October 20th, 2010
This week on Buzz Talk we talk to President of the Sierra Building Group, Morris Kansun.
Morris set Sierra up over 25 years ago and has enjoyed incredible success all over the GTA and beyond.
So without further ado, over to Morris…..
Sierra have built homes all across Southern Ontario – what do you look for when deciding on a location?
The obvious answer is that we look for sites where we feel there is a demand for what we have to offer, but because Sierra builds a lot of homes in recreational communities such as Collingwood or cottage country, we also look for sites which appeal to the people at our company – active lifestyles, something with a little bit of pizazz, a little flair, and something that sets us above some of our competition.
Tell us about the projects that are on the go at the moment.
Our most exciting project right now is our 143 unit condo at 68 Main Street [map] in Markham village. It’s a very pedestrian friendly area comparable to Yorkville and fronts onto an historic street with lots of restaurants, shops, cafes, pubs, bars etc so people can park their cars and walk around as opposed to going to a shopping centre.
We’ll have retail shops downstairs and 6 stories of very unique condominiums above it – I say unique because it has about 32 different types of models, so very few of the units are the same – they’re all different, they’re all suited to different styles
We’ve incorporated a lot of amenities that you’ll see and expect in an urban environment – car share program, concierge, gym, party room, rooftop garden……so we’re very excited about that project.
We also have 2 projects on the go in Collingwood; we’re just finishing up the first phase of Tanglewood, a large 800 home project and have about 6 homes left in that. It’s a very attractive and exciting site for both people who come there for recreation, and there’s also a large appeal for retirees or soon-to-be retirees. It’s just a great spot.
The other site up there is called Woodlands by Sierra which is at the foot of two ski clubs and caters to a winter ski crowd. They’re very high end semi-detached homes – very ski chalet like.
What would your ‘dream project’ to work on be?
Well that’s easy. My dream project is a project that suits my lifestyle.
I love water, sailing, skiing, and lots of outdoor sports so I love cottage country. I love what I do in Collingwood for example because I think it’s a great place to live, recreate and have fun.
Anything in that market excites me because it’s where I like to be in my leisure time, and so that would be my dream project
What part of the city do you call home?
I live in the old Thornhill village in a house that was built in the ’20s. I’ve renovated it but it still maintains its heritage nature. I like to be able to walk to places. I don’t want to get into my car all the time so I like being able to walk to my local coffee shop, restaurant, or grocer, so that’s what appeals to me
Do you prefer condos or townhomes? Why?
Well, I think different types of homes appeal to different people depending on the stage of life they are in.
For example, if you have a family with children which I still do, I don’t think I would want a condo because I need the extra room, the back yard, and the living space that having children around the house and the dog etc. requires.
On the other hand, when it’s just my wife and I, condo living, with the no-work-no-worry aspect will certainly have an appeal.
Are you a Starbucks or Tim Hortons man?
Well this is the easiest question by far. Let me tell you what happens…
The local Starbucks opens at 6.30AM near my house. My barista, Leah, sees me driving up and knows that she has to have a grande mild ready and waiting before I walk in that door because by 6.31AM I need to be in my favourite couch reading the Globe and Mail or the National Post with my coffee, so I think that answers the question!
We hear you’re a big skier? Is this a new thing or a lifelong passion?
I love skiing. I’ve been skiing since I was 10 years old. Our whole family skis and we’ve done a lot of racing over the years. What other sport can you do where you’re outdoors for 8 hours in the middle of January? It gets you outside at times of year where you’d normally not be outside.
What’s your favourite holiday destination?
I’ve been many places in the world once but I’ve only been to one spot maybe ten times and that’s the British Virgin Islands. We love sailing and we have a habit of going there at least once every two years, renting a sailboat and disappearing into the sunset.
What’s the single biggest challenge for land developers in Ontario today?
Government red tape and development charges, which can be tied in together.
The development charges, being what they are and the way they are rising are adding a huge burden to the cost of home ownership and it’s a charge purchasers don’t see but it makes it very very difficult to enter many markets.
By the time it takes to bring a project to fruition, between government red tape and various stages that developers have to go through, projects that would otherwise be feasible are made un-economical.
Do you have any international projects on the go? If not, would you ever consider moving into the international market?
The only projects that I’ve done outside of Canada have been in the US.
We’ve built and developed retail shopping centres in the US and also some homes in the Houston market, although that market is obviously not doing so well right now.
Going back to what would be my dream project, we’re actually very actively looking at a project in the Florida Keys right now. A small project, on the water, townhomes, you keep your boat in your backyard and go fishing or sailing or what have you and that excites me because it’s my lifestyle and I love it. It’s an exciting project.
What type of people buy a Sierra home?
Good question.
Different types of people at different sites obviously. Our Collingwood buyers can be categorised into two groups – those buying their second homes, a ski chalet or summer vacation home, and the soon-to-be retiree crowd who are thinking of selling their big home and moving up to Collingwood for their retirement.
In the GTA, the buyers tend to be a lot more traditional, but I’d like to think that there’s a certain Sierra style.
I chose the name 25 years ago for a reason. I wanted to evoke the West, the outdoors, the mountains, the fresh air, and I’d like to think that we bring that out in some of the homes we build.
We’re big on very large windows and take pride in using a lot of natural products, lots of visible wood and stone construction, more of a West coast look to our homes, and I’d like to think that the people who buy from Sierra are people who are attracted to that West Coast look.
What’s up next for Sierra?
We have some townhomes coming up in Ajax at the corner of the 401 and Salem Road that we’re launching in about 3 months which we’re very excited about. The new phase of Tanglewood which is in a golf course community is just launched and just about all of the homes back onto the course.
Thanks to Morris for taking the time to talk with us. More Buzz Talks with the who’s who of the Ontario land development community are on their way!

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