Moving companies with N.L. clients are flat-out — and not in the direction you'd expect
Moving companies seeing people coming home, due to retirement, economic downturn and the pandemic
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.