The scenic Grand River is a bonus for young families seeking space and a country atmosphere in the village of Breslau, right on the doorstep of Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge and Guelph. The commute to Toronto is about to get a lot easier, too, with a GO station scheduled to open in Breslau in 2014, connecting to the new GO service in Kitchener. Breslau has grown a whopping 215.3 per cent between the 2006 and 2011 census.
(Photo courtesy Empire Communities)

Breslau, Bath, Ajax, Wasaga Beach and Arnprior lead
growth parade on Ontario's waterfront, census shows

Communities with room to breathe, but close enough to larger urban centres, are the darlings of Ontario’s waterfront, results of the 2011 census reveal.  

Despite its economic woes over the past five years, Ontario’s population grew by 5.7 per cent between 2006 and 2011 — to 12,851,821 residents — even as jobseekers left for Western Canada. Many cities have suffered declining populations, the 2011 census shows, especially in and around the province’s major manufacturing centres in Southwestern Ontario. Rural communities with little or no industry also experienced declining growth, as young families chose to live and work elsewhere.  

While several waterfront communities found themselves in the population loss column, we are pleased to report that of the 100-plus waterfront communities profiled by MyNewWaterfrontHome.com, far more villages, towns and cities saw their populations grow than decline, with several growing at such an explosive rate that the census-takers had trouble keeping up.  

Leading the population explosion on the waterfront, with growth increases of 10 per cent or more, are Breslau in Grand River country (up 215.3 per cent between 2006 and 2011); Bath on Lake Ontario in Eastern Ontario (up 26.6 per cent); Ajax on Lake Ontario in the GTA (up 21.6 per cent); Wasaga Beach on Nottawasaga Bay in Georgian Bay (up 16.7 per cent); Arnprior on the Ottawa and Madawaska rivers (up 13.4 per cent); Clarence-Rockland on the Ottawa River (up 11.5 per cent); Collingwood on Nottawasaga Bay in Georgian Bay (up 11.3 per cent); and Oakville on Lake Ontario in the Greater Toronto Area (up 10.2 per cent).     

Also coming in with growth rates above the provincial average of 5.7 per cent are: Port Elgin on Lake Huron (up 9.8 per cent); Whitby on Lake Ontario in the GTA (up 9.7 per cent); Petawawa on the Ottawa and Petawawa rivers (up 9.1 per cent); Ottawa on the Ottawa and Rideau rivers (up 8.8 per cent); Clarington on Lake Ontario in the GTA (up 8.6 per cent); Lancaster on the St. Lawrence River (up 8.5 per cent); Port Dover on Port Huron (up 7.4 per cent); Burlington on Lake Ontario in the GTA (up 6.9 per cent); Mississauga on Lake Ontario in the GTA (up 6.7 per cent); Brighton on Lake Ontario in Northumberland County (up 6.6 per cent); Parry Sound on Parry Sound in Georgian Bay (up 6.4 per cent); Alfred and Plantagenet Township on the Ottawa River (up 6.3 per cent); Innisfil on Lake Simcoe and Kempenfelt Bay (up 6.1 per cent); and Grimsby on Lake Ontario in Niagara Region (up 5.8 per cent).

'It's a hidden gem in Breslau'

“It’s pretty exciting out there,” says Todd Cowan, the mayor of Woolwich Township, which is leading the growth charge in Waterloo Region. Breslau, part of Woolwich, is undergoing massive growth, with the line between it and Kitchener (the two are separated by the Grand River), quickly disappearing. There are now 2,415 people living in Breslau, up by 1,649 residents — a whopping 215.3 per cent — since the 2006 census.  

But unlike its larger neighbours of Waterloo, Kitchener, Cambridge and Guelph, Breslau has lots of breathing room and is still considered more country than urban. “Even with the explosion in housing, you still can’t touch your neighbour’s house,” says Cowan, referring to the tight quarters in other nearby GTA bedroom communities such as Milton.  

Planned development in Breslau is actively underway, with two major subdivisions, Hopewell Heights by Thomasfield Homes and Riverland by Empire Communities attracting young families to neighbourhoods with lots of greenspace, walking trails and kayaking on the Grand River. Newcomers are also attracted to the village’s older section.

“It’s almost like the Beaches in Toronto,” Cowan tells MyNewWaterfrontHome.com. “They’re starting to fix up the old houses. It’s a hidden gem in Breslau — just 20 minutes from Guelph, 15 minutes from Kitchener and just over an hour to downtown Toronto.”  

A GO station in Breslau is expected to be in operation in 2014 to connect with the new GO service from Kitchener to Toronto.  

Meanwhile, on Lake Ontario, another village is undergoing major growth, with retirees flocking to the waterfront from Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. “It’s the waterfront and being close to the golf course,” Loyalist Township Mayor Bill Lowry says when asked by Bath, pop. 1,042, has grown 26.6 per cent in the past five years. “Some people like to come to a smaller place with all the services. And there’s a lot of heritage there.”  

Bath boasts Lake Ontario waterfront, golf course, heritage buildings

Kaitlin Group was the first developer to lure seniors to Bath, with its Loyalist Estates golf course community offering smaller homes, many without basements. Over time, needs and wants have changed, and houses and lots are getting bigger, with plans for another 200 homes depending on the market.  

Nearby, on the waterfront, 2,000-square-foot plus homes are being built at Edgewater Estates as part of a marina community boasting a large waterfront park. About 75 per cent of the 70 serviced building lots offered by brothers David, John Jim Hinton have been snapped up, with Loyalist Cove Marina undergoing the promised redevelopment to complete the waterfront package. Edgewater Estates is just 20 minutes west of Kingston, about two kilometres from the golf course.  

Up to 30,000 people are expected to flock to Bath June 29-July 1 during the village’s War of 1812 bicentennial celebrations, when more than 600 re-enactors will be dressed in uniforms or period costume, taking the village back in time. The Fairfield-Gutzeit House, which dates back to 1796, as well as Hawley House, the oldest surviving wooden structure in Ontario, are among Bath’s heritage gems.  

With the housing end of things going smoothly, Lowry says it’s time to attract new industry to the waterfront in order to keep residential taxes down and attract young families. “There is a lot of potential here for industry,” the mayor says. “Anything that’s environmentally friendly.”  

On Pelee Island, in Lake Erie, it’s the lack of jobs that is sending more residents fleeing to the mainland in Leamington and Kingsville, placing the future of the ecologically important island in peril. Pelee tops the list of shrinking waterfront communities, counting just 171 permanent residents in 2011. That’s a drop of 116 residents — or 40.4 per cent — since the 2006 census. The population has been in steady decline since the island’s heyday in the early part of the last century — there were about 600 people living on the island in 1900, with 285 children attending four small schools.  

Also losing population is Greater Madawaska, the rural cottage country outside Ottawa that includes the resort community of Calabogie. The population shrank by 9.7 per cent since 2006, with 2,485 people now calling the scenic township home. Tied for third place in the dwindling population category on the waterfront are the Township of Georgian Bay — which includes Honey Harbour, MacTier and half of Port Severn — and the Lake Huron village of Port Stanley, located just outside St. Thomas, which was hard hit by the recession. Both communities lost 9.2 per cent of their populations from 2006 to 2011.  

While a community’s waterfront location may appear to be ideal, a close look at the 2011 census results serves as a reminder that when searching for that perfect place to live, it’s best to include a community’s economic health, along with its growth patterns, on the due diligence checklist.  

MyNewWaterfrontHome.com — March 2011