SAINT JOHN – Last week Mayor Don Darling made a plea to the residents of Toronto and Vancouver on Facebook.
“Hey Toronto and Vancouver, move to Saint John NB, we have jobs, you can buy a house for well under 200k and our commutes are measured in minutes,” he wrote. “Contact me and I will share with you how much I love my city and how much we want you.”
The post was read by people across the country and drew the attention of national media outlets including The Toronto Star. Columnist Emma Teitel called up Darling to hear his pitch. She was intrigued by the low house prices and short commutes but ultimately turned off by what Darling described as Saint John’s friendly, communal nature.
“Alas, this is where Darling loses me – or rather scares me – as there is nothing I would like to do less than ‘try hard’ or ‘try’ at all to become ingrained in a community.”
Like many debates about big-city verse small-city living, her column presents a false dichotomy. Toronto is a very friendly place too with tight-knit communities within the larger city, and you can live an anonymous life in Saint John.
At times, it felt like Teitel was playing a part and he was cast in one too (she the sophisticated, jaded big-city columnist; he the folksy, earnest small-city mayor). Regardless, she’s clearly not moving here anytime soon, or anyone else with a similar mindset.
So would Darling’s pitch resonate with anyone from there? Or is it just column fodder or a momentary amusement for people scanning their news feeds?
Following Darling’s lead, Saint John real estate agent Bob McVicar has created a page on his web site called Move East and made his own pitch to Big City Canadians.
“Here in Saint John we have the best of all worlds. We’re the only city on the awe-inspiring Bay of Fundy. We’re proud stewards of fascinating 19th century architecture in our historic Uptown. We enjoy several acclaimed restaurants, spectacular entertainment venues, numerous art galleries, and what is quite possibly the largest collection of art in public places of any Atlantic city.
“And, did I mention how affordable real estate is here? You’ll be amazed at how much house you can afford in Saint John.”
Yes, McVicar is making a pitch much like Darling’s, but he said it’s working on many people if not Teitel. Fourteen of his last 20 clients were from outside the region, he says. Some were investors but most were residents who were moving here and buying a building.
And that’s just his experience as an agent. He says home sales are up across the region in the last few years – many of them bought by people moving into the region from somewhere else.
He says the mayor is just expressing what many people know to be true already.
“There has been an increasingly significant flow of buyers from Alberta, B.C., and Ontario over the past three years,” said McVicar. “The numbers really work for retirees especially. In the beginning, the idea was one of those ‘it sounds too good to be true’ things. Now there’s a community of [Come From Aways]. Most of this was very quiet. The mayor has blown the doors off.”