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Oxford Properties Group has quietly sold a pristine swath of land on the Ottawa River that’s more than four times the size of Bermuda.
The 65,000-acre property, known as Kenauk, is roughly halfway between Ottawa and Montreal and contains more than 70 private lakes. It has the potential to become a new cottage country.
The land surrounds the Fairmont Le Château Montebello, which has a storied history as a private club that attracted bank presidents, former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson and Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco. The hotel has hosted a G7 summit, NATO meetings, and a North American leaders summit.
Helicopters can land on clearings in the Kenauk lands, which also have a massive network of gravel roads, a marina, and 13 chalets.
Oxford, the real estate arm of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System, has owned both the hotel and the Kenauk lands since 2006, when it bought seven Fairmont hotels for about $1.5-billion (Oxford owned the properties, while Fairmont continued to manage the hotels).
While Oxford wanted to keep the land directly around the hotel, it decided that the Kenauk lands were generally more work than they were worth.
“It was a difficult decision,” says Eric Plesman, a vice-president at Oxford. “But it’s 65,000 acres of land that doesn’t generate a lot of income, and that’s probably better for us to have in the hands of some others.”
“There’s 165-kilometres of roads on the property,” says Robert MacDougall, a broker at Jones Lang LaSalle who listed the property with Sotheby’s. “Just to maintain those roads was a fortune.”
The land was listed for $80-million and went to market last spring. “It wasn’t a proven valuation, because there are no comparables,” says Mr. MacDougall. “To have something like that, on the Ottawa River, right between Montreal and Ottawa, untouched, virgin, is super rare.”
About 165 serious potential buyers emerged. But none wanted to buy the whole thing.
In the end, four private individuals came together with New Hampshire-based Lyme Timber Company and the Nature Conservancy of Canada, in a deal that was in the neighbourhood of $50-million.
Oxford will keep the rights, for a period of time, to allow tourists to undertake Land Rover excursions, hunting, fishing and shooting. The four private owners will control the waterfront at Lac Papineau, the Nature Conservancy has rights to restrict development, and Lyme Timber has the rights to logging, Mr. MacDougall said.
“Proper forestry management is an integral step in conservation,” he added, saying that “it’s beautiful land, mostly hardwood, really nice maple, and if it’s responsibly managed, it’s a good thing…I think it’s conservation in a big way.”