This article originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Cottage Life West magazine.
Unless you suffer from polymorphic light eruption—an itchy, allergic rash caused by sunlight—that big yellow ball in the sky and the heat it produces make you feel good. It’s a scientific fact.
Researchers have shown that sun exposure provides a range of benefits, from boosting immune function and promoting healthy sleep cycles to helping combat depression and—according to a study published in the journal Dermato-Endocrinology—armpit odour. In conjunction, scientists find that hotter weather can elevate your mood and stimulate memory and alertness.
So long as you protect your skin from sunburn, a good dose of rays beats an apple a day. That’s something to consider when it comes to choosing where to buy a cabin or cottage. If high summer temperatures and maximum annual hours of sunlight top your shopping list, turn your attention to Western Canada.
“Winters may be long and cold, but when we’re talking about dry, sunny, and hot summers, the west leads the country,” says David Phillips, a senior climatologist at Environment Canada. When he analyzed the weather from coast to coast, he found that the places with the most days above 30°C are in Saskatchewan and south-central B.C. Saskatchewan is the sunniest province, and the country’s 14 driest cities are all in the west.
Further, the hottest temperatures on record in Canada all occurred in southern Saskatchewan, southern Alberta, and B.C.’s Okanagan and Fraser Canyon areas. The hottest day of all was in Midale, Sask., on July 5, 1937, when it reached a sweltering 45°C—a high closely challenged by Lillooet and Lytton in B.C. That’s hot enough to melt running shoes to asphalt or to cook an egg on your car’s hood. (Mythbuster: a concrete sidewalk will never actually heat up enough to fry an egg.)
While such extreme temperatures are rare, they are further proof that Western Canada owns hot. Here’s what you need to know about nine of the hottest, sunniest cottaging areas of the west.
Manitou Beach, Saskatchewan
Before Europeans arrived on the Prairies, First Nations came to soak in Little Manitou Lake, said to have therapeutic qualities. People still seek out these mineralized waters, rich in sodium, potassium, and magnesium, but there are plenty of things to do on dry land too. A little over an hour from Regina or Saskatoon and just off the Yellowhead Highway, the area is home to one of the last drive-in movie theatres in Canada, a traditional hall with rare horsehair-cushioned dance floors, and more than 50 local artisans. A loyal summer crowd flocks to Manitou Beach for fun in the sun. Weather here is on a par with nearby Regina, which averages 16 days over 30°C between May and September—and 12 winter days below -30°C, so locals know to make the most of their summer beach days.
Population: About 100 cottages and 350 year-round residents. The annual influx of summer visitors expands the population to about 2,000.
Prices: Bare land prices from $15,000; entry-level cottage properties from $50,000.
Lake Newell, Alberta
It’s all about the lake here. Lake Newell, at 66.4 sq. km, is the largest man-made lake in southern Alberta. It’s also one of the warmest. The nearby town of Brooks, one of the province’s hottest, driest communities, logs more than 300 hours of sunshine each month of the summer. Boating and swimming are popular at Lake Newell, and the fishing’s good too. Local anglers report catching some 20 fish an hour, including walleye, pike, perch, and whitefish. Migratory birds flock here in huge numbers during the spring and fall. A few older cottages have been grandfathered into Kinbrook Island Provincial Park. Most are located in the Lake Newell Resort development, spread along the north shore with plenty of green space, a public beach, and a 50-slip marina. Many lots are on the water; almost everyone has a water view.
Population: About 300 seasonal cottages.
Prices: Bare land prices from $180,000; cottage properties starting at about $350,000.
East Coulee, Alberta
The Badlands of southern Alberta may sound foreboding, but for those who like their climate hot and dry, this region of strangely eroded sandstone formations east of Calgary really should be known as The Goodlands. It gets sizzling hot here, often 5°C to 10°C warmer than the city an hour away. The thermometer climbs into the low 30s for much of the summer and as high as 38°C. There are many private cabins along the Red Deer River, but most are owned by farmers and rarely change hands. More accessible property is available in East Coulee, just east of Drumheller, Alta. The former coal-mining town is catching on with Calgary hipsters and heat lovers who are snapping up the affordable miner cabins and homes. The East Coulee School Museum, a restored 11-room school originally built for coal-mining families, captures the hamlet’s intriguing history.
Population: The town population is about 200, which includes around 40 cottage owners.
Prices: Bare land prices from $30,000; cottage properties starting around $60,000.
Popularly known as Canada’s “pocket desert,” the arid lands around Osoyoos support prickly pear cactus and pale northern scorpions. Home to the Osoyoos Desert Centre, this small town in the south Okanagan Valley experiences an average of 155 days above 20°C and 53 days above 30°C, ranking it one of the nation’s top hot spots. All that heat turns adjacent Osoyoos Lake soupy warm in the summertime. With an ideal climate for fruit growing, this region produces some of the Okanagan’s best red-wine grapes. Cottagers and retirees from across B.C., Alberta, and beyond come to Osoyoos to hit the links early, boat on the lake, sample the local vino, and bask in the enviable sunshine.
Population: About 2,000 cottage owners in the town of 6,000; the population balloons to 30,000 on summer weekends.
