photo: Claude Vallier/Knotty Pine Cabins

The Ultimate Guide to Alberta Cabin Life

By Kellie Davenport, Craig Moy & Julie Van Rosendaal

Erin and Mike Rehmann yearned for a simpler life—with less stuff but more meaning. They’d just spent six months in Europe “living out of a suitcase in one room,” says Erin, an IT professional. “When we got home, we thought, ‘We don’t need a big house.’”

Thus began the Rehmanns’ cabin quest. In 2014, they listed their 1,100-square-foot Airdrie house and started sketching their dream dwelling. The would-be downsizers met with builders at Edmonton’s Knotty Pine Cabins. “We showed them our rudimentary drawing and said, ‘We want this exact home,’” Mike explains. “They replied, ‘No problem. Let’s get started.’” The couple bought a kit for a 476-square-foot open-plan cabin with a loft bedroom—before they even had property to put it on.
“We’re not a cookie-cutter builder,” says Alana Comartin, AMA member and vice-president of Knotty Pine. Since 2007, the family-run company has been erecting cabins—both as holiday properties and primary residences. “More and more of our clients are downsizers or minimalists looking to live with less,” she says.

Knotty Pine floor plans range from 12-foot-wide tiny homes to multi-storey houses—all of which are totally customizable. “We work with owners to tailor the layout,” Comartin explains. “Things like adding more windows to maximize a great view.”

Erin and Mike, a barber, ultimately put their cabin on two hectares near Nanton, about an hour south of Calgary. “It’s not so remote that you’re in the middle of nowhere, but not so close to town that you’re in the thick of things,” Mike says.

Homeowners can choose to build their own Knotty Pine cabin or leave it to the company’s construction team. “I’d never assembled anything bigger than Ikea furniture,” Erin says. So Knotty Pine assembled the exterior structure in under a week. The couple then spent the next six months finishing the interior. During that time, they lived in a nearby trailer—which proved to be a good transition to small-space living. As Mike says, “After staying in a very tiny trailer, for half a year, our one-room cabin actually felt huge!”

The couple’s hard work resulted in a cozy abode, boasting a front deck and back patio with fire pit—plus sweeping mountain views, a horse pasture and space for 16 chickens and two dogs. The Rehmanns are proof positive that downsizing can let you live large on the land.

alberta cabin life rehmanns interior
Mike and Erin Rehmann in their cabin (photo: Lori Andrews)

A PLACE IN THE SUN
Whether you’re looking for energy savings or off-the-grid living, consider solar.

• Solar packages include panels, batteries to store energy and an inverter (which converts DC energy from batteries to the AC of cabin wiring), plus necessary hardware.

• To determine your optimal system size, consider load (the total electricity draw of all appliances) and use (how much/often you use each item). Multiply the wattage draw of each appliance by the estimated time of daily use. Finally, factor in how much sun you get in your area.

• AMA Insurance covers cabins, including those with hail-resistant solar panels. Just provide us all the details about your panels and backup system, and we’ll get you the coverage you need for peace of mind.

PROTECT YOUR PROPERTY
Your cabin is a retreat from life’s hustle and bustle, but that seclusion makes it vulnerable to theft, water damage and other risks—especially when you’re not there to keep an eye on it. Marijana Krpan, AMA Insurance manager at Calgary’s Sunridge centre, explains how to protect your cabin while it awaits your next visit.

How do I insure my seasonal cabin?
A seasonal property is usually listed as a secondary location on your primary home insurance policy. But if ownership differs from your primary residence, your insurance provider might issue a separate, standalone policy. In either case, the coverage you need and the cost will depend on how the property is used, how often it’s occupied and if you rent it out.

What’s usually covered?
A typical policy covers fire and theft, and includes liability coverage in the event that someone gets hurt on your property. Depending on your needs, you might consider an insurance package that also covers the contents of your cabin. (Things you pack and take with you would already be covered by your primary home policy.)

What about detached structures like boathouses and bunkies?
Some policies include limited coverage, but if it’s not enough for your needs, you can talk to your insurance provider about purchasing more protection. While you’re at it, ask about endorsements for your powerboat, canoe and/or sailboat.

Do I need extra coverage if I rent out my cabin?
No, but even if you only rent it out occasionally, the type of coverage you need will be different. Think what would happen if renters damaged your property, or if a guest slipped and was injured. By telling your insurance provider exactly how your cabin is being used, they’ll make sure you have the right coverage.

Alberta cabin life night
photo: Aaron Chervenak/Alamy

DON’T GET BURNED
Your cabin in the woods is an idyllic getaway, so protect it from fires.

Landscape: Maintain a perimeter around your cabin free of trees and brush. Bolster this firebreak with lawn space, flowerbeds and hardscaping, like a patio, stone wall or gravel path.

