the next day, so they figured they’d hold off on making an offer. But on the way home, their agent called to let them know another prospective buyer had put in a bid. “Our stomachs were in knots,” Sylvie says. “I think that’s when we realized how much we loved the house. We thought: We can’t lose it.” 

They decided to submit an offer of $490,000, based on their realtor’s advice, but soon found out the other bidder had offered the asking price—with no conditions. Sylvie and Riley decided to match the $500,000, retaining their conditions (including a home inspection). They also threw in a heartstring-plucking letter for the current owner, expressing their love for the neighbourhood, where they could imagine walking their dog and sending their future children to school. That sealed the deal.

They didn’t have long to celebrate. Sylvie and Riley agreed to a quick closing date of early August, and just two weeks later, Sylvie left for job training in Vancouver. Riley moved their shared belongings out of storage and into their new digs by himself. In fact, they only spent a total of six days together in their first two months of home ownership, thanks to their staggered work schedules. “We had just come off of doing long distance, so it was very bizarre,” Sylvie says.

They devoted any and all shared time to making their house a home: sourcing and refurbishing second-hand furniture from Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace, transforming their third bedroom into a craft area for Sylvie (she crochets and sews), and enjoying meals for two in their backyard oasis—three if you include Lou. At times, they miss their lakeside dwelling in La Ronge, but Sylvie and Riley are making do, suburb-style. There’s a pond located a couple streets’ north, which draws hockey-loving kids during the winter freeze and hosts concerts over the holidays. “There’s a strong sense of community here,” says Sylvie, happily. For all their scheduling conflicts, the couple has grown closer, too. Last Christmas Eve, Riley proposed.