The last holdout
Published Sept. 3, 2014
Anyone looking to acquire their own little slice of the Wilfrid Laurier University main campus may finally have their chance.
Until Sept. 16, the public will have the opportunity to bid on 46 Bricker Ave., the only piece of property on the university campus that is still privately owned.
The only catch is the $960,000 asking price for the 1,233 square-foot home and the 0.07 hectare (0.17 acre) rectangular piece of land it sits on. The listing describes the property as “rarer than rare” and a “once in a lifetime opportunity” for potential investors.
“I’m not aware of another opportunity like this in Ontario or even Canada,” said realtor Mike Milovick. “That’s what really makes it unique.”
No doubt thousands of students have walked past the home and pondered its peculiar nature. Nestled between a parking lot and the Bricker Residence with a steep sloping roof over the front entrance, it’s the home of 80-year-old Mary-Jo Guy, whose family has owned the house for more than 60 years.
So after all these years why is it for sale?
“She’s in her 80s, her memory is not what it used to be and her driving skills are degrading,” explained Guy’s son, Richard Weston, who is helping handle the sale of the property from his home in San Diego. “It’s just time.”
The property was at one time home to an exquisite garden thanks to an undeground stream, he added, but his mother has trouble getting around and tending to the flowers like she once could, meaning yard has become overgrown in recent years.
The only full bathroom is also up on the second floor, and the home has a rather steep set of stairs that are diffcult for his mother to climb, Weston said.
She moved from Houston to Waterloo in 1986 and has lived there ever since. Guy has lived alone since her second husband died about a decade ago and her five children all live in the United States.
Her parents, Frank and Isabelle Keachie, purchased the home in 1952 when it was still surrounded by farm fields, Weston said. The couple paid $12,800 at the time.
The home was originally built in 1941 by Helen Merner after she purchased the land from the Town of Waterloo in June of that year for $200, according to land registry records.
The property has garnered significant interest since it went up for sale, said Milovick, with nearly 20 different groups inquiring about the property or submitting bids since it was listed for sale on Aug. 15.
Those who are interested in the lot include local developers and several student groups from WLU, though he couldn’t specify who exactly.
One group that has surprisingly not shown much interest in it is the school itself. “My inquiry to the university was not returned,” Milovick said.
When asked if WLU might have any interest in the property or had ever tried to purchase the land, Kevin Crowley, director of communications, said in an email response, “Laurier is always willing to look at opportunities that might benefit the university but it wouldn’t be prudent to comment on specific properties.”
WLU archives assistant Andre Furlong said the university made a very public attempt to purchase the entire block of properties fronting Bricker Avenue during the 1960s.
In 1962 the university bought a group of four houses at the corner of Bricker Avenue and Albert Street — the location of the current seminary — for $144,000, and in 1966 the university made it known they intended to purchase the rest of the block as part of its master plan, said Furlong.
In fact, Abram Wiebe, a member of the WLU board of governors, was very active in the local real estate industry and helped broker many of those land deals, Furlong said.
“I would be flabbergasted if no attempt was made to purchase that lot,” he said.
According to Weston, there were attempts by the school to buy the land from his mother as recently as the early 1990s when the school was planning to build the neighbouring Bricker Residence, which opened in 1991.
It’s been a frustrating few years for the family as Guy had tried to rent the home out to students in the past but wasn’t allowed to because the land is zoned for university use and she isn’t affiliated with WLU. The land was re-zoned from general residential in 1990.
Milovick said the university zoning is actually very flexible for a developer looking to build on the site — including lower interest rates — which is part of the reason for the $960,000 asking price.
No matter who buys it, though, the high price tag may mean its days as a privately-owned residence are history, but Weston said he’ll always carry the happy memories of his childhood visits to Waterloo with him.
“My first time up there I think I was five or six years old,” said Weston, now 56. “I loved my time in Canada and I have a garden now in San Diego because of it.”