County Towns Buck Census Trend
The Windsor Star

Mary Borg was reluctant to move to the Windsor-Essex area at first, but over time the reasons kept adding up. “I said I would never move here and here I am,” said Borg, 64, who moved to the Cooper’s Mill retirement community in Lakeshore from Toronto last March. “We just liked what we saw.”

The 2011 census made the Windsor region into Canada’s bad news story, but the figures show the population flight wasn’t evenly spread throughout the county. Borg and her husband John are two of the many people who have relocated to the region since 2006, resulting in small population gains in Lakeshore, LaSalle and Kingsville.

Frank Binder of Royal LePage Binder Real Estate said retirees are driving the population increase in those towns. Seniors are drawn by the same factors that attracted the Borgs – milder winters, low housing prices and the waterfront. Kingsville and Lakeshore, whose populations grew 2.2 and 3.9 per cent from 2006 to 2011, boast affordable lakefront properties. LaSalle, whose population grew 3.6 per cent, has lots of parks and trails, Binder said. “You’ve got a lot of walking paths, a lot of trees. It’s an ideal community for retirees.”

Most of the autoworkers who lost their jobs and had to move to look for work lived in Windsor, not the county, which explains why the city’s population took the biggest hit. Windsor lost 5,582 residents from 2006 to 2011, or 2.6 per cent of its population, making it one of only two Canadian metropolitan areas to shrink. Binder said Lakeshore, La-Salle and Kingsville are relatively well off and less affected by the recession, making residents less likely to lose their homes in a downturn. Those three towns have also seen the most new housing growth since 2006, attracting new residents.

Leamington Mayor John Paterson said the main reason neighbouring Kingsville has grown while his town shrank by 1.5 per cent is the new subdivisions that were built there. With several on the way in Leamington, he said he expects the numbers to stabilize. Lower taxes are another draw for county towns. It’s no coincidence that Lakeshore and Kingsville, two of the three towns that grew during the last five years, have the lowest property taxes in the region.

It’s not all about cost, however. Colleen Manning said she was drawn to move from Winnipeg in December of 2010 to retire in her condominium villa community in LaSalle despite the relatively high housing prices and property taxes because she liked the small town feel. Manning said she got a lot of shocked reactions from people back home when she told them her plans. “We said, ‘Have you been there?’ And they’d say, ‘Well, no.’ And we’d say, ‘Well, maybe you should come out and look at it.'”

Peter Valente of Valente Real Estate said even the Windsor core is doing much better. The city’s upswing is so recent the census figures are already out of date, he said. Valente said he’s had a difficult time explaining that to reporters from the national media who have been calling him to talk about Windsor’s decline since the census figures were released. “We don’t see it. We see a lot more people moving into Windsor and Essex County than moving out,” he said.

Borg said she couldn’t be happier with her bungalow townhouse in Belle River, close to the lake, the highway and family. “We’ve got a beautiful place here for probably about half the price of what we would have paid here in Toronto,” she said. “Everything is good about it.”