By Teddy Ryan
Escape to the Country, a BBC production which airs on CBC TV, is an armchair traveler’s dream. The program often showcases city dwellers from London, England who are eager to leave their urban way of life and move to the country. Facilitated by a real estate agent specializing in relocating people to idyllic homes in the country-sides of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, the program highlights panoramic landscapes of lush rolling hills, brisk seascapes and quaint little towns.
In Canada, Ontario boasts many such places with some of the most spectacular vistas located right here in Hastings County. The second largest county in Ontario, Hastings stretches almost 160 kilometers from Algonquin Park to the Bay of Quinte. Captured within that massive geography are 14 municipalities, with evocative sounding names such as Bancroft, Stirling, Tweed, Madoc, Tyendinaga and the Township of Limerick.
While their names may strike some as romantic, it’s more likely that the landscapes, rivers, lakes and the peace and quiet are what really hook newcomers to our area. As the Hastings County website states: “In the northern portion you will find the ancient rock formations and dense boreal forests of the Canadian Shield, where clear lakes and recreational opportunities abound every season of the year. The southern portion is part of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Lowlands, home to two cities and many small towns surrounded by rich farmland.”
Kim Hadwen, a real estate agent with Century 21, knows a thing or two about farms, farming and the country way of life. From growing-up on the family farm, to owning and running his own acreage with his wife, Jeanne, Hadwen has more than 40 years of hands-on experience in the agricultural field. Eight years ago, he decided to get involved in the real estate business and help others discover this incredible way of life … so he hung out his shingle and never looked back.
Over the past few years Hadwen has seen a major shift in the out-migration of folks especially from Toronto. Typical clients are often over 50 years-young, either retired, or semi-retired and many are looking to work from home. While the availability of quality internet is now a major factor in where people choose to settle, he finds that “it’s the land and the breathing space they come for.”
Hadwen has noticed a trend toward those “interested in acreages where they can grow their own fresh vegetables, raise cows and horses, to those who just want to have a large enough piece of land to comfortably walk their dogs and enjoy space and privacy.” With land being at such a premium in the cities, in order for people to enjoy this type of lifestyle, “they are making the choice to move to the country.”
Doug and Melinda Fisher are two such folks. Not quite a year ago, Hadwen sold them a beautiful property in Stirling-Rawdon Township. The Fishers fit the demographic perfectly. Having lived and worked in the Toronto area for many years, they were ready to explore life in the country and so they reached out to the Century 21 realtor.
“It was a long-time dream of mine to retire to the country. I come from a farming background — my father’s family had a farm in Saskatchewan,” conveys Doug. “Melinda and I talked a lot about it over the last few years and then the time came.” For Fisher, life in the Toronto area was starting to feel claustrophobic and the busyness of the city was starting to take its toll. “In Toronto, you have no time — you are running all the time. You’re commuting on busy subways and crowds are everywhere. Here, we have all this beauty.” He continues, “Here I love the wide open spaces and I can be outside all day. It’s really very pleasant, especially the peace and quiet.”
The couple are creating an organic garden and have a sizeable plot to manage. They marvel that their garden alone is about the same size or footprint as their entire former Scarborough property. Although gardening is a lot of work, for the Fishers it’s as much a spiritual as a physical activity.
“It’s like when you have to water the garden, and it takes two hours. It takes that long because our soil is sandy and soaks through quickly. But while you’re watering your garden for two hours, it’s very peaceful and meditative,” shares Melinda.
Carole Edwards, a Royal LePage real estate agent who lives and works in Toronto, also specializes in connecting city clients who aspire to a life in the country, with the perfect rural lifestyle. With 24 years of real estate experience, Edward’s skills are also informed by her two other professions — a Registered Nurse and Lifestyle Facilitator.
According to Edwards, she too has seen a significant upward trend in this direction over the past four or five years. She says that “there’s definitely been a real increase in movement out of cities like Toronto and Ottawa.”
She believes this trend began when city property values started to climb, while at the same time, the noise, traffic and crowding became motivating factors for folks over 50 who began to consider other lifestyle options.
