Surrounded by acres of woodland and farmland, Markdale seems cut off from the wilderness. To outsiders, this city of about 1,200 people is like any other small town in Ontario. There’s a quaint downtown strip with dozens of shops selling local produce, a handful of churches, and Canadian flags fluttering in the wind on every porch. But this sleepy, quiet little town is experiencing a resurgence.
The dual crisis of the COVID19 pandemic and housing affordability has resulted in record numbers of people leaving Canada’s largest cities. City dwellers in southwestern Ontario have taken Highway 10 and bought affordable homes in the countryside where they can take root and connect with nature. This is a dramatic reversal from the decades-old trend of moving young people from small towns to urban centers.
“This is one of the most important changes in the flow of immigration since the Industrial Revolution,” said Michael Haan, an associate professor at Western University and a demographer studying internal immigration. “It shows the potential for revitalization of the Canadian countryside.”
Markdale faced a difficult time after the explosion of free trade in the 1990s closed many manufacturing facilities in the city and moved them to the sea. The rest of the population were old and the young people rarely moved to the city. The store was closed and the house was empty.
But all of that is changing rapidly. First came Tim Hortons, then the supermarket. A new downtown store is open, run by young Toronto adults seeking an escape from urban life.
A new $ 66 million hospital is under construction, with several plots being built by developers who say young families are buying hundreds of homes from a town in southwestern Ontario. According to the mayor of the town, Markdale has made more progress in the past year than in the last 30 years, and there are no signs of a slowdown.
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