Canadians are leaving the big cities in big numbers

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On warm days Erica Ehm can be found basking in the sunshine on her large wooden deck, laptop in tow. As an entrepreneur in digital marketing, all her work can be done online, allowing her to enjoy the fresh air and lakeside view from her cottage in Pleasant Point, Ont. She is one of thousands of urban professionals that have traded in city life for a more provincial setting during the pandemic.

Since Ontario issued a work-from-home mandate, offices have transitioned their workflow online, freeing employees to work wherever they please. Many have turned to the appeals of suburban and rural life, priced out by the high costs associated with large-city real estate. 

“I have the beauty of the lake right outside my back door, but inside the home I still have all the modern amenities,” says Ehm. “It’s the best of both worlds.”

According to a Statistics Canada report, record numbers of people have moved from Canada’s largest cities — Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver — to neighbouring suburbs and rural areas. Between the three cities, 87,444 people had moved between July 2019 and July 2020, compared to 50,375 people in the previous year. Many Torontonians opted for the Oshawa and the Kitchener/Cambridge/Waterloo Ont. areas, which both saw large fluxes, while many Montrealers have relocated to the nearby towns of Farnham and Saint-Hippolyte, Que.

Ehm bought her cottage several months before the start of the pandemic and decided to relocate there in March of last year. “It was really scary during the pandemic and I wanted to be away from people,” she says. 

The urban exodus has also been reflected in the housing market. The Kawartha Lakes Real Estate Association — the county where Ehm is living — saw a 43% increase in sales in February 2021 compared to last year. The composite/single-family benchmark price was $528,700, a 33 per cent increase from the year before. Nearby communities such as Lakelands or Simcoe also saw at least a 25 per cent increase in price year-over-year.

For Ehm, the move hasn’t been too drastic of a change, since she has easy access to amenities, grocery stores, and most importantly, high speed wifi. While in lockdown, she wrote a family-oriented musical series that was supposed to premiere at the Edinburgh Theatre Fringe Fest. However, with the lockdown, she’s had to transition the play to a YouTube series, coordinating with her international team online.

Her cottage is conveniently located an hour and a half from Toronto and in between the towns of Lindsay and Bobcaygeon. “There is still this sense of being in this old- fashioned community where everybody looks out for each other,” she says.

Ehm says this year she’s taken up kayaking, and her husband has bought a motorboat so her two children can go wakeboarding over the summer. “The cottage was my refuge,” she says.

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