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It’s called ‘out-migration’ and Canada’s bigger cities are bearing the brunt

Like a take on Freakonomics, where small seemingly non-related events can expose wider economic trends, a study done by U-Haul reflects how the pandemic has affected decisions around how people want to live.

U-Haul, the rent-a-trailer franchisor, has created a list of the Top 20 cities and towns seeing a recent influx of people. Typically, we think it’s those moving out of a big, crowded city to a smaller, more rural location, but that may not always be the case, as huffingtonpost.com reports. Though residents of Toronto and Montreal are rapidly heading out, maybe they’re aiming for Vancouver, which hits No. 7 on this list — perhaps an indicator that it’s not crowded city-living that’s driving people to move, but lifestyle. Great skiing within an hour of home? Check. A sunset run along an ocean-front beach? Please! Easy winters? Pack the car!

To determine who was moving where, U-Haul studied the patterns of rental pickup and drop-off locations. It found that North Bay, Ont. “saw the largest increase in inbound U-Haul trucks, compared to outbound trucks, of any place in Canada,” Huffington Post wrote. “It didn’t even place in the top 25 the year before.” North Bay is a city of 50,000 about 350 km north of Toronto. It’s got lakes, forests and a daily mean January temperature of -12.5C.


Top growth cities:

  1. North Bay, Ont.
  2. North Vancouver, B.C.
  3. Kingston, Ont.
  4. Belleville, Ont.
  5. Barrie/Orillia, Ont.
  6. Sudbury, Ont.
  7. Vancouver, B.C.
  8. Chilliwack, B.C.
  9. Chatham, Ont.
  10. Sarnia, Ont.
  11. Abbotsford, B.C.
  12. Peterborough, Ont.
  13. St. Thomas, Ont.
  14. Lethbridge, Alta.
  15. Brantford, Ont.
  16. Quebec City, Que.
  17. Sherbrooke, Que.
  18. Nanaimo/Coombs, B.C.
  19. Airdrie, Alta.
  20. Shawinigan, Que.

As Huffington Post points out, 10 of the top 20 cities are in a massive triangle around the Greater Toronto area, with Sudbury the farthest north, Sarnia and Chatham the farthest south and west and Kingston the farthest east. That’s not to say all the people leaving are from the GTA, but evidence suggests many of them are. U-Haul says Toronto and Montreal saw the fastest outmigration on record between mid-2019 and mid-2020, not all COVID-related.

If they’re not moving for a change of lifestyle, a lower cost of living is likely the draw. Lower rent, lower house prices (that get you larger houses on larger lots) and, perhaps, a move toward less consumerism. With urban-rate paycheques tagging along in work-from-home situations, all that extra discretionary spending power can be enjoyed (post-COVID) in local cafés and shops.

As the Financial Post’s Haider-Moranis Bulletin points out, “It is tempting to believe that major cities will return to their pre-pandemic glory and that COVID-19 is nothing more than an anomaly. Cities will undoubtedly remain the economic and cultural hubs, but in the post-pandemic world, they might not regain the allure they have enjoyed in the past.”

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