Skip to main content
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

A fishing village in Quidi Vidi in Newfoundland. Net interprovincial migration to the Atlantic provinces (i.e. the number of people moving in from the rest of the country, minus the number moving away) in 2021 was the highest in the 60 years that Statistics Canada has tracked such data.

CANDACE KENNEDY/The New York Times News Service

John Norman, mayor of Bonavista, N.L., has long seen population growth as critical to sustaining his community and its economy.

He’s focused a big chunk of his adult life on attracting residents and entrepreneurs to his quiet seaside town. And he’s been pretty good at it.

But COVID-19 might be an even better recruiter than Mr. Norman is.

Story continues below advertisement

Wagons east: Meet the homeowners driving a real-estate exodus to Atlantic Canada

The urban Atlantic advantage: Work-from-home era offers Halifax more people and more wealth, but at a price

His trendy, historical village, which had already become a draw in the past few years for people looking to leave big cities for a new lifestyle, is seeing a whole new level of interest during the pandemic. The town of about 3,500, whose streets not so many years ago were lined with vacant houses, now has such a severe housing shortage that it has called in Habitat for Humanity to help.

“We have more people trying to move in than we can deal with,” Mr. Norman said by telephone this week. “The pandemic has really exacerbated it.”

Bonavista is caught up in a pandemic-fuelled population boom that has taken hold in Atlantic Canada – largely driven by new arrivals from other parts of the country. Statistics Canada’s second-quarter figures for 2021 show that the region had its biggest quarterly population increase on record, going back to 1951. Net interprovincial migration to the Atlantic provinces (i.e. the number of people moving in from the rest of the country, minus the number moving away) was the highest in the 60 years that the agency has tracked such data.

The rise of working from home, along with soaring home prices in many of Canada’s major urban centres, have made the East Coast a particularly attractive alternative – especially for younger adults and families. In a report this week, Royal Bank of Canada economist Carrie Freestone noted that 61 per cent of those second-quarter in-migrants were the age of 44 and under.

“With housing affordability worsening in major urban markets in central Canada, this may mark the beginning of a trend: young talent moving east for an improved quality of life,” Ms. Freestone said.

It’s not hard to see the allure from a housing-affordability perspective. The average price for a detached single-family home in the city of Toronto last month was more than $1.5-million. Bonavista has detached, single-family “fixer-uppers,” as Mr. Norman describes them, listed for less than $100,000. A half a million will buy a veritable palace.

“They can sell [in Toronto] now … move to another place, and have a million dollars in your pocket,” Mr. Norman said.

Story continues below advertisement

If this does, in fact, take hold as a longer-term trend, it will be an important reversal for a region that spent much of the past quarter-century in a demographic drift, marked by stagnant population growth and outward migration of its younger workers. This demographic slide – with its accompanying aging populations and shrinking labour supply – is the most serious economic threat facing Atlantic Canada. It jeopardizes provincial governments’ future capacity to sustain revenue growth, and to meet rising costs for health care and other public services.

But if a turning tide in interprovincial migration can add to the immigration that was already on the rise before the pandemic, the region has reason for hope that its population could find a healthier path.

“It remains to be seen whether the surge of newcomers will endure,” Ms. Freestone said. “A permanent influx of migrants would revitalize Atlantic Canada’s economy and potentially help address labour shortages.”

Bonavista is better equipped than most rural communities to welcome big-city newcomers. It has schools and a hospital, a live theatre, restaurants and cafés, a decent-sized grocery store. Years ago, the town set up operations to help line up newcomers with restored historical homes and with commercial space for new businesses. Yet the community is having a hard time handling the unusual recent surge of people wanting to start a new life there.

Bonavista Living – the operation that restores and markets historical homes – has a waiting list out to 2024 for buyers. If a newcomer wants to open a business, “It’s about a two-year wait list to get a store front in Bonavista now,” Mr. Norman said.

He worries that this flood of enthusiasm for Atlantic Canada may end in disappointment for many other communities that can’t deliver the businesses and services to keep their new, recently urban residents happy. And he wonders if this migration might at least partly reverse in a couple of years, as newcomers find that rural life doesn’t live up to their idyllic, escape-to-the-country fantasies.

Story continues below advertisement

“You see people moving to very rural areas. It will be interesting to return and see if those areas have maintained those people who have moved there a year or two later. Once they realize some of those areas don’t have the products in the grocery store that they’re looking for, and that grocery store is a three-hour drive away. And they don’t have live theatre. And they don’t have a family doctor,” he said.

“It makes me a little bit nervous that people might be jumping without doing thorough research.”

Your time is valuable. Have the Top Business Headlines newsletter conveniently delivered to your inbox in the morning or evening. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies