…this article appeared in the February 10 issue of the Interlake Spectator.
It is hard to believe that real estate “tycoon” Michael Bruneau, despite his obvious intelligence, achieved only a grade seven education. Born and raised in Powerview, MB, 60-year-old Bruneau attended school in Pine Falls as a child. His underachievement was due to the Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) he endured, a condition unknown by the Catholic nuns who ran the school back then.
“I was in a special class, where you weren’t “special”, you just weren’t learning,” said Bruneau, who shared the class with about 50 grades-one to -seven kids. The class was segregated in the “old red school”, that was heated with an oil stove and lacked running water.
“We weren’t getting taught very much. The nuns thought we were incapable of learning…We got long recesses,” Bruneau said.
After three years of that, Bruneau was placed in the newer school where the regular students had been taking their classes, but by that time he had fallen behind. He dropped out after making an attempt at grade eight.
Bruneau’s was a long journey to success. He started his career as a unionized crane operator in the 1970s, often working up north on Manitoba Hydro projects. He got a lucky break in 1974, when the Operating Engineers Union assigned him as “Business Agent Organizer”.
“I’m a fairly good talker,” and a good fit for a job that proved to be a stepping stone to a more prosperous future, he said.
By teaming up with his wife, Lois, who earned a good salary as a flight attendant, Bruneau got enough money together to purchase a rooming house in Winnipeg in 1975, his first investment property. A couple years later, in 1977, Bruneau took some courses that earned him a real estate license.
“I just saw the potential of real estate. I was always interested in it,” he said.
Bruneau immediately jumped into opening his own company, which he named Adrian-Stevens Realty. The company became the top independent company in Manitoba for two years.
“I called it “Adrian”, after my middle name, and “Stevens” just because it sounded good—it sounded kind of classy,” he said.
Many in Manitoba’s Interlake region know Bruneau as the owner of Misty Lake Lodge, a property he purchased in 1996. He has recently made headlines as the developer of North Gimli Estates, a project he began in 2004. In 2006, Bruneau invested $950,000 to develop Misty Ports at the old Air Force barracks in Gimli Industrial Park, a 16-unit apartment building with suites renting for $400 to $800 per month. In the spring of 2011 Bruneau hopes to begin construction on the Golden Circle Condominium Project, which will see a six-story, 260-unit building erected just north of Misty Lake Lodge. Bruneau owns other hotels in Manitoba and Ontario, a total of 14, mainly in northern communities and in Winnipeg, where Bruneau lives with his wife of 39 years.
“Every year, $20 million is counted by my accountants. I do one million in room business alone at Misty Lake Lodge. I do a lot of advertising, and have a lot of specials going on in the winter,” he said.
Even with those numbers, Bruneau said Misty Lake loses more than $300,000 per year, but believes that his condominium project will support the lodge in the long view, and is “a positive” that helps him sell North Gimli Estates. For the time being, however, it is a tax write-off, but one which benefits Gimli through employment and taxes.
Bruneau has made big investments in Gimli is because he believes in its long-term potential, and has no plans to slow down. He is currently in discussions with the municipality about an affordable housing project.
Bruneau heavily promotes Gimli at shows he attends in centres like Calgary and Fargo, and through the $300,000 in yearly advertising he does in newspapers and on radio. He sees Gimli’s major potential as being a retirement community.
“Gimli is going to be “the” place to retire,” said Bruneau, “It’s got the golf course, the hospital, the marina, and all the [amenities]. It’s close to Winnipeg, with three major highways to get to it…I push Gimli. I’m not just advertising my own business. I tell everyone that Gimli is the best kept secret in Canada. Gimli is the fastest growing community anywhere,” he said.
Some may argue that Gimli is seeing too many big projects cutting into quiet cottage country. Others see it as exactly what Gimli needs to grow economically and survive into the future.
“I’m building a tax base for Gimli. If they want their tax base [here], they have to let business come in.”
Bruneau fully understands that more housing is needed to draw new people into the community. He has had to provide accommodations, at his expense, to bring qualified workers in from Winnipeg.
“I put them up. It’s too expensive for them to commute. You’ve got to provide the carrot for good people.”