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Fastest-Growing Communities as Canadians Leave Big Cities

by Cristina Oprean
3 min. read

Canada’s smaller cities are experiencing a significant boom as people flock to communities outside of the country’s larger urban areas, according to recent information released by Statistics Canada.

Based on data collected from July 1, 2019, to July 1, 2020, Oshawa, ON, was the fastest-growing community in Canada, boasting a population increase of 2.1%. Halifax, NS, and Kitchener-Cambridge-Waterloo, ON tied for second place, with an expansion of 2.0%.

The census metropolitan areas (CMAs) recording the highest resident growth rates according to StatCan were:

  • Oshawa, ON (2.1%)
  • Halifax, NS (2%)
  • Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge, ON (2%)
  • Kelowna, BC (1.9%)
  • Calgary, AB (1.9%)
  • Saskatoon, SK (1.9%)
  • Moncton, NB (1.8%)
  • Edmonton, AB (1.8%)
  • Barrie, ON (1.8%)
  • Belleville, ON (1.6%)
  • Ottawa-Gatineau, ON (1.6%)
  • London, ON (1.6%)
  • Lethbridge, AB (1.5%)
  • Trois-Rivières, QC (1.5%)
  • Guelph, ON (1.5%)
  • Sherbrooke, QC (1.5%)

Record Population Outflow from Large Metros

Meanwhile, the CMAs of Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto saw their populations dip by record numbers during the same period. Montreal lost 24,880 people to other communities, Vancouver 12,189 and Toronto 50,375.

In total, 87,444 residents left the three major cities between July 2019 and July 2020, migrating to suburbs, small towns and rural areas in the same province. This marks an increase from the average annual loss of 72,686 for the previous three years. Statistics Canada said this clear shift from larger cities to smaller communities would be an important trend to keep track of. The report noted:

“Personal health, the ability to work remotely, and higher housing costs are among the most important factors contributing to the decision of many Canadians to continue (or to no longer continue) living in large urban centres hardest hit by the pandemic.”

Young Canadians Driving Demand in Smaller Communities

While the exodus from large Canadian cities is not new, the pandemic seems to have intensified it, especially among the country’s younger population.

The StatCan data shows that younger Canadians are the most likely to leave major urban centres, with people between the ages of 15 and 29 making up nearly a third of the population outflow and 82% of those leaving major cities being under 45.

Young people and young families who may not have been able to afford property in big cities can now look for a home elsewhere, largely thanks to the shift towards working from home brought about by the pandemic. And low interest rates certainly haven’t hurt either.

Real estate agents have noted that young urbanites who are no longer tethered to a physical workplace are being drawn to smaller communities where their money can go further, offering them extra square footage.

High Demand Leading to Higher Prices

Real estate agents report increasing competition across the country, particularly in smaller communities seeing a sharp jump in population growth. In Oshawa, for example, which saw the highest expansion, some homes are receiving dozens of offers within days of being listed and are selling a lot faster than they would have a couple of years ago.

First-time homebuyers who are flocking to suburbs and rural areas have driven demand high enough that supply cannot keep up. This has led to large suburban homes having the most significant price increases over the past year compared to other home types.

New homes, in particular, have become costlier due to a combination of increasing demand, record-low interest rates and higher construction costs (as a result of building material supply issues and higher prices, as well as costs related to new safety protocols in light of the pandemic).

While population growth in Canada’s large urban regions still increased slightly by 1.3% between July 1, 2019, and July 1, 2020, it’s clear that the country’s smaller communities, suburbs and rural areas are becoming more popular for urbanites looking to escape city life. This will likely continue to fuel population growth outside of CMAs, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reshape Canadians’ lives.


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