Roof: Rustic cedar shake shingles are highly flammable; consider replacing them with fire-resistant materials like ceramic or metal. Keep the roof and eavestroughs clear of overhanging branches and combustible debris such as pine needles and dead leaves.

Fuel storage: Stack firewood at least 10 metres from your cabin. Store propane cylinders outside and in the shade, but not under wood decks or porches.

Plan ahead: Keep at least one fully charged fire extinguisher available in case of flare-ups at the barbecue, fireplace or stove. Create a fire-safety plan and practise it with your whole family.

Insure it: Make sure your policy is up to date, reflecting any recent renovations. (Uncertain of your coverage? Contact your insurance provider.) And maintain an inventory of your cabin’s contents, in the event that you need to make a claim.

CABINS FOR RENT
These lodgings around Alberta offer hassle-free holidays.

Pocahontas Cabins, Jasper: Spend a week in a luxe log cabin at the base of Miette Hot Springs, about 30 minutes from the Jasper townsite. After hiking the original trail of the Pocahontas coal mine, cabin guests can do laps in the outdoor pool, relax in the hot tub or grill up dinner on the barbecue.

Otentiks, Astotin Lake: A cross between an A-frame cabin and a tent, oTENTiks are exclusive to Parks Canada. They’re outfitted with beds, heaters, a dining area and even USB outlets, so you can enjoy the comforts of home, plus the outdoor adventure of Elk Island National Park.

Otentiks, Two Jack Lake: Soak up nature in a lakefront campground surrounded by the rugged peaks of Banff National Park. The location is the perfect home base for world-class biking, hiking and fishing—or a gourmet dinner in Banff, which is just 15 minutes away.

SAVE WITH AMA
Get $10 off an annual family Parks Canada Discovery Pass when purchased at an AMA centre.

CRACK THESE SPINES
Hot new books for languid summer days and nights.

Ridgerunner (Gil Adamson): In the spirit of her 2007 debut, The Outlander, Adamson’s long-awaited follow-up is a frontier tale of outlaws, orphans, POWs and pioneers in the newly settled west.

The Response of Weeds (Bertrand Bickersteth): Perfect for quiet contemplation on the dock or by the fire, the Sierra Leone-born, Alberta-bred poet’s debut collection explores black identity on the prairies.

Paying the Land (Joe Sacco): A master of graphic journalism illustrates the past and present of resource development in the Northwest Territories, and its impact on the indigenous Dene people.

The Mirror & The Light (Hilary Mantel): The closing chapter of Mantel’s prize-winning Thomas Cromwell trilogy weighs in at nearly 1,000 pages. It’s a long read, for sure, but you’re at the cabin; you’ve got time!

SAVE WITH AMA
Earn up to 5% in reward dollars on Indigo purchases through the AMARewards eStore (AMARewards.ca/Save) or when you buy a prepaid Indigo card at AMA centres.

alberta cabin life recipe fruit buckle
photo: Julie Van Rosendaal

CABIN CUISINE: BUCKLE UP!
Space is at a premium in cabin kitchens. So too are cooking utensils and appliances, making summer fruit buckles the perfect cabin confections. The crumble-topped cakes can be made in virtually any dish and measurements needn’t be perfectly precise.

CAKE
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk, cream or thin yogurt
3-4 cups sliced stone fruit, fresh or frozen berries, chopped rhubarb—or a combination

CRUMBLE
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
1/4 tsp cinnamon

• Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter a 9-inch pan or ovenproof skillet.

• In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until pale and light, or blend it well with a spatula or fork. Beat or stir in egg and vanilla.

• In a small bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and salt. Add half to butter mixture, stirring until just combined. Add milk and remaining flour mixture, stirring just until blended. Scrape into prepared pan and scatter fruit overtop.

• In the same large bowl (no need to wash it), combine brown sugar, flour, butter and cinnamon; blend with a fork until crumbly. Sprinkle over the fruit, squeezing as you go to create larger clumps.

• Bake for 1 to 1.5 hours, or until cake is golden and springy to the touch. Serve warm. Serves 9.

FRESH AND LOCAL
Fill your fridge with produce from farmers’ markets across Alberta*.

Athabasca
Riverfront Park
Saturday, June to Sept.

Grande Prairie
10032 101st Ave.
Friday & Saturday, year-round
Wednesday, July & Aug.

Jasper
McCready Centre
Wednesday, June to Sept.

Lacombe
Michener Park
Friday, mid-May to Oct.

Camrose
49th Avenue (between 50th & 51st St.)
Thursday, June to Sept.

Sylvan Lake
5104 Lakeshore Dr.
Friday, mid-May to Oct.

Canmore
902 7th Ave.
Thursday, mid-May to Oct.

Fort MacLeod
Historic Main Street
Thursday, July to Sept.

Medicine Hat
Cypress Centre
Saturday, mid-May to Oct.

*Due to COVID-19, some markets may have delayed their opening for the season, and may have physical-distancing restrictions in place.