Once shrinking Maritimes led Canada in population growth this summer
New Brunswick added 5,075 people in 92 days, the most in 46 years
Hayley Burrell moved to southeastern New Brunswick from Ontario at the beginning of the pandemic, got a real estate licence and now sells houses to people who are a lot like her.
"I'd say 95 per cent of the buyers that I've had this year have been from Ontario," said Burrell.
"People are going on Facebook and searching 'moving to New Brunswick', or they're doing the same thing on Instagram, and asking questions about what is, you know, what's life like there if I want to move my family there?"
The sudden attraction to life in Eastern Canada has been an ongoing and potentially transformational side-effect of the COVID-19 pandemic for New Brunswick.
Fuelled by a swell in immigration and a parade of Canadians moving east, the Maritime provinces have been flooded with years' worth of newcomers in a matter of months.
Just before Christmas, Statistics Canada reported that over July, August and September the three Maritime provinces added a combined 13,470 people. That made the once shrinking region the fastest growing part of Canada during the summer, ahead of British Columbia.
Individually, Prince Edward Island was the fastest growing jurisdiction, but all three Maritime provinces were among Canada's top four growth spots, according to Statistics Canada analyst Stacey Hallman.
"P.E.I., Nova Scotia, B.C. and New Brunswick are the four," she said.
New Brunswick's share of this summer's population growth surge was 5,075. It's the largest increase in one quarter in New Brunswick since the 1970s, and in just 92 days equalled the province's entire population growth over 16 years, between 1996 and 2012.
Added to more than 8,000 people gained earlier in the pandemic, New Brunswick's population is suddenly up to 794,300.
It's a number that gloomy demographic projections just two years ago suggested the province might never reach, and even the most optimistic models did not see coming for several years.
It's a stunning development in a province that has been fretting for decades about its stagnant population growth.
In August 2019, just months before the beginning of the pandemic, the New Brunswick government announced revamped plans to try to boost the attraction of newcomers to rescue the province from pending labour shortages caused by retiring baby boomers.
"Population growth is crucial to the future success of our province," said Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Minister Trevor Holder.
"The attraction and retention of new Canadians is critical to helping us increase our province's population and meet the needs of our employers."
The effort was launched at about the same time Statistics Canada constructed nine population projections for New Brunswick out to 2043 based on a variety of different scenarios.
None of the projections foresaw New Brunswick reaching 794,300 people before 2024. Six of the nine did not see it happening at all in 2043, and one projection saw the province shrinking by 35,000 people over 25 years.
It's a possibility the province took seriously and felt international immigration was the best chance to avoid. The idea thousands of Canadians would spontaneously begin moving to the region was not seriously considered.
In the first 15 years of the 2000s, New Brunswick lost a net average of 1,500 people per year to other provinces, including a high of 3,240 in 2014. Turning that flow in the opposite direction has always been a hope but not something the government formally planned on as a solution to its population troubles.
But it has happened anyway.
Boasting Canada's cheapest house prices, New Brunswick began showing up in the search engines of thousands looking for some space and a place to plant roots they could afford.
Burrell said her own decision to sell her home in London, Ont., and come to New Brunswick was driven by an internet search for a better work and home life balance. Most of the people who are buying homes through her tell a similar story.
"It's more affordable. They're looking for a different pace of life," Burrell said.
Since the beginning of 2020, that pull has been strong. New Brunswick has had a net gain of 6,900 people from other provinces, with over half of those gains coming from Ontario.
Burrell said it is not a trouble-free transition for everyone. A few have run into problems accessing health care, including finding a family doctor, but she has heard few complaints beyond that.
"It's still overwhelmingly people saying that they don't regret the move, and they're happy they made the decision," she said. "Overwhelmingly.
"We've been back to Ontario to visit twice. And it's wonderful to see family and friends, but we can't wait to get back to New Brunswick both times that we've come. No regrets at all. It was the best thing we could have done for ourselves."
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