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Our Story:
Founding, Name & Design

Sustainable Living, Designed By Us, Built To Last

Over 10 Years As Our Community

Since building completion in 2012, Wolf Willow Cohousing community and building has celebrated many milestones. The trees now reach the windows of the second floor and the memories and sense of community now fill the corridors. The early decisions have been lived into and the thoughtfulness that went into the many design features valued by those who have arrived later. We still have founding members here, as well as those who have joined.

Our Name: Wolf Willow

Wolf Willow Cohousing reflects the strength, resilience and vitality of its namesake shrub. Wolf willow (elaeagnus commutata), is a sun-loving shrub known for its silvery-green foliage and bright yellow flowers. The wolf willow can be found in pastures, on hillsides and in abundance along the ever-surprising back roads of Saskatchewan. The berries produced during the flowering cycle are a rich source of vitamins A, C, and E. In this land, First Nation Peoples, particularly Cree, have for generations valued the berries as a food source as well as for beads.

There is wolf willow growing alongside wild roses and sea buckthorn on the 17th Street boulevard facing the south side Wolf Willow Cohousing.


Human-Focused Design

A building and community built by the people who live there. 

We developed Wolf Willow Cohousing ourselves because we wanted to make decisions ourselves rather than a take-it-or-leave-it offering from an arm’s length developer. Founding members financed the building themselves with the original credit from Conexus Credit Union. Now the building is fully owned by the members with a healthy reserve fund.


Together founding members hired the professionals we needed: our specialist co-housing project manager Ronaye Matthew, the architects (Peter Treuheit from Mobius Architecture, who chose Paul Blaser of RBM Architects to be the local architect), other building consultants, and our contractor, Ledcor. Over the 3 years of development, we had to make some tough decisions together, for example, balancing our environmental sustainability goals with affordability concerns. The final product is the result of a shared intention and a deeply co-creative process.

Listen to an interview with our members on August 29, 2011 about the community, decision-making and design:

Founding: The Story of Building Together

Friends hosted the first meeting. They had food catered and rented chairs for the more than thirty people who attended. Everyone left the meeting excited at the prospect of something coming out of this first conversation. For a number of years, a group of activist women friends had been talking about creating a community where they could live together as they got older, with their significant others. At the same time, another group of friends familiar with cohousing had been trying to identify a group of people who would be interested in creating the first cohousing community in Saskatchewan. In December 2007, those two groups of people connected through two teacher friends and proposed that there be a meeting in January 2008 to explore the possibility of creating a cohousing community in Saskatoon. Meetings continued on a monthly basis for eighteen months. The group created a vision statement, our principles for living together, and made difficult but key decisions like whether we would be an inter-generational community or one designed for seniors. We developed a consensus decision-making model and adopted some tools to assist us in the meetings like coloured cards which we still use. As we made decisions, some people chose to leave our group. By October 2009 there were only seven people left. It was this core group that made the decision to purchase a parcel of land in the West Industrial Area on Saskatoon’s west side and to hire Ronaye Matthew from CDC (Cohousing Development Consulting) based in Vancouver. With those two decisions made, we were launched! With Ronaye’s help and technical expertise, the group hired architects, secured a mortgage from Conexus Credit Union, succeeded in getting City of Saskatoon approval for our Discretionary Use Application to build a multifamily development on the corner of Avenue J and 17th Street, and developed strategies and processes for bringing new members into our project. After a scary first few months, our first Associate Members joined us in early 2010 and we started to feel like this dream could become a reality. Once Ronaye joined us we agreed that a weekend of meetings each month would be the best way to work together. We created a committee structure to handle legal/financial issues, community building, and design. Each committee met every month and then motions from each committee were brought to a business meeting. Every month that we met there was a potluck supper at someone’s house. The potlucks are the highlight of our time together. Wolf Willow Cohousing has been fortunate in our choice of architects. The principal architect for the project is Peter Treuheit from Mobius Architecture, which has offices on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast. Peter chose Paul Blaser of RBM Architects to be the local architect for the project. In the spring of 2010, with more Associate Members joining us all the time, we began working with Peter to design our new home. The result of that very creative and exciting process is the beautiful, energy-efficient, extremely well built 21-unit condominium development that we call home. Officially opened in September 2012. This section was written by one of the founding members, Christine Smillie.

Accessibility & Active Aging Built into the Design

“In developing Wolf Willow Cohousing, we have gone one step further. We have created a building with healthy lifestyles in mind.” (Founding member)

Throughout Wolf Willow are considerations for making the spaces more inclusive, from auto-door openers and roll-through front doors, to an elevator and extra-wide hallways and doorways. Accessible in our approach and design, attention was built in via easy-to-open door handles, lowset light switches, and the roll-in guestroom shower allowing for short-term recoveries and longer-term adaptations for those actively aging in place. Our approach is not one-size-fits-all, but rather actively-aging-centric in our planning. Wolf Willow is the first cohousing complex designed by seniors in Canada.