Prices: Bare land from $125,000; condos from $160,000; cottages from $250,000.
Fraser Canyon, B.C.
Both Lillooet and nearby Lytton are set on the Fraser River, surrounded by eroded canyon cliffs and views of the Coast Mountains to the west. The geography sucks moisture out of the coastal air and superheats it as it descends into the Fraser Canyon. Lillooet and Lytton regularly record Canada’s highest temperatures, typically in the low 40s, and the two towns share the record for the second hottest temperature on the books: 44.5°C. “People from the Vancouver area come to get out of the rain,” says Lillooet realtor Mark Rawson. “If you come for a weekend, you are almost guaranteed to have sunshine.” So far, the area remains off the radar for most cottagers, though the recreation opportunities are hard to beat—rafting, hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and boating—and property prices remain affordable.
Population: There are approximately 200 cottage owners in a region of 6,000.
Prices: Land from $85,000; cabins from $100,000.
Travers Reservoir & McGregor Lake, Alberta
About 1.5 hours southeast of Calgary, two resort communities—one on man-made Travers Reservoir, the other on natural McGregor Lake—are “a nice hidden secret” for cottagers, Lyle Magnuson says. A realtor in nearby Vulcan, Alta., Magnuson says Little Bow Resort and Lake McGregor Country Estates on the two long, narrow prairie lakes are “far enough away but still convenient.” Both are 30 minutes north of Lethbridge, Alta., Canada’s fifth sunniest city and one of the driest too. Lake McGregor Country Estates is a mix of RV lots and cabins with a variety of facilities for owners: a clubhouse, swimming pools, and sport courts. A little farther south, Little Bow Resort is all cottages and cabins with a small dock and marina. There are private cottages on both lakes as well. The area sits in the rainshadow of the Rockies, far enough from the Alberta Foothills to be noticeably warmer and sunnier than Calgary.
Population: About 600 cottagers in the two resort areas and private properties nearby.
Prices: Bare land from $80,000; RV lots from $40,000; cottages from $300,000.
When air trundles down the east side of Interior B.C.’s Purcell Mountains, it dries out and heats up, giving the Columbia Valley a microclimate similar to the Okanagan. Summer temperatures routinely hit the mid-30s, and similar highs can occur from April through September. Cranbrook, B.C., just down the valley from the bustling little town of Invermere, is Canada’s sixth sunniest city. Calgarians commute three hours over the Rocky Mountains to the shores of Windermere Lake, a widening of the Columbia River. Just 4.5 metres deep, the lake waters heat up deliciously in summer. Swimmers and sunbathers flock to the sandy beaches, while the consistent afternoon winds attract kiteboarders, windsurfers, and sailors. For golfers, there are a dozen courses within a 40-minute drive of Invermere. And with Panorama Mountain Village nearby as well as Kootenay National Park and several other protected areas, the hiking and wildlife viewing are excellent.
Population: About 5,000 cottage owners in a region of 15,000; numbers jump to 40,000 on a summer long weekend.
Prices: Bare land from $65,000; condos from $230,000; cottages from $450,000.
Good Spirit Lake, Saskatchewan
The shores of Good Spirit Lake once earned a place on a Maclean’s magazine top 10 list of Canadian beaches. Lined with white sand, the waters are especially family-friendly because the lake is exceptionally shallow. “You can walk out 50 feet, and the water will still be at your knees,” says Darryl Deighton, the owner of Canora Beach Resort, one of about a dozen cottage communities on the lake. “The lake warms up to more than 25 degrees most summers. It’s like a tropical setting without the palm trees.” Northeast of Regina, the lake is near Fort Qu’Appelle, routinely the province’s hottest area. Beach time and boating are popular; so are fishing, hiking, golfing, and exploring the sand dunes at the lake’s southern end, some of the largest in Saskatchewan.
Population: Of about 1,500 properties on the lake, approximately 1,350 are cottages.
Prices: Bare land from $25,000; RV lots from $25,000; cottages from $50,000.
Lake Diefenbaker, Saskatchewan
When explorer John Palliser first passed through this part of the Prairies in 1857, he figured it was too hot and dry for farming—an obstacle later overcome with irrigation. The lake, created by damming the South Saskatchewan and Qu’Appelle Rivers, sits between Saskatoon and Swift Current, two of Canada’s driest, sunniest cities. Bring your sunscreen, a good hat, and your boat shoes. Consistent winds on 140-km-long Lake Diefenbaker make for some of the best sailing between the Great Lakes and the Pacific Ocean. “Big and beautiful boats sail up and down on a Sunday afternoon,” says Lynne Saas, the mayor of Mistusinne, one of six cottage communities along the shore. The provincial power authority, which built the lake, owns the waterfront. All the cottages sit back from the water in small, spacious subdivisions, within easy walking distance of the shore. With the communities spread out and separated by pasturelands, no homes immediately on the lakefront, and only 10 community docks and marinas, the lake has a wild and empty feel, accentuated by the clean water, the sandy beaches, and the occasional moose or deer strolling through the neighbourhood.
Population: About 1,500 cottages, evenly distributed among the six lakeside communities.
Prices: Bare land priced from $58,000; cottage properties from $200,000.