Nfld. & Labrador

Moving companies with N.L. clients are flat-out — and not in the direction you'd expect

Two St. John's-area moving companies say they've been overwhelmed with requests to relocate expatriates back to their home province.

Moving companies seeing people coming home, due to retirement, economic downturn and the pandemic

The Perry family recently relocated from Calgary to Glovertown, a small town on Newfoundland's northeast coast. They are, from left, Robyn and Dawson Perry, and their parents, Sarah and Bill. (Submitted by Sarah Perry)

Like many, Sarah and Bill Perry had their lives upended this year by the COVID-19 pandemic, along with a dramatic shock to the oil industry that left Bill without a job.

So they did something they've wanted to do for years: after more than two decades in Alberta, they left Calgary this summer and moved their family back home to Newfoundland and Labrador.

"With COVID and when my company decided they were moving out, that was it. It cemented our decision to move. Now we're home. We're here," Bill Perry said during a recent telephone interview.

They're now renting a home in Glovertown, where they both have deep roots and close family connections.

Their two children, ages 16 and 13, have started fresh in a new school, thousands of kilometres away from their old lives.

Brothers Bob and Lorne LeDrew prepare one of their trucks for another long-distance move. The owners of Bob LeDrew and Sons Moving Services in Mount Pearl say they have been especially busy in recent months moving Newfoundland and Labrador expatriates back home. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

They've left behind good careers and a city of 1.3 million for a future of uncertainty in a small town of just 2,000 citizens on Newfoundland's northeast coast.

Not looking back

They understand they've taken a big risk, and are grateful for everything Calgary and the oil industry gave them, but are not looking back.

"We have way more security now coming back than when we left," said Sarah. "We left with empty bank accounts and education. We're coming back in a lot better financial situation and a lot of skill sets, and hoping to invest that in the community."

Bill added, "I'm pretty excited about it. For all the years I've been away I've always talked about going home."

The Perry family are part of the reason why two St. John's-area moving companies are reporting an unusual trend: a strong uptick in the number of requests to relocate expatriates back to the province.

"Typically, my brother and I are used to dealing with a mass exodus out of Newfoundland this time of year, but this year it's been totally different," said Bob LeDrew, who co-owns Bob LeDrew and Sons Moving Services in Mount Pearl.

Bob LeDrew says the brothers' company is seeing a notable increase in the number of calls from expat Newfoundlanders and Labradorians wanting to return to their home province from other places in Canada. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

In the past, LeDrew said, 60 per cent of his long-distance moves were away from the province. This year it's reversed.

"I feel that most of them are coming back from Alberta and Ontario because they were laid off because of the COVID uncertainty and they're coming back home here with their families," said LeDrew, "and a lot of them probably have properties here and they feel safe here in Newfoundland as opposed to other places in the country."

It's a similar scenario for the owners of Five Star Moving in Conception Bay South, Jo Ann and Alfred Pike.

They've been in the moving business for 30 years, and have been overwhelmed with calls from customers interested in moving to the province.

"The amount of people moving back is unprecedented compared to what it has been over the past five, six, seven years," said Jo Ann Pike.

Alfred and Jo Ann Pike own and operate Five Star Moving in Conception Bay South. Jo Ann says their company is so busy with moves into Newfoundland and Labrador that they're actually turning away business. (Submitted by Jo Ann Pike)

A truck that would normally make one trip a month to Ontario is now load-and-go, Jo Ann added.

"If we had three, five tractor-trailers operating right now we could have filled every one of them week after week coming out of Ontario. We actually turned away a lot of business this year," she said.

Both companies say they are booked with inbound moves until late in the fall.

'COVID blip' 

Meanwhile, those who study the province's population trends are not surprised by what they're calling a "COVID blip."

With so much economic uncertainty in other parts of Canada, a very low prevalence of the virus in Newfoundland and Labrador, and the post-war baby boomer generation leaving the workforce, the fundamentals are in place for a slackening of the out-migration trend.

Robert Greenwood, director of Memorial University's Harris Centre, says he doesn't think what moving companies are seeing is a reversal of Newfoundland and Labrador's population decline. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

But Robert Greenwood, director at Memorial University's Harris Centre, which co-ordinates the school's activities related to regional policy and development, is quick to caution against any notion that Newfoundland and Labrador's population decline may be reversing.

"I think it's a demographic baby boomer phenomenon, for the most part," Greenwood said of the trend being noticed by moving companies.

Greenwood said a look at the data from last year is evidence that population decline projections are becoming reality, with the province experiencing a net loss of 4,500 people to interprovincial migration, the worst imbalance in more than a decade.

With major construction projects on the decline, the offshore oil industry buffeted by repeated setbacks since the pandemic hit, and the province's financial health on life support, the economic outlook is bleak for a province that is projected to lose 90,000 residents by 2043.

So Greenwood plans to wait until he sees some official data from Statistics Canada before determining the significance of this latest trend.

What's not being seen by the moving companies, said Greenwood, are the young people who are leaving after finishing university or being displaced from the oil industry.

In many cases, he said, this cohort do not require a moving truck because they are just starting out in life, and can stuff their belongings into the back of a car.

As for Sarah and Bill Perry, they're more concerned right now about getting reacquainted with their home province, and possibly starting a business.

"There's a long list of people from Glovertown that have worked really hard to make it what it is today. And that's all we want is a chance to do the same," said Sarah.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Terry Roberts is a journalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.

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