Leaving the GTA for a 'nice know-your-neighbour' community

By Allan Benner, The Standard

Not long ago, Shaun Ollivierre’s family lived in a beautiful home in a nice Mississauga neighbourhood worth millions of dollars.

“We were living in an area where the houses were $2- or $3-million, right off the bat,” he said. “We lived in a really nice area.”


But he wasn’t happy.


“Part of the problem in the GTA is it’s very congested, and there are a lot of lineups.”


For instance, he said a recreation centre was located a few blocks away from their home, but visiting it meant an hour fighting through rush-hour traffic. And by the time they’d arrive, the facility was “completely packed, and everything was sold out.”


While that might have been tolerable, there was one problem with which Ollivierre couldn’t contend – a feeling of isolation, despite living in a community of 713,000 people, on the outskirts of a city that’s home to 2.6-million more.


The city, he said, is losing “that nice know-your-neighbour feel.”


It was worse for his children.


“There were kids in the neighbourhood, but nobody let’s their kids outside. Nobody lets their kids interact with anybody. Nobody knows anyone and no one plays with each other,” he said.


They felt they had to get out of the city, and started looking for a new home in a more rural location, “with friendlier people.”


Ollivierre said they wanted move to somewhere near St. Catharines, and spent several months researching communities in the region.


“We came down here a few times, and we loved the scenery,” he said. “It had that nice feeling too – very community.”


Ollivierre liked the people he met during his visits too – with a few exceptions.


“I’ve met some people who are very weird, but they’re nice friendly weird people,” he said. “Different, but nice.”


And as nice as their home on Mississauga Road was, Ollivierre said they were able to find an even nicer home in Dain City on a half-acre lot, overlooking the Welland Recreational Canal and the parkland that runs along its banks.


At about $400,000, Ollivierre considered it a huge bargain, compared to the millions it would cost for a similar home in the GTA, where even an average home costs nearly $900,000.


They moved in late July.


“We’ve been even looking at additional land in this area,” he said. “Why not, at these prices?”


Ollivierre is one of numerous former GTA residents who have been cashing in on the sale of their big city homes, and moving to Niagara.


The influx of people coming into Niagara has driven up home values throughout the region.


In the past year, average sale prices for residential property in Niagara jumped from $291,617 to $367,461 as of February.


St. Catharines real estate agent Randy Mulder estimates that about 25 per cent of the people buying Niagara homes are moving here from the GTA.


The Re/Max Garden City Realty sales representative said the lifestyle Niagara offers has remained a secret for many years, overlooked by other parts of southern Ontario.


“The secret’s out,” he said.


“Compared to areas of higher density and natural places of interest, I think we stand out very strongly,” said Mulder, who will take over as Niagara Association of Realtors at the organization’s annual general meeting next month.


In contrast to the feeling of isolation Ollivierre felt in Mississauga, he said his children “instantly had friends” when they moved into their new Dain City home. And in the months since arriving, he said his children have been outside almost “every single day playing with their new friends.”


Mulder said many of his clients who are looking for new homes in the region have more than just real estate values in mind.


While the lower price of Niagara real estate “is certainly a factor” in decisions to move south, he said the amenities Niagara offers are equally appealing.


“I think they’re looking for open spaces,” he said.


While most of his out-of-town clients are families looking for homes in the region, Mulder said many are also professionals and business owners, which could help bolster the region’s economy.


“It’s our hope that they’re bringing jobs along with them,” he said.


Ollivierre is one of those business owners, running several companies from his home and offices, including North Tactical Supply Co.


“There’s aspirations for business owners, for entrepreneurs,” Ollivierre said. “I’m an entrepreneur myself, and I look at this as a blank canvas. People can come here and start businesses.”


While Niagara continues to rebound from economic losses, he feels confident about its future, thanks to “low rent, tons of talent available to be hired, people looking for jobs that would put in 100 per cent.”


And despite concerns about the area, Ollivierre said it definitely beats the big city he left behind.


“To a lot of people that complain about Welland, I say, ‘Go live in Toronto for a year. You’d be back in Welland and you’d be kissing the ground,’” he said.