Understanding Ontario’s New Small Town Boom

By Ben Hamill - November 24 2021

Understanding Ontario’s New Small Town Boom

A small town in Ontario, Markdale, is nothing less than the picture of isolated beauty. Surrounded on all sides by rolling hills and forests, many would be forgiven for thinking that the quant area has all but been forgotten by the outside world. But the 1,200 permanent residents are in for a surprise. Markdale, and many other Ontario small towns, are seeing a boost in popularity like never before. The Canadian small town rejuvenation is underway, and by extension the cities are losing residents at a staggering rate.

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But what could possibly cause a Canadian to wave goodbye to a modern city, pack up their bags and head out into the wilderness? As it stands, south-western Ontario has seen perhaps the most dramatic shift, with families abandoning urban living entirely, heading up Highway 10, and adopting an affordable house in the hills.

The fact of the matter is that Canada is significantly different than it was just a few years ago, and it isn’t difficult at all to understand why the population is moving back to the wilderness.

A True Migratory Anomaly

Michael Haan, a professor at Western University, studies local migratory patterns. In a recent interview he did not beat around the bush, saying simply that such a pattern of migration hasn’t been seen since the Industrial Revolution. Pointing out a few startling numbers, Haan explained that around 50,000 Toronto residents left between July 2019 and July 2020. Lesser, but still significant numbers can be seen in Vancouver and Montreal.

At the other end of the spectrum is Markdale, a sleepy Ontario town that stood almost entirely abandoned. The free trade shift of the 90s saw many of the local plants move offshore, leaving Markdale residents destitute. Most moved to the bigger cities, leaving only a handful behind.

A Rapidly Changing Country

The situation isn’t difficult to understand. The world health crisis put pressure on everyone, and many urbanites simply decided that the cities were no longer affordable. The simple solution was to move to where property was affordable, the small towns.

The only problem is that when a small town suddenly becomes desirable, the cost of living tends to quickly follow. Markdale has had a new supermarket spring up from nothing, and now has a $66 million hospital in development. Rent is quickly adjusting to the situation, making what was once affordable almost as expensive as the city itself.

How Ontario changes from here can only be imagined, but the results will be fascinating either way.