Small towns near Calgary could see an influx of residents in the coming years

City dwellers moving to rural communities can be valuable to those small towns, says Kevin McQuillan, author of a new U of C study called Leaving the Big City: New Patterns of Migration in Canada.

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Richard and Wendy Davies loved living in Calgary, their home for 17 years.

But as Richard, who worked in IT, was retiring, they wanted to move somewhere with a slower pace of life but still an hour’s drive from the city. In Calgary, they took advantage of the many things Calgary has to offer, including the occasional Flames game, concerts and pub nights with friends, and a daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren living in the city.

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The couple, both in their 60s, settled into a home in Nanton, 90 kilometers south of Calgary on Highway 2. They moved to the small town of about 2,000 residents last October.

Life in Nanton is simpler and more unhurried, with no fights for parking spaces or queues, says Richard.

While it wasn’t like the Braeside neighborhood in southwest Calgary was busy, driving in Calgary can be hectic, Wendy says.

“As soon as you leave the neighborhood or come back from Fish Creek or something, all of a sudden you’re in traffic,” he says. “It was like, ‘Oh my God, I really want to live somewhere where I don’t have that.’”

But in Nanton there are no traffic lights, adds Richard, an admittedly impatient driver.

Noise was a problem in Calgary (they lived near a fire station and heard sirens constantly) and the city had gradually become more populated over the course of 17 years, say the Davieses, who had moved to Alberta from Montreal in 1991 and had raised their three children in Cochrane from the 1990s to the mid-2000s, when it was a much smaller city.

Nantón retirees
Richard and Wendy Davies moved to Nanton from Calgary in October. Stephen Tipper/Postmedia

“We realized that long after COVID,” Richard says of Calgary becoming busier. “A lot of the parks we used to go to walk our dogs were overwhelmed.”

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The couple hopes to spend this spring, summer and fall getting to know their new hometown better, shopping at local stores, eating at local restaurants, attending various events in town and meeting more people in the community.

By moving to Nanton, they say they got more “bang for our buck” by moving from their four-level apartment in Calgary to their bungalow in Nanton.

“The house is pretty much in the same category, but it was quite a bit cheaper simply because it was in Nanton compared to Calgary,” says Richard, and adding a separate building in the back that he uses as a shop was a big selling point. for him.

‘A positive factor for smaller communities’

City dwellers moving to rural communities can be valuable to those small towns, says Kevin McQuillan, author of a new University of Calgary study called Leaving the big city: new migration patterns in Canada.

“Overall, it’s a positive for smaller communities because we know that many of them are starting to experience issues of decline, population decline, senior decline, etc.,” he says.

People who sold their home in Calgary and have money in the bank after moving to a rural community become valuable contributors to their new community, McQuillan says.

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“An influx of new citizens provides the opportunity for people to get involved in the community, whether it’s running for office or helping with various nonprofit agencies,” he says.

Nanton and other communities near Calgary could see an influx of residents in the coming years if housing costs remain high, McQuillan says.

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Canada’s largest cities, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, have experienced significant population losses to smaller communities within their respective provinces, due to recent employment trends such as work from home and hybrid work, as well as as well as the increase in housing costs in large cities, according to the study.

But in Calgary and Edmonton, the number of residents leaving the city for other parts of the province is balanced by those coming to the city from other Alberta communities, McQuillan says.

More Calgarians could move to smaller communities within walking distance: author

McQuillan says he wouldn’t be surprised to see more Calgarians decide to move out of the city in the coming years to communities outside the metro area, but still within commuting distance, if housing costs continue to rise. The Calgary metropolitan area includes Airdrie, Cochrane and Chestermere.

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“If you only have to go to work one or two days a week, being 75 or 80 kilometers from your workplace is not the end of the world,” he says. “If you had to do it five days a week, it would be quite a challenge, but if you only do it one or two days a week, it might not be such a challenge.”

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Signs to the city of Chestermere are shown on Highway 1 east of Calgary on Sunday, June 19, 2022. Jim Wells/Postmedia

Partly due to the pandemic, many people have become accustomed to working from home and hybrid situations are more common, opening up more living options.

“Both housing and employment issues are going to be really critical in the decisions people make about where they want to go,” McQuillan says.

House prices are an important factor in deciding where people choose to live, he says.

“Younger people are looking for cheaper housing, perhaps moving away from cities,” McQuillan says, adding that in Toronto’s case, older residents are cashing in on valuable real estate.

Smaller, More Affordable Communities: Realtors

Nanton real estate agent Allison IsBell says the trend of Calgarians moving to smaller communities like Nanton is due to affordability.

“As much as (prices) have increased, it’s still a lot cheaper than Okotoks, High River and Calgary,” he says. “Here you can get a much bigger and better house if you are willing to commute. “We either attract retirees or young families.”

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In Nanton, local real estate agents say the housing market has been unprecedented, with few homes on the market at any given time and buyers quickly snapping up homes (sometimes over asking price) after listing them. the sale. While in years past Nanton typically had between 25 and 30 homes on the market, now it’s usually just a handful.

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Downtown High River was photographed on Wednesday, June 7, 2023. Gavin Young/Postmedia

The situation is much the same in High River, which was among the other communities the Davies considered. Prices are significantly lower in the city of 14,000 than in Calgary, which is the largest source of homebuyers in High River other than local residents moving within the city, says real estate agent Jim Ross.

“The average (single-family) price here is $200,000 less than the average price of a single-family home in Calgary,” Ross says.

Wells also attributes High River’s appeal in part to what he called the excellent health care available in the city, including a hospital with a 24/7 emergency department, a maternity ward, and a cancer center. . This appeals to both seniors and families, she says.

“High River is a very safe, comfortable and attractive small town to live in,” Ross says. He adds that the city’s abundance of green space, school system and daycare capacity are also selling points, as is the short less than 25-minute drive to Calgary’s south end.

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