Monday, December 17, 2012

Relocating to Canada: Ontario

Blog reader and contributor J. Vanne continues to share his knowledge regarding Canada. Thanks J. for taking the time!

Central Canada:   Ontario

In this article, I continue to look at Canada as a relocation possibility. This time, we examine Ontario, known as Upper Canada (as in “up” the St. Lawrence River) in olden days. We will not examine “Lower Canada” – Quebec – as in my opinion, anyone relocating to Quebec, known as La Belle Province (The Beautiful Province), to avoid an economic or societal meltdown may as well also look at Greece, Spain or Argentina. Yes, Montreal is a fun city, and there are indeed areas, such as the eastern townships (for example the area around Sherbrooke, Quebec) that are similar to Vermont in terms of agricultural activities. However, Quebec has serious issues. Yes, the separatist movement has died down, as the “pure laines” (the pure blood French) have aborted themselves into oblivion, and immigrants know their collective gooses would be cooked in an independent Canada. They are also aware that Quebec, which has a population of around 8 million – not all of which are francophones – exists in a sea of just under 400 million in North America (if one excludes Mexico). Exactly what kind of economic future does one have as a unilingual francophone is not question that goes unasked for immigrants to Quebec. All of this notwithstanding, Montreal – which was originally the hub of business for Canada until the separatists pushed that down the 401 highway to Toronto in the 1980s – is making a bit of a comeback relative to economic activities today.

There are other issues. Quebec is dyed in the wool socialist. In fact, one individual ran for provincial premier a few years ago advocating for a four day work week (heck, why not advocate for a TWO day workweek, as long as one is at it!). The aboriginal peoples want nothing to do with the French – and they inhabit around 90% of the landmass, including the area up around James Bay and Hudson Bay, which are the sites of massive hydroelectric dams that create a goodly amount of revenue for the province. And here’s the issue with that: During the last serious separatist referendum in the early 1990s (I lived in Ottawa, and also just across the border in Quebec during that period), a referendum was taken of the aboriginal peoples. The result? 95% (!) wanted to stay with English Canada if there was a separation. Would this result in violence? The Oka crisis of two decades ago showed the native peoples could, in fact, resort to violence. What would happen to revenue from electricity transmission to the US, a major source funds for Quebec, if the aboriginal people blew up a pylon providing electricity to the US? You can bet your bottom dollar that would be a social and political nightmare. Meanwhile, If you are anglophone, there still is some anti-English sentiment (you will be a “squarehead” or one of “the evil English” if you are not French, to some people). There is more, but the key issue is that  I will not take the time to review Quebec in that it is mostly kneejerk leftist. End of story in my books.

Incidentally, if you really want Gallic culture, have you considered St. Pierre and Miquelon? Two small islands off of Newfoundland, they are literally part of France. They are tiny – but something to keep in the back of your mind, if for no other reason than to win a pink pie in Trivial Pursuit.

Note that I do not have any animosity to Quebeckers. I have many Quebecois friends, and some are as conservative as you or me. I have lived in Quebec, and was married in Quebec.  But, similar to California, you will be in sea of leftists, and that should be a central consideration, if, in fact, there is some type of economic meltdown. Quebec alternates between being run by the uber left Bloc Quebecois, the leftist Liberal party, and now the hyper left NDP party is also making inroads. You might be better off in Chavez’s Venezuela – at least the gasoline is cheaper.
The above being said, let’s turn to Ontario. As noted in my previous articles, the great divide between west and east is that after one leaves Winnipeg, Manitoba – which is just off the map on the far left of the chart below – there is very little until one reaches the Toronto area. Thus, there is a massive, discrete physical, geographic divide in Canada that the US simply doesn’t have. This is due to the Canadian Shield area north of Lake Superior, which does not support much of anything other than fishing,  mining and a few polar bears if you get far enough north.

