AS CANADA'S FORTUNATE SON, Alberta is a sort of Old Testament Joseph: radiant in his petroleum dreamcoat but surrounded by a mob of jealous provincial siblings. We covet Alberta’s oil-surplus “Ralphbucks” handouts and political clout, and gnash our teeth as some of our most ambitious and talented citizens light out for handsome jobs in the Promised Land. Even on this side of the Rockies, where the provincial economy is also going gangbusters, we feel that somehow our wealthier brother is getting the better of us.

This is partly innate human cussedness, but the belief has some basis in fact. Between 2001 and 2005 B.C. suffered a net loss of 22,000 people to Alberta; in broad demographic strokes, Alberta imports young working people and exports retirees. What this means for Vancouverites is a more expensive labour pool, particularly in tourism and hospitality, and more expensive real estate, as Albertans buy up ever more of our recreational property.

“It started about five years ago,” says Rudy Nielsen, president of Landcor Data Corporation, a real estate market research firm. “In the past, people from Calgary would only drive to the East and West Kootenays, but in the last two years they’re all over B.C. I was up in the Queen Charlottes this summer, and 40 to 50 percent of the licence plates were from Alberta.” Data from Landcor shows a 323-percent increase in the number of Albertans purchasing recreational property in B.C. since 2001. Their studies also show that Albertans vie with Vancouverites for recreational property in two main areas: Vernon and Vancouver Island.

Besides the oil boom and the demographics of aging boomers, cheap air travel is a major reason for the jump, says Nielsen, citing Westjet’s new Calgary-Comox service as a major contributor. “These days it’s nothing for a guy from Alberta to fly in, hop on a plane and get just about anywhere. You can get a Beaver floatplane from YVR’s South Terminal going to just about every place in the Gulf Islands for $75.”

Jason and Nicole Stang both typify and buck the stereotype of Albertans buying B.C. real estate. The couple runs a photography business, shooting advertising and annual report photos for Calgary-based corporations like Shell. The parents of two young sons, Nicole, 36, and Jason, 38, make about $250,000 a year between them. Nicole, who has lived in both B.C. and Alberta, grew up spending summers on Savary Island near Powell River, and she and Jason recently purchased her family’s old cabin there, as well as another property in Radium Hot Springs. Having cornered the symbolic couple, we asked them about their imperialist forays into B.C. real estate.

What was your motivation to buy in B.C.?

JASON: As a Calgarian, even more so than anywhere else in Alberta, we’re lakeless. There’s no reasonable water for lakeside or coastal living—all lakes close by are protected by provincial parks. Sylvan Lake outside Red Deer is a good size, but it’s so overdeveloped now that crappy houses are going for a million bucks.

Has the boom made B.C. affordable for you?

JASON: We’d still own Savary regardless—we got that for about $200,000, and it was less than market [price] at the time; now it’s worth probably $450,000—but we just bought a condo in Radium, and we owe that one to the boom.

Was convenient air travel a factor?

JASON: I hated going out [to Savary] before, but now its great. I’ll drive out at the beginning of the summer with Nicole and the kids, but mainly I just fly to Comox and take the ferry over to Powell River. Or one guy runs a little floatplane charter; he’ll pick you up at the [Comox] airport, take you to the canal and fly right to the island. After the wheels leave the runway in Alberta I can be on my deck in Savary in two hours. I feel a little guilty about that, actually. It feels a little decadent.

Do you have friends in Alberta who’ve also bought places in B.C.?

JASON: I’ve got a lot of friends in oil or oil-related industries, and they’re definitely buying property—in the Windermere area and all over. The thing is the quality of everything in B.C.: there’s no such thing as a Calgary version of Whistler.

NICOLE: This summer on Savary, I met more people from Calgary than I could believe—it was ridiculous. My niece looked at me one day and said, “ How come everybody on Savary is from Calgary?” I’ve been on Savary since I was seven years old. When you met people from Alberta back, then it was one of those weird coincidence things. Now it’s commonplace.

Would you ever move to B.C. permanently?

JASON: It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility. My wife would answer yes to that more than I would. I’m an Alberta boy but she was born in North Vancouver.

NICOLE: Definitely. I came back to Calgary when I was 24, and I’m so glad I did. Everyone owns homes here, has great jobs—you look at people in Vancouver and very few people have made that grown-up leap to mortgages and all that. But retirement? I think it’s crazy that people retire full-time in Alberta. Why would you stay through these winters when you don’t have to?