The pandemic has young Quebecers moving from city centres to rural regions

·4 min read
Janet Howatson sent in this picture, saying this part of the Gaspe is among the most beautiful in Canada. ( - image credit)
Janet Howatson sent in this picture, saying this part of the Gaspe is among the most beautiful in Canada. ( - image credit)

For Joey Van Houtte, who grew up in Quebec City, the Gaspé — with its stunning scenery, variety of outdoor activities and vibrant community — is paradise.

Which is why he and his girlfriend made the move to Chandler, Que. last summer.

The pandemic is giving people cooped up in city centres the chance to make a change, and escape to some wide open spaces.

And they're not just heading to the neighbouring Eastern Townships or Laurentians. Like Van Houtte, some are relocating much further.

"Because of the pandemic, I think it was meant to happen," Van Houtte said. "I'm sure I'm not the only one feeling that way, so I think it's normal to make that move."

The 26-year-old said he'd tired of the hustle and bustle of the city, so when a job opportunity gave him the chance at a change of scenery, he jumped on it.

Stéphanie Roy, who works for the group Places aux Jeunes — a group that promotes bringing more young people to Quebec's regions and helps them get settled — says 2020 was a banner year for people sensing the call of the coast.

She told CBC's Quebec AM that not only was there a significant increase in people looking to move to the region, but several of them were eager to do so quickly.

"They want to live close to nature, they want to have more free time, they want to raise their children in a safe environment, and that's what we offer here," she said. "It's kind of easy to sell the region to them."

Van Houtte said although there were challenges in moving during a pandemic, especially halfway across the province, the advantages to living in the Gaspé far outweigh those difficulties.

"People are just so nice here, they want to help you, they want to show you the nice places and they want you to meet people," Van Houtte said.

Roy said there's a lot to take into consideration before packing up and changing regions, but the pandemic and the ease of working from home have added incentive for people.

"It's a pretty big move, you know, moving from Montreal to a region like Gaspésie and the Magdalen Islands, so they need to get prepared," she said.

Gaspé real estate agent Suzanne Landry said in her experience, most people who are serious about making the move already have some connection to the region, or they have a job lined up.

"Someone who has never set foot here, it's rare that they're going to buy something," she said.

However, she said she's seen a boom in business since the pandemic started. There's been an "extreme influx" of calls — even doubling when the region was still a red zone.

Landry said, thanks to the internet, the Gaspé "isn't that far anymore."

"It seems to be a trend because of COVID and because of the pandemic, people who are downtown and in condos are moving out to the suburbs, those who are in the suburbs are moving maybe an hour or two away, and those who are an hour or two away from the big centres are looking to move out even further," she said.

She said although housing costs have been steadily increasing in the last few years, they're still a small fraction of what someone would pay for a much smaller property in Montreal or Quebec City.

Gaspé feeling the squeeze in daycares

Roy says people moving to the region in droves is having other impacts: daycare spots that were already hard to come by are now nearly impossible to find.

Charlotte Guay-Dussault considers herself lucky, because she managed to find a private daycare for her two-year-old daughter, after nearly 18 months of searching.

She pays double for the spot than she would if her child were in a centre de la petite enfance (CPE), but she says many parents in her area are not nearly as fortunate.

"Every day we hear from someone who's looking for a place and doesn't find it," she said.

Guay-Dussault said friends of hers have even backed out on plans to move to the region, because they can't find childcare.

More than a dozen mayors from Eastern Quebec — including those in Gaspé, Bonaventure and Carleton-sur-Mer — have signed an open letter stating the shortage of spaces is impacting not only families, but development in the regions.

The mayors are calling on the province to pave the administrative road to make it simpler for CPEs and home daycares to get accreditation and open their doors.

They also believe daycare operators should get a pay raise, and the province should do more to improve their working conditions.

The trend is tightening the housing supply, too, In Rimouski, in the Lower St. Lawrence, the number of people moving to town is aggravating a housing shortage. The vacancy rate has dropped below one per cent.