A nice smaller city – around 100,000 people – is Thunder Bay, right on Lake Superior, and just up the road a few hours from Duluth, MN.  One of the economic strengths of Thunder Bay is that Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba grain shipments – which aren’t going away anytime soon, no matter what the economic situation – all route from the Canadian prairies through the massive port facilities in Thunder Bay. A second small city Sault Ste Marie, a town to the east of Thunder Bay, with 20,000 less souls in its census, is also nice, if you like the terrain of northern Michigan.  As with the prairie provinces, towns like Thunder Bay are cold in the wintertemperatures can easily reach below –40 F and more (minus 40 C is approximately the same in Fahrenheit, by way of reference).  Two other limitations of these cities – and others in Ontario: the choices of the politically correct masses in Toronto, which continue to drift leftward, will drive your electoral realities in these outlying areas, even if Toronto is a very full day’s drive away; the other negative is that you will also find the soil is not as rich for farming or gardening here as in the west – although hunting and fishing will be superb.
On the plus side, Thunder Bay and Sault Ste. Marie (called “the Soo” by locals) feel bigger than their populations, as they are regional centres for the surrounding towns. Thunder Bay has a university (see Lakehead University’s website at,) some cultural activities, regularly scheduled jet service, and I have spent many years working on projects for the main hospital there, which provides good care for patients, given the limits of Canadian socialized medicine. Housing prices have not skyrocketed in these areas as they have in the Toronto region. This region (particularly the town of Sudbury, although I do not recommend this as an option) is also a centre for metals mining (such as nickel). If your analysis is bullish on the mininig sector, you may want to examine this region more.

My suggestions for northern Ontario are three-fold: Thunder Bay, St. Joseph Island, outside of Ste. Ste. Marie, or – if one wants to be more isolated – Manitoulin Island (which is the world’s largest fresh water island) in northern Lake Huron.

I have already alluded to the strengths and weaknesses of Thunder Bay, so let’s move on to St. Joseph Island, just over 35 miles outside of Ste. Ste Marie (Sugar Island is another, closer option). As noted, “the Soo” is a regional centre. Yes, it does get a lot of snow in the winter; on the other hand, you are surrounded by the fresh water of Lake Superior and Lake Huron. Does your calculus include water shortages in the future? This is one place you certainly will not have to worry about that problem!  As you see in the map below, St. Joseph Island is just to the east of the upper peninsula of Michigan. Access by any “zombie hordes” – if it comes to that – would have to come cross the international border, cross the bridge into the Soo, then drive down to St. Joseph Island by crossing another small bridge. Most likely, there will be very few of those “Golden Horde” leftists from California or “where’s my free phone and food stamps” types from Detroit in your locale there, if we do have a zombie apocalypse!

St. Joseph Island is mostly flat, not heavily populated, and amenable to growing your own crops – albeit with the shorter growing season found in this part of the world. The land is not the rich black loess of the prairies, but certainly you will have no problem growing most crops here, as long as you aren’t planning for pineapples or cotton. You will be in a more rural area, but not  isolated by any means.
Next at bat: Manitoulin Island. To start with, Manitoulin Island is much more remote than St. Joseph Island. The main island website to start your research is at This site will also have land for sale, as well as accommodation links if you visit.  The island basically slants from west to east, and some sections can be boggy, so be careful if you buy land. As with the rest of northern Ontario, Dignam sells quite a few parcels of rural land at, including on Manitoulin. As noted earlier, rural land does not have “comps,” so valuation can be difficult. My experience  with Dignam has been very good, but of course you will need to do your own due diligence. Manitoulin has some aboriginal lands, and my own experience has been that, as a generalization, often the First Nations people can be a bit lax in their property upkeep, to put it nicely. Just something to keep in mind if this is an issue for you.  There is only one bridge onto the island from the north, and there is a seasonal ferry from Tobermory on the Bruce Peninsula, which is to the southeast. Manitoulin Island would be an ideal retreat, or second property, for those seeking a more remote location if things go really “south” (as in, say… Paraguay!)

