A northern Ontario town of about 1,400 people is crediting an ambitious marketing campaign with drawing two dozen new families to the community.
Last year, Smooth Rock Falls, Ont., offered to reimburse 90 per cent of the cost of the land if people built on it within two years — reducing the land cost to as little as $500 in some cases.
Town staff have been overrun with interest, fielding more than 1,000 calls from across Canada, said Mayor Michel Arseneault. Though no residential buyers took them up on the land offer, 24 new families have moved to pre-existing homes in the community, about 100 kilometres north of Timmins, since October 2017.
“They came here and they found something that they liked, instead of building and taking advantage of our incentives,” Arseneault said, noting that while the land itself is cheap, building can be expensive and time consuming.
The average home in Smooth Rock Falls costs $68,000, Arseneault said _ a far cry from October’s average sale price of $800,000 in the Toronto area.
The town launched its marketing campaign in an effort to slow the population decline in the wake of the closure of a pulp and paper mill in 2006 that was the area’s major employer. Between 2006 and the 2016 census, the population dropped from 2,400 to 1,330.
Things in the town have felt brighter since the marketing success, Arseneault said, with residents volunteering and becoming involved in various committees.
“People are getting involved in the community,” he said. “They enjoy the quality of life.”
Chief administrative officer Luc Denault noted that the area is appealing to young families and retiring seniors alike, adding that the newcomers appreciate the schools and hospital.
“We have new babies coming. We’re seeing a younger generation of people, and as we get new people we’re seeing new needs, new opportunities,” he said, listing a possible daycare as an example.
“We’re inching forward,” Denault said. “As you inch forward, as people come, there’s a greater sense of activity.”
New businesses are also moving to the area, he said, adding that an industrial park to be opened next year will encompass 12 different lots available for lease or purchase.
Courtney Marshall counts herself among the town’s new residents. She and her husband moved to the community with their six-year-old daughter in July after learning about the $500 lots.
They visited the town first on business related to the cheap land _ a deal that eventually fell through. But they loved town, Marshall said, and decided to uproot from southern Ontario and venture north, buying a pre-built home in an older part of town.
“The style of the house, we fell in love with it. The way that it’s laid out is perfect for our family,” she said, noting that she and her husband run a business that deals with renovating homes so updating a house is more familiar to them than building one from scratch.
And the town itself has perks, she said.
“It’s less fast-paced,” she said. “Everybody helps each other out, but you have your own personal space.”
The town is re-releasing 12 vacant municipally owned residential lots for sale at up to 90 per cent off of market value, along with 10 commercial lots. Potential buyers have to submit detailed architectural concepts and site drawings describing their proposals in order for the purchase to be approved.