It's been a long haul, but recent data from a national moving company shows Barrie and Orillia are moving on up the list of places to live in Canada.
According to U-Haul data analyzing migration patterns from 2020, the Barrie/Orillia market registers as the No. 5 growth city in the country.
The report indicates people coming to Barrie and Orillia in one-way U-Haul trucks increased 22 per cent during the past year, while departures jumped only 10 per cent from 2019.
So what makes this area so popular?
Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman believes it could be, in part, due to the recent changes in the way people work because of COVID-19.
“I think the obvious reason for increased migration to Barrie is people betting on the ability to work from home, at least some of the time, on an ongoing basis after COVID,” Lehman told BarrieToday. “There may also be some short-term out-migration from the GTA due to their higher rates of COVID.”
Barrie and Orillia were not ranked among the top 25 growth cities last year. Neighbouring cities in certain markets are packaged together for the purposes of analyzing U-Haul trends and how people were moving around the country.
Lehman says he believes Barrie has made the mistake of growing too fast in the past, and doesn’t intend to allow growth in the same way over the coming years. That said, he also says “the strength of demand shows what an incredible city we live in.”
“I think the demand has just reinforced why Barrie has always grown so quickly,” Lehman said. “Our location — halfway between Muskoka and Toronto — means the best of both worlds, and our quality of life is unequalled in terms of recreation, safety, and amenity like the waterfront.”
Orillia Mayor Steve Clarke says the Sunshine City typically sees an influx of retirees and of those nearing retirement, but he also echoed Lehman’s thoughts on the region’s attractiveness.
Clarke says he's seeing data that strongly indicates millenials are now making decisions on where to live based more on the quality of life of an area rather than the actual job.
“The job is still a priority, but no longer the top priority,” Clarke told BarrieToday. “We have some of the best connectivity in the country with true fibreoptics and 5G. This ability has been further illuminated by the fact that many individuals and businesses now realize many aspects of jobs can be done from home.
“I would also add, although our housing prices have risen significantly in the last few years, we are still more competitive than many other municipalities,” Clarke noted.
North Bay was the top Canadian growth city for 2020, followed by North Vancouver, Kingston and Belleville in the top five and ahead of Barrie/Orillia.
Ten of the top 15 growth areas are in Ontario. Quebec boasts six cities in the top 25, while British Columbia has five.
U-Haul growth cities are calculated by the net gain of one-way U-Haul trucks (i.e. moving vans ranging in size from 10 to 26 feet) arriving in a city versus departing from that city in a calendar year.
Migration trends data is compiled from more than two million one-way U-Haul truck sharing transactions that occur annually in Canada and the U.S.
In a BarrieToday story published in November, there have also been statistics showing Simcoe County is becoming final the destination for much of Toronto's exodus.
Housing markets across the country are defying expectations amid the COVID-induced recession, with 23 of the 27 largest cities reporting increased sales and values, according to Statistics Canada.
Barrie has long been considered a destination for residential real estate investors, often in tandem with Orillia, as an attractive place to invest in real estate, frequently landing on the Real Estate Investment Network’s top-10 list in the past.