Moving to the rest of Ontario, I will suggest two locations for you: a.) The Bruce Peninsula, or b.) some of the towns in eastern Ontario along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence Seaway. I strongly recommend against Toronto and environs – and those “environs” reach up to a two to three hour drive outside of this megalopolis. The Bruce Peninsula – that thumb sticking out in a northwest direction towards Manitoulin Island – is basically too far from the teaming Toronto masses to cause the usual problems of a megalopolis or its overflow. However, once one reaches south of Owen Sound at the base of the thumb, one starts to see Toronto spill over. Toronto – by some accounts the world’s most multicultural city – is, in my opinion, in yet another of their periodic housing booms that always end in tears. See for a recent update on the housing bubble. Toronto is also not crime free, as some Americans like to imagine (there was shooting at a mall there the same week of the Aurora, CO. shooting, and a few years earlier, and al Qaeda affiliate was training to conduct a major attack on the Toronto, which was apprehended just in time). In a soft or hard downturn, Toronto would not be a place to be. Yet, from the Bruce Peninsula, one is a little over three hours from the city, so shopping, theatre, sports – all are accessible. If you do explore this area, the western coast of Bruce Peninsula is shallower and the lake is often spoiled by waterfowl droppings. The land is also more “scrubby” in terms of its rockiness and its vegetation. In contrast, the eastern shore on Georgian Bay is much more scenic, and has much deeper water, which is cleaner and a more pure blue. Sailing is very big on Georgian Bay, attracting Toronto wealth, and as sailing tends to done more often by the relatively wealthy, this attraction of the well-to-do may create some opportunity for the entrepreneur.  There is also some land that is farmable in the area.  The Bruce Peninsula is part of the Niagara Escarpment that starts around Niagara Falls, goes through Manitoulin Island, and continues on to the UP of Michigan and into Wisconsin. A certain percentage of the population is seasonal, so that may be a consideration in your analysis. My suggestion to start looking would be the town of Lion’s Head, ON. You can get a feel for the town by starting the town’s website of Population reaches up to 5,000 in the summer. Alternatively, Tobermory – shown with the marker below – is further out. The land is not exceptionally rich, but gardening is certainly possible. The Bruce Peninsula website is at

Thunder Bay, Ste. Ste. Marie, Manitoulin Island and the Bruce Peninsula are all on a different – and colder – weather track than Toronto. Temperatures will be slightly warmer as one moves west to east from Thunder Bay, but not by much.

Politically, Ontario is currently run by the left leaning Liberal party out of Queen’s Park, Toronto. This socialist tendency is somewhat kept in check by the fact that the left knows it cannot bite the business hand that feeds it, or they will cut off their money supply. There is an on-going battle between conservatives and Bay Street (the equivalent of Wall Street in the US), and the free lunch/big government types. Unfortunately, as points out, Ontario is now deeply in the financial hole. Some links for your consideration on the issue of Ontario’s solvency:
Ontario is Not California (it’s worse)
Ontario, You are in Really Deep Trouble,

Or the tongue-in-cheek The Bright Future of Solar Energy and Green Jobs in Ontario at

Finally, let’s move to eastern Ontario, where I will present several mid-size cities for your consideration: Kingston, Belleville, and several towns an 30 to 60 minutes east of Ottawa, the nation’s capitol.

Kingston – yet another town I have lived and worked in – is the former capitol of Canada, and home of the prestigious Queen’s University. Located where Lake Ontario empties into the St. Lawrence Seaway, halfway between Toronto and Montreal, this town of about 150,000 has many of the advantages of a larger city, with few of the drawbacks. The city website is at Extensive medical facilities, one of the premier universities in Canada, and a two hour drivfe from Ottawa make this city somewhat resilient in a more mild downturn. In a zombie apocalypse scenario, the land is reasonably fertile, the weather track is milder than the Thunder Bay/Ste. Ste Marie/Bruce Peninsula areas noted above, and there is quite a bit of land available outside of the city. Neither Kingston or, Belleville  get the snow that Ottawa does, and if you are familiar with the snow that Buffalo gets, these cities are not on the same lake effect weather track.

West of Kingston down the 401 highway – the main artery from Montreal to Toronto to Detroit – is Belleville. And yes, I have family there, too. (It only seems like I have lived everywhere in Canada!) Belleville is still has some spillover from Toronto, but at this point it is at the far reaches of that urban sprawl. Prince Edward County, south across the bridge from Belleville, has access to the town of Belleville, population 50,000, and is highly recommended. Conducting business in Toronto from Belleville/Prince Edward County is do-able, but not with a daily commute. Prince Edward County is more rural, sedate and the weather is moderated by the lake. In a moderate economic meltdown, one has access – as noted – to Toronto to conduct business; in a more serious societal breakdown, the mere 200 kilometers from the downtown core of Toronto could leave one exposed to urban spillover. Websites for Prince Edward County are and