The tide is changing in Nova Scotia – more young people moved to the maritime province this year than in recent memory when the total population exceeded one million people for the first time.
During the second quarter of this year, Nova Scotia experienced the second-highest population growth rate in the country for interprovincial migration of 4,678 people, after British Columbia alone, according to Statistics Canada.
Statistics show that the three largest age groups for interprovincial migrants were 20-24, 25-29 and 30-34 between the fourth quarter of 2020 and 2021.
These age groups accounted for about 41 percent of the people who moved to the province during that time frame.
Rebekah Young, director of finance and provincial economics at Scotiabank, called the figures “unprecedented”.
Although COVID-19 is likely to accelerate people’s plans to come to or return to Nova Scotia, Young said it is a trend ahead of the pandemic, backed by the strength of the province’s growing economy.
“We saw people who were able to come and get jobs here,” she said, adding that many are affiliated with the region, but others are attracted to the quality of life and seem to be taking root.
“But we also saw things like work from home that allow people to come with their jobs.”
The number of people coming to the province from Ontario was particularly high – 9,970 people between the fourth quarter of 2020 and 2021. Many even bought homes without ever having seen them in person.
Honeidah Windross, 37, is one of those newcomers. Windross, her husband and their three-year-old daughter recently moved to the small rural area of Center Burlington, NS, from Brampton, Ont.
‘I just feel like I belong’
Windross is native to Mauritius, a small tropical island in the Indian Ocean. She said Nova Scotia reminds her of her homeland, minus the snow.
“I just feel like I belong here and I was supposed to be here,” Windross said in a recent phone interview.
“The people are so friendly. It’s not like in the city where you do not even know your neighbors. Here you see the same people all the time, so you become friendly and they are helpful.”
She said the affordability of real estate and living near the ocean were huge features. Her husband – who is originally from Newfoundland and Labrador – also wanted a rural lifestyle.
“We are not very urban people. We like our space. That’s how we grew up and that’s what we know,” she said, adding that she enjoys visiting farmers’ markets and buying local produce.
Windross said the company she and her husband both worked for in Ontario has an office in Halifax, and so they were able to relocate and keep their jobs.
Halifax is growing at record speed
The capital of Nova Scotia is also enjoying the greatest growth in its 272-year history.
Between July 2020 and July 2021, Halifax Regional Municipality had increased by 11,394 inhabitants, bringing the total population to just under 460,000 inhabitants.
Wendy Luther, president and CEO of Halifax Partnership, said the city’s quality of life and balance between urban, suburban and rural facilities is what is helping to attract more young people to the region.
But she said the challenge now is to make significant investments in housing, green transport and infrastructure to bolster this growth and retain the people who have decided to move here, many of whom place great emphasis on sustainability.
Luther said her organization does not anticipate that the trend will slow down.
“The people who come here, they experience all that Halifax has to offer, and they create more opportunities for others and encourage their friends and family to consider Halifax as well,” she said.
“It’s Halifax’s time right now.”
The challenges ahead
Immigration had stalled in large parts of the pandemic, but is expected to increase population growth further as these avenues come online again.
It is also touted as a key driver in the province’s progressive conservative government’s plan to hit two million people by 2060.
But as the province grows, so does the burden on health care, education and housing – all sectors already experiencing their own set of challenges.
It includes overcrowding in schools, waiting lists for family doctors and surgeries and a housing crisis across the province.
Minister of Labor, Skills and Immigration Jill Balser said that especially when it comes to housing, part of the government’s plan is to attract a skilled workforce to help build more housing stock.
“It’s really important for young people in particular to hear the message that there is work, we have a fantastic quality of life, and we also want people to move here,” Balser said.
She said recent changes in immigration flows will also help attract more healthcare professionals, including nurses, family doctors and assistants.
“If we bring people here to help – that’s exactly what we need right now,” Balser said.
Meanwhile, Young said adjusting to inflation – including rising housing costs – will also be a challenge in the coming days.
“Overall, it is net positive due to the larger tax base, but how fast can the system catch up with population growth?” she said.
“It really comes down to the role of politicians in dealing with this transition.”