Disheartened by price surges, bidding wars, lines and over-crowding, an entire crop of Torontonians and GTAers are chasing a slower-paced lifestyle and affordable living options.
It’s a reality most can relate to. A bright-eyed youngster sets out for the big city, maybe for school or their first job, or just after a little independence. Taking advantage of every party, networking event and restaurant opening in town means there’s plenty to be explored. And with their two roommates and maybe a little help from mom and dad, they got this.
Fast forward ten years later, and life has gotten real. Lingering student debt persists, marriage and kids come into play and the realities of the 50-hour work week have them living for the weekend, yet struggling to be able to afford anything. They’re trying to save to buy a house for their growing lives.
Then, their entire world shifts in an instant. The pandemic brings on indefinite changes to people, places and their sense of perspective. And the bustling urban landscape they once knew, the very thing that drew them to the area to begin with, is not what it used to be. Now, there’s a looming recession they’re being told to prepare for and rising interest rates. Feeling defeated is an understatement. They’re just doing whatever it takes to keep their heads above water.
There has to be a better way. How could it be that a dual-income household with steady salaries should have to engage in discussions about whether they’ll ever be able to own a home, or worry about how to pay rent and bills, and if they can afford to go out to dinner on occasion. This isn’t what they had in mind back when they assumed the suburban life their parents had would never be for them.
Suddenly, even the die-hard urbanites are understanding the appeal of moving out of the GTA to a place where the problems of the city won’t follow. And with remote working capabilities in full effect, one positive outcome of the pandemic, the daily commute isn’t what it used to be. They’re realizing that this new reality actually opens up their doors — it creates freedom to work wherever they’d like without being restricted by the location of their corporate office. Friends are moving to cities and towns in search of housing options and community amenities that support how they spend their days, and they’re starting to envision that future for themselves too.
Now, this might be a stark contrast from what the experts tell us. We’re talking about the hordes of headlines advertising that millennials are rejecting their parents’ lives. They say they hate the suburbs and want walkable neighbourhoods, more density — the most density in fact. Urban sprawl is the enemy. They don’t care about children or owning property, they want liberal, shared space policies. That is, until they don’t. Until they settle down, have a family and finally realize what they really wanted was freedom to actually live their lives, carve their path and choose their lifestyle.
The small town revival is real, and it is their key to true independence — the type they found in the city ten years ago and which they can barely remember now. A chance for them to stop surviving and start thriving. These small, under-populated towns give families a chance to invest, to travel, to try new things and most importantly to get out and live.
And it’s not quite the death to their social life one might expect either. Cities like Hamilton and regions like Niagara are more populated than ever with GTA transplants breathing new life into the once sleepy communities, giving rise to trendy restaurants, artisan coffee shops, arts, culture and nightlife. The best part is, these places don’t come with a line-up, a cover, or a crowd.
As you drive through the small towns of Southwestern Ontario, freedom is something that you’re barely even conscious of, and yet it’s unmistakably there. Country roads that take you through undisturbed green pastures, downtown blocks of historical buildings occupied by one of everything you may need; a grocery store, a hardware shop, a bank and a medical office. Isn’t this the true representation of the growing minimal movement taking hold? Where neighbours are there for each other, not battling over parking spaces. Where you can still find that artisan cup of coffee or craft beer, and know the person pouring it for you, or believe it or not, the farmer who grew the raw ingredients.
Small towns seem to be the only place left where GTAers stand a chance at starting something that’s their own, maybe even with a little extra money to save, explore and live a full life.
And while these small-town transplants may think they’ll be shunned by the locals — just one more hipster driving up the demand for new housing and overpriced coffee — Canadian hospitality and grace reign true in these towns in a way that we’re seldom accustomed to in Toronto. Sure, you may hear the occasional grumble, but it’ll pale in comparison to those you heard all day, every day on subway platforms and in traffic jams. Especially when you start to realize the ones grumbling are becoming familiar faces at your local grocer and you can now greet them by name.
It’s not just families seeing the appeal either. Businesses, both startups and large organizations, are making the move for the same reason everyone else is; lower operating costs and more room to grow.
When we think back to what experts say about millennials looking for walkable, urban environments, we can’t help thinking how that model has proven unsustainable time and time again, in some of the most popular metropolises in the world. As we crawl across the inner city highways, we’re seeing communities so dense that neighbours could high five from their balconies (although they mostly just ignore each other) and we can’t help but wonder if this is the freedom millennials were really after, or if the neighbourhood they imagined actually looks very different.
Perhaps a place where they can recreate the very best parts of what they’ve been after, for a smaller price and less hassle. A distilled version; leaving only the stuff they love, like authentic interactions and more face time, a space of their own, and a chance to build something real and lasting. Maybe the small towns of Southwestern Ontario are the place they were really looking for.
So, what are you waiting for? Plant roots in Southwestern Ontario by exploring our available homes in some of Ontario’s best suburban areas. Next, discover 5 of Niagara’s top wineries and learn more about our community in Welland, Empire Canals.