Julie Nolan had been living in downtown Toronto for about eight years when she decided it was time to move on.
The town planner wanted to buy a house but property prices were rising much faster than his salary. She wanted to spend more time outdoors, but lived in a forest of construction cranes. Life was becoming a chore and the big city was losing its charm.
“It just seemed like everywhere you wanted to go there was an hour minimum on public transit. Traffic was a bit of a nightmare. It’s very expensive to do anything or get anywhere,” said Nolan in an interview.
“I was struggling in Toronto trying to accumulate enough savings. I just stopped and thought, ‘What do I like to do? Where can I see myself?'”
Nolan’s answer was Collingwood, Ontario, where she found a job and an affordable home. Now she spends her free time skiing and paddleboarding, and says the city’s cultural scene is thriving.
“It’s the best decision I’ve made in my life, honestly. I love it here,” Nolan said.
About a two-and-a-half-hour drive north of Toronto on Georgian Bay, Collingwood is one of many small centers to see double-digit population growth rates in recent years, according to recent census data. published by Statistics Canada.
Between 2016 and 2021, Collingwood’s population grew by 13.8% to 24,811. The nearby town of Blue Mountain recorded a growth rate of 33.7%.
Collingwood Mayor Brian Saunderson said the city had expected and expected population growth, but not to this extent.
“What we’re seeing is increased demand and a spike, I think largely driven by the pandemic, which has had a massive impact on how people work, what they hope to get out of life, their ambitions and also where they want to live,” Saunderson said in an interview.
“So the potential of working remotely and moving to a community where you can do all the wonderful things that you can in and around Collingwood, I think, has been a huge draw.”
Statistics Canada defines small urban centers as communities with a population of 10,000 to 100,000. Collingwood is one of a group of fastest growing centers which are also known to be tourist destinations. The others are Squamish, BC, Canmore, Alta., and Wasaga Beach, Ont..
Statistics Canada notes that these communities are close to nature, large bodies of water or outdoor sports facilities such as ski resorts. And although they are outside the major cities, they are close enough that people can drive to them within a reasonable time.
Wasaga Beach’s population grew by more than 20% to 24,862. According to census data, like in Collingwood, the growth is due almost entirely to people moving into the city from other parts of Ontario.
Mayor Nina Bifolchi is sure many of her new residents are coming from the Greater Toronto Area.
“It’s a short drive away if there’s anything you need. But we have everything here,” Bifolchi said in an interview.
“We also have a nice beach and ski slopes nearby. A new primary school will be built, so we will definitely be moving families here.”
While the mayor says Wasaga Beach is trying to maintain a “small town feel,” it’s expanding to meet the needs of a growing population. The municipality approved a record number of building permits last year. There are plans for a new library and hockey arena as the town evolves into a year-round community.
“Tourism is part of who we are,” Bifolchi said.
Meanwhile, in Collingwood, they are expanding the town’s aging hospital and water treatment plant.
But the community has also launched an Affordable Housing Task Force, ironically tasked with fixing what drew many residents there in the first place.
“Housing is a huge issue,” Saunderson said.
“Across the region, due to recent demand, our housing prices have really hit the ceiling.”