Wolf Willow Cohousing the news:

Sustainable, Environmentally Friendly Design

Wolf Willow Cohousing is built with all three “pillars” of sustainability (environmental, social, and economic) reflecting the cohousing commitment to living with a smaller footprint and creating a “green” building. The building is energy efficient with R50 wall and R60 ceilings keeping our heating costs low. Because of the effectiveness of the insulation, each condo unit has its own heat exchanger and humidity control. All units have access to sunlight and fresh air from at least two sides. Included in the 5,000 square feet of common space in Wolf Willow, are a number of rooms devoted to our physical, intellectual and artistic stimulation. For instance, we have multi-purpose rooms devoted to music, arts and crafts. We have an exercise room, sauna, and multi-function workshop. Several common decks and gardens provide space for growing herbs, vegetables, fruit trees, and ornamental plants and opportunities to connect with friends and neighbours. The building includes secured parking and elevator access. Our homes are fully self-contained condominiums ranging in size from 788 to 1244 square feet and designed for accessibility and graceful aging in place. We thoughtfully considered the layouts and finishing materials with the environment and human well-being in mind. Unit ceilings are 9 feet high, with loft-height ceilings in some fourth-floor units. The materials and mechanical systems have been selected based on green building principles balanced with the economic constraints of our project. Cork and Marmoleum flooring, 2” x 8” wall construction with additional insulation under the outer Hardie board cladding, triple-glazed windows and in-floor radiant heating to name just a few of our features.


Wolf Willow Cohousing was built according to high environmental sustainability standards. Site selection: within easy public transportation access and walking/cycling distance from many services. Transportation alternatives: substantial bicycle storage and easy car-sharing opportunities because of the socially connected community. Cohousing communities have a documented reduction in automobile usage in general. Sharing resources and bulk purchasing: extensive common facilities shared by the community support the social fabric, which makes the sharing of resources a daily reality. Access to the extensive common areas allows members to own smaller individual units (guest rooms are shared in common, for example) and sharing of resources (such as exercise and workshop equipment) reduces overall consumption. Energy efficient building envelope: 2” x 8” insulation filled walls with 3” Styrofoam under exterior wall finish (approximately R-50 insulation value), R 60 insulation in ceilings and all windows triple-glazed with low E coating and insulated spacer. Alternative energy sources: Host Saskatoon Solar Coop solar panels Energy efficient heating and cooling: radiant floor heating throughout the building for heating the living units, common house areas and the enclosed walkways, plus a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) to provide ventilation. Sun shades and ceiling fans provide low energy solutions for cooling. Lighting: compact fluorescent and low voltage light fixtures with dimming capacity. Material Selection: durable long-lasting materials, hard surface low impact flooring (marmoleum, cork, and in parking and workshop polished concrete). Water conservation: low-flow toilets and plumbing fixtures. Rainwater management: water collected from the roof deck and workshop roof is diverted to a series of rain barrels readily accessible to the gardens. Urban gardens: communal gardens are located on the ground level and 2nd level deck. Composting: communal composting bins are provided close to garden areas.


Community events: creating a warm and friendly neighbourhood with the opportunity for more connection with neighbours, Wolf Willow Cohousing hosts house concerts and members host local group meetings. Respect and care for community life: the extensive common facilities are designed to create opportunities for spontaneous connection and support the social fabric of the community. The individual is respected and valued with community well-being is equally important. Democratic self-determination: Decisions are made using consensus. The final product results from a shared intention and deeply co-creative process. Equal opportunity for personal self-realization: all members have equal opportunity for participation, leadership roles and access to information. Reduced need for external human resources and infrastructures: in a community where people know their neighbours, there is considerable opportunity for the natural connections and support that reduce the burdens of day-to-day living. The little things that make living independently challenging for people who are actively aging is often available in a cohousing community.


An aspect not often considered when looking at affordability is the cost of living. Because of the social structure and access to shared resources, cohousing homes provide opportunities for reducing living costs. Resident-managed development: Wolf Willow Cohousing was financed by the members originally and built at cost. The profit margin that would normally go to a developer stayed in the building in the form of better quality finishing, common areas for shared use, and environmentally sensitive design. Access to shared spaces reduces individual home size needs: Individual homes can be smaller when there is easily accessible space available for common use of a workshop, guest rooms, craft room, meeting room, etc. Access to shared resources: allows individuals to decrease material possessions without impacting on quality of life, including available Common House internet, extra freezer space, tools, and gardens. Resident management: Residents work together to manage and maintain their home, contributing to lower maintenance costs while also providing opportunities for contact and connection. Human resources: Cohousing provides an environment where the exchange of knowledge, skills, expertise and time is a common occurrence and more readily accessible in this connected community. Aging in place is supported: The buildings are designed for aging in place including being wheelchair accessible, valuing each person’s contributions, allowing for changes in interests over time, options for gardening without the requirement, and opportunities for social interaction - factors that allow people to live on their own longer than in conventional housing. Market demand supports value. Experience has shown that cohousing communities have good resale value. People are willing to pay for added quality and community benefits.

Watch Videos of Wolf Willow Members Describing the Design

Our Founding

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