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Illustration by Drew Shannon

I thought I did everything right growing up. I stayed out of trouble, came home with decent grades and followed the footsteps of “successful” adults around me. I went to business school, started working at a bank, and have done so dutifully for the better part of a decade.

Yet if I want to own a home and give my future children the life my parents gave me, I’m afraid it won’t be where I grew up – or within an hour’s drive.

My childhood house was never fully detached, but it was always owned. The backyard didn’t have a pool, but it was big enough for a small garden. There were no sports cars in the driveway, but always two vehicles. Vacations weren’t annual, though weekend trips to the cottage more than made up for it. We even got to see Disney World once!

All of this on a single income, while my mom stayed home. I knew I was fortunate, but this was reasonable for the middle-class at the time. It was the Canadian dream.

Owning our home meant stability. Living in one place for more than 20 years ensured my sister and I never had to change schools. Without an exorbitant mortgage payment, my parents were also able to carry the costs of two SUVs – both of which were needed for constant trips to a hockey rink.

As I got older, it was easy to aspire for the same things in life – even expect it.

However, it’s not the late nineties any more. The days of a $5,000 matrimonial home down payment, or cottage for less than $100,000, are simply fantastical. Yes, those were the real numbers, and it’s hard not to be envious of that.

You could say, “Oh, the interest rates were higher!” or “Yeah, but the salaries were lower!” But the numbers just don’t add up any more for those in my generation or younger. The simple pleasures of owning a home that our parents enjoyed are now out of reach for most. No amount of career switches, promotions or saving will really change that – and it sucks.

I know it wasn’t sunshine and rainbows for my parents either. My dad recounts many sleepless nights. His generation worked hard and were fortunate to benefit from a handful of economic parlays. They also had their own differences and challenges from the generation before them.

You may hear the notion that younger Canadians are not as happy. It could have to do with the age of social media, climate change, pandemic hangover or the many other problems in the world. However, the biggest struggle for me is that the Canadian dream I was promised growing up is not possible where I live.

People my age have some options if they choose to be confined here, and that’s okay, too. Perma-renting has its pros and cons, but it can’t guarantee your kids would get to have a garden like I did. There’s help from Mom and Dad, but that debt bears a type of interest only a therapist can explain. You could also wait until you’re middle-aged, when your kids are already in school and you might have enough of a down-payment scraped together, or more grimly, inheritance.

Newlywed, my wife and I have made our choice. We won’t give up on the Canadian dream our parents lived. It just has to be adapted to the 2020s and beyond. Still owning that home, but not near the big city.

After renting for five years, it’s time to move on. We want the freedom to dig up our own backyard or tear down a wall if we feel like it. We want to be able to redo our kitchen, paint the living room and, most of all, control our thermostat.

Whether we like it or not, Canadian culture still revolves around home ownership – and for good reasons (not limited to those above). We crave it. Obsess over it. We swipe daily through our real estate apps. Constantly checking the pulse of the market; fantasizing, dreaming, budgeting, saving, although more likely torturing.

Expanding the search filter farther out to small towns can be encouraging. Or giving more thought to those ads on TV and settling in another province (Charlottetown’s 14-minute average commute sounds nice). Maybe even looking beyond the borders of the country where this dream started. Because for me, I won’t take no for an answer.

Leaving could be rewarding, but it won’t be easy. The struggle of finding a new job (likely at a lower pay band than at the bank), fitting into a new community or culture and leaving behind a lifetime’s worth of family and friends, not to mention my beloved NHL team. However, most times, when you don’t choose the easy option, you end up happier.

It’s not that I don’t want to make the move. It’s that I am forced to – and in return, all I ask for is a little bit of understanding.

Ryan Hughes lives in Toronto.

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