Trading tacos for deer whistles: a Toronto to Keswick move

Paula Coop McCrory had always been an urban dweller, until a weekend getaway inspired her and her family to uproot their life from big city Toronto to small town Keswick, Ontario.

This urban mom of three swapped big city living for small town spaces

Trans-Canada Culture Shock explores the small surprises, unexpected discoveries and rude awakenings that come with making a move within our borders.

Last summer, Paula Coop McCrory — a social media entrepreneur and self-professed "city mouse" — was comfortable in the classic fast paced urban existence, living with her husband, three sons, dog, cat and fish in a three-bedroom semi-detached home in Toronto. They were a little cramped but content, until a fateful camping trip changed everything.

Now a few months into a drastically different life in Keswick, Ontario, McCrory is embracing the comforts of country livin' — even if that means more time in her car than expected.

When we first moved in, our neighbours actually came over with baked goods. I didn't think that happened anymore.

What made you decide to give up on big city living? Was there a particular breaking point, or had you always imagined moving to the country?

No, I've always been urban. I was born in Toronto, and I spent my childhood in South Africa. I did a lot of travelling, but it was always cities. My husband was kind of the opposite — he's a small town boy at heart. We lived in a three-bedroom semi at Danforth and Greenwood in Toronto with three kids, a dog, a cat, a fish. It was great, but we definitely had issues with space. We had flirted with the idea of moving, but it was never serious until we went camping in Sutton over the Labour Day long weekend. My husband suggested we should look at homes. Even before we got up the driveway, my husband and the boys were instantly in love with the house that would become our home. We put an offer and we got it.

The new family home in Keswick, Ont. (Paula Coop McCrory)

That seems very impetuous. Were you freaking out a bit when it was time to sign the papers?  
Oh yeah. The property is fantastic — an acre and a half with farmland and forest, but in the back of my head I'm thinking, "there's no Starbucks." It's not that it's that far — my husband still commutes about 45 minutes to Toronto every weekday. But it's also a completely different world.

Presumably a more spacious one.
Definitely. Coming from a semi where you're basically living with your neighbor, having your own space still feels weird. We're surrounded by actual farms with horses and cows. And then you turn the other way and there's the Walmart and the Canadian Tire about a ten-minute drive away. Everything's by car. There is public transportation, but it's not the same.

Spacious side streets of small town Ontario. (Paula Coop McCrory)

Funny that you move to the country to be in your car more.
Totally. Now it's driving everywhere with deer whistles. Oh wait — you probably don't know what deer whistles are.

I don't.
You put them on your car and once you start driving above 20 kilometres they emit a really high pitch sound that the deer can't stand, so they won't run out into the road.

Toronto vs. Keswick
Population2,615,06025,527
Average annual snowfall133 cm267 cm
Road hazardgridlockwildlife

What was your biggest misconception about Keswick before you arrived?
I was worried that I would feel isolated. I work from home and I worried about being by myself all day, but people have been really warm and welcoming. When we first moved in, our neighbours actually came over with baked goods. I didn't think that happened anymore. Everyone has come over to introduce themselves and let us know what we need to be aware of.

Like deer whistles?
Yes, exactly. And the guy who does the snow shoveling came over to ask if we wanted him to start doing our property. We've done renovations on the home and the people have been amazing and the work has actually gotten done. In Toronto it's almost impossible to find someone who is reliable and has time.

Any plans to take advantage of all that farmland?
Yes, I definitely have plans for that for next year. With all of the space I would really like to try beekeeping.

The family pets happy enjoy more space in their new home, too. (Paula Coop McCrory)

In Toronto you and your husband want a night out — you go to a new, restaurant, maybe a cocktail bar. What's the Keswick equivalent?
Ice fishing. It's funny because my husband has always done an annual ice fishing trip with his friends, and now you can literally see Lake Simcoe from our window. It's definitely more activity based. Our family is not into hunting, but that's a big thing — on Saturdays and Sundays you hear the gunshots, and you should see the hunting section at Canadian Tire. That's one of the big social hubs. My husband is obsessed. When he leaves the house, I don't even need to ask where he's going.  

Snowfall in Keswick, Ont. (Paula Coop McCrory)

How would you describe the Keswick style?
Plaid is huge here. We have incorporated it into all of our wardrobes. On weekends, everyone goes to the McDonald's for coffee in their pyjama bottoms. It's totally accepted and almost expected. Like if you dressed up that would be weird.

What do you miss about city living?
Sometimes I find myself dreaming about tacos. And I do miss walking. I loved to just take the dog out, window shop, go into the Red Rocket and grab a spicy hot chocolate. If I want a Starbucks now, I have to drive to Newmarket.

A family walk in the woods, Keswick, Ont. (Paula Coop McCrory)

Was there a moment when Keswick officially felt like home?
I think finally being able to fully unpack and feeling like I can do a big grocery shop because we're not going to tear down any shelves. Also finally being able to sleep through the night. It's so quiet here. For a long time I would hear a noise and panic. I'm letting go of that. We were back in Toronto last weekend and we were laughing at how quickly we're like, "Oh, the driving here is crazy — how do people live like this?" Even though the clock hasn't changed, I don't feel like I'm constantly losing time. In Toronto, I would have days where I got everything done on my list, and I would still feel like I needed to do more. Here, I'm okay if I only get half of my list done. That's been nice.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.