Edwards says that, “People don’t want to live cheek by jowl. They want space and privacy. They want serenity and they want to be near water and hear the birds sing, not the harsh noise of city traffic.” She does offer that not everyone is cut out for country living, and facilitating those requirements means that clients must realistically answer some very important questions about their wants, needs and expectations.
There are many things to consider when making such a move, not the least of which is personal suitability. She says that she has interviewed clients who were not totally informed about rural life, “So, I don’t encourage them until they are. It would be a mistake and they would be unhappy.” She adds that since many of the clients are young seniors, health and physical fitness are important factors to consider as “activities such as gardening, cutting and stacking wood, and maintaining large tracts of land, a well and septic tank are only some of the considerations.” Edwards says that “people need a guide. It’s a big decision and people need to ask themselves ‘am I doing the right thing?’”
Finding the right location for a rural property is also being impacted by the way the progression of the trend to relocate to country living has evolved. According to Edwards, proximity to cities meant that certain areas such as Prince Edward County, Muskoka and Kawartha Lakes areas became popular and filled up first. Then, as those locations were bought, folks began travelling farther afield — and they made an exciting discovery.
“People would start to spend weekends in the areas around Tweed and Madoc and what they found were the incredible rock formations of the Canadian Shield, pristine rivers and miles of boreal forests. And the property values were still reasonable. So, Hastings County became the next sought-after country retreat area,” advises Edwards.
But it’s not just retirees and soon-to-be retired individuals who are making a move to the country-side. There has also been a major shift with younger people and folks looking for a vibrant four-season lifestyle. With trails throughout the magnificent back country, avid snowmobilers and ATV enthusiasts find the area offers them the best of all worlds. And among these trendsetters are entrepreneurs, who have moved into the area to set up businesses for their products and services, while at the same time settling in to enjoy a new way of life.
From world-class chefs who are opening restaurants, companies who bring solar energy to homes and cottages, to a women’s hockey star who recently opened her own training centre to help young athletes — the list is long and varied.
According to Hadwen, this growing trend to move to the country has meant that “there has been a real boost in property values in the past seven or so years for those looking for workable acres and farmland. While that upward trend was robust for the first part of the seven-year hike, the last two years has seen a levelling off, possibly due to increased interest rates and uncertainty in the market.”
Carole Edwards agrees. “I believe that in the past five or so years, the value of some rural properties have doubled and in some cases even tripled in price. Depending on where it is located, whether it’s on a highway, on a lake or a river and how close it is to local services like health care and grocery shopping, the values are going up.”
So, while property values, while still reasonable continue to climb, it’s even more important for those considering a move from a city to a rural community to do their homework. For Fisher, getting as much information in advance of making the decision was important. He says his agent did a good job in advising them on the challenges of country living. And with just under a year in, they are glad they had some idea of what to expect.
Fisher said, “Now that we’re here, we see that there is a lot of work to do to get things the way we want. The garden has to be fenced. One of our wells ran dry, but we have another, so that’s not too bad, and a big wind tore shingles off the roof. Things happen. But we’re glad we made the move.”
Owning a large piece of land in the country also means there is potential for the creation of new possibilities. The Fishers have plans to use some of their land for a cause that is very close to their hearts — rescuing Bloodhounds. Right now, they have two that they’ve adopted, Benedetto, (who Melinda rescued from a shelter in Hungary) and Tibor, who came from the United States. They plan to create a shelter where Bloodhounds rescued from kill shelters in the states can be fostered safely and happily until permanent homes can be found.
Life in the country can mean many things to many people. But the common theme that seems to motivate so many who move to Hastings County is the search for peace and a healthier way of life.
Melinda Fisher put it this way. “It’s not just the physical side, like working outdoors or taking 14 kilometer walks that we love so much, it’s the peaceful and meditative state that country living brings. Even though your hands are busy, your mind can still be still.”
Visit the Hastings County website www.ILeftTheCity.ca for more stories and experiences of people who chose Hastings County as their escape from the city.