Young Ontario families moving east help to reverse New Brunswick population drain
N.B. gained a net 2,641 people from Ontario over the last 33 months, the most in 42 years
Like a scene from the 1970 Canadian film classic Goin' Down the Road, except with people moving to the Maritimes for a better life instead of away, Jess and Jordan Owens took stock of their priorities in Toronto this summer and decided to pick up and head east.
"There was just a moment where I just said, you know, enough is enough," said Jordan about working from home during the pandemic in a one-bedroom, $1,500-per-month basement apartment with his wife Jess and their toddler Irie.
"When COVID hit, it got a little bit harder," Jess said.
"Our place seemed a little bit smaller. We were used to kind of venturing out a lot into the city and having experiences outside of our home, so having to be contained in our tiny apartment got a little bit challenging.
"I think it came down to how much we were paying for that small space ... it just seemed a little bit unreasonable to us."
The couple talked it over and with savings from Jess's working years and Jordan's 12-year professional hockey career in North America, Europe and Australia, they set out to find a place where they could settle in and buy their own home for under $100,000.
Choosing New Brunswick, without having been here
After scanning national real estate listings and community profiles, they decided a move to Saint John made sense – even though neither of them had ever set foot in New Brunswick.
"We've lived in a lot of places and we treat it as a bit of an adventure, coming to a new place and just exploring and getting to know our surroundings," said Jess.
"I'm really excited to explore the nature that New Brunswick has to offer. That's quite a contrast from living in a big city like Toronto."
With the help of a real estate agent, the Owens bought a house remotely for $99,000 and drove themselves and their belongings here in November.
WATCH: Jess and Jordan Owens moved from Ontario to New Brunswick in November, drawn by affordable housing. They bought a house in Saint John for $99,000 and have been documenting the adventure on their YouTube Channel, A Tribe Called Owens.
N.B. sees largest net transfer of population in 42 years
It's a move more and more young Canadian couples have been considering.
Last Thursday, Statistics Canada reported 11,987 people have moved to New Brunswick from Ontario since the beginning of 2018.
That's 2,641 more people than moved in the other direction, the largest net transfer of population from Ontario to New Brunswick over that length of time in 42 years, according to Statistics Canada demography analyst Stacey Hallman.
- Sold, sight unseen: N.B.'s sizzling real estate market shows no signs of cooling off
- Wanted: Young people. Population under age 65 hits 46-year low in N.B.
Some of that migration is former New Brunswick residents returning home to retire.
But increasingly, people like the Owens, with no prior connections to the province, are also arriving, attracted by the extra space and the possibility of owning property.
"It is becoming harder and harder to buy your first home," Jess said. "Definitely in Toronto it was just out of our budget."
The Owens were encouraged to come to New Brunswick by Jordan's high school friend Krista Beehler and her husband Shane, who made the same decision for themselves months earlier.
Saint John waterfront 'fit all the criteria'
The Beehlers and their two children moved from a rented downtown Toronto house with a "tiny yard" to an oceanside home in the Saint John neighbourhood of Anthony's Cove in July, even though neither had ever been east of Quebec.
"When the pandemic hit, we thought it was a good opportunity to explore living somewhere else in Canada," said Shane.
"We wanted to live on the water if that was possible within our price range, and Saint John kind of fit all the criteria of still living in a populated city, but with cheaper housing prices."
As a software developer, Shane is free to work from home and the family now spends much of their free time outdoors, roaming the forest and exploring the shoreline, each a stone's throw from their front door.
'We took a bit of a gamble,' and it paid off
The Beehlers say the move has turned out better than they had hoped.
"We were welcomed with open arms and I don't think I was prepared for the community to be so friendly," Krista said.
"It was so lovely to get here and to have everyone include us right away and add us to their plans and invite us to do things. Our neighbours all came over and knocked on our door and introduced themselves."
The people here are so welcoming and nice, it's just blown our minds.- Krista Beehler, moved to Saint John from Toronto
She admits they "took a bit of gamble" with not being able to come and see the street and the community they were moving to first.
"But having heard how lovely people are on the east coast, we kind of took that gamble and it has been 100 per cent true," she said.
"The people here are so welcoming and nice, it's just blown our minds. We do plan to travel Canada a lot. We want to show our kids the whole country coast-to-coast - but this is our home now for sure."
The Owens, who arrived in New Brunswick four months after the Beehlers, are equally positive about the experience so far.
"It does take a little bit of courage to do this. But being out here, even for such a short period of time, we were confident we made a good decision and we're really loving it so far," said Jordan.
"We don't have to work around the clock just to pay to live. We can spend more time with Irie, more time together as a family and more time developing ourselves and doing things that we truly love."
People in Saint John and New Brunswick have been "ultra welcoming," he said.
"Canadians have a reputation for being very polite and helpful people. Here, it's magnified."