In 2020, interest in small town living has increased, driven by pandemic-related concerns as well as rising house prices in larger centers. The towns and cities listed below offer a reprieve from traffic, with quieter, safer, more peaceful neighbourhoods. And small town living does not have to be small-minded! Many of the places below offer healthy vitality, combining progressive-mindedness with simplicity of lifestyle.
Unlike other lists, we focus less on statistics like real estate prices, average monthly income, and crime rate, etc. Those factors are important, of course, but we think you might want to hear from people who live there. Below, you'll find testimony from those who have moved there ahead of you. We also suggest specific neighbourhoods accepting of, and ideally suited to new people in town.
Whether you are looking for a charming weekend day trip or scouting for a place to settle, here are our picks for 12 superior small towns (population under 40,000) from around the province, and why you should investigate them more closely.
Population: 7,628 (2016)
Average property tax: $34001
Median house price in Goderich: $394,0006
Average population change over 5 year period: 0.6%3
Goderich is nicknamed "the prettiest town in Canada" for some very good reasons. The town is built on a unique hub model, with all streets rolling outward from the downtown core. The town's centre is landscaped beautifully during summer months. From downtown, you can walk to the shore of Lake Huron, one of the world's largest and most beautiful bodies of fresh water. Further along the coast, you'll find spectacular beaches renowned throughout the province. The town is also home to a significant number of historically designated buildings, including the Historic CPR Station. None of that accounts for the charm of Goderich, and the peacefulness of life in this pleasant, rural-minded community.
Living and retiring in Goderich
There are a number of excellent retirement homes in Goderich. Nearby, you'll also find a number of adult lifestyle communities close to Lake Huron. The town itself has a high occupancy rate, showing again that people love living here – and they don't want to move.
Population: 25,258 (2011)
Median house price in Picton: $324,4502
Average property tax: $2,7181
Average population Average population change over 5 year period: 2.4%3
Picton is called 'the gastronomic Capital of Ontario' and it's one of the province's most exciting wine regions4. The town and the county around are rife with colourful, unique shops, artisans' boutiques, and markets. Sandbanks Provincial Park is found along the shores of the Lake, and it's really just the beginning of great beaches in this area.
Picton is part of Prince Edward County, listed by MoneySense as a top place to live1 based largely on financial statistics and other data. Notable features of Prince Edward County that make it great are access to health care and a strong arts and sports community. The ease of life here, though, the pleasant countryside, and the freshness of Lake Ontario breezes don't fit into a spreadsheet! Take a drive out here and experience it for yourself!
Living and retiring in Picton
Picton is home to one of the best adult lifestyle communities in central Ontario. There are also several excellent retirement communities in Trenton and area.
Average property tax: $34001
Average value of primary real estate: $690,000 6
Days per year above 0° Celsius.: 2023
Paris is a beautiful, peaceful town, nestled in the heart of southwestern Ontario. It's (also) been called "the prettiest town in Canada" for good reason. Paris is located partially on a steep hill that makes for some great vistas of the Grand River greenspace, which winds through the center of town. Historic buildings, small shops, charming restaurants, cobblestone walkways and copious trails make this charming for both residents and visitors.
Paris is an excellent place to settle. Mary is one senior who moved here from out of town; she loves the way the town puts on its best for the summer. As she says, "the landscaping here is really quite beautiful."
Retiring and living Paris
Paris is full of century homes suitably close to the river, and there are new subdivisions under development constantly, along the edge of town. For those looking for something nearby and a little different, there are excellent adult lifestyle communities not far outside of Paris. Paris's retirement homes offer world-class care and living, in a small town setting, where fees are more affordable than in some larger cities in the province.
Population: 17,500 (2016)
Average property tax: $3,7761
Median house price in Niagara-on-the-Lake: $561,0006
Average population change over 5 year period: 5.4%3
Another impressively charming small Ontario town, Niagara-on-the-Lake is well-known as a destination for wine tourists. Area real estate prices are rising rapidly. Niagara-on-the-Lake is a little more bustling and growing than other small Ontario towns listed here, but that makes it a good investment (even in retirement). The town is ranked #54 on MoneySense's list for 20171, due to its good weather and strong arts and sports community.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is ideally situated at pretty much the southernmost point of Ontario (where you'll find the province's balmiest weather). There's plenty to do here, ranging from local wineries, to beaches along Lake Ontario, to the international destination of Niagara Falls. For all that, you can also hop on the QEW to Toronto, or head cross-border for shopping in Buffalo. People love Niagara-on-the-Lake and area because you can find just about anything you are looking for, including the touchstone of successful retirement: tranquility. As Dorothy Murphy, one local senior tells us, "It's the peace I like the best here."
Median home price: 199,0007
Alexandria, Ontario is unique for its near-exact mix of French and English speaking populations, one of very few examples of this in the province. In fact, French is the official language of the town, one of few Ontario towns designated as such. For bilingual people or couples where each partner speaks one of these, it’s a charming place to visit or an ideal place to settle. Real estate in this part of the province is notably affordable, too.
Alexandria is a hidden charmer, with everything you need. There’s a golf and country club. On Mill Pond, there’s a waterfront park, a respite for any nature-lover. Noteworthy local architecture includes the cathedral of Saint-Finnan, the Precious Blood monastery, and historic Alexandria Station. Its situation almost exactly halfway between Ottawa and Montreal also makes it a great homebase from which to day trip to either of these destinations.
Population: 9,300 (2016)
Median house price in Dorchester, ON: $356,000 (as of Jul 2017)2
Average population change over 5 year period: 5.4%3
Dorchester is another select town that combines peaceful village living with proximity to a major centre with all the conveniences, attractions and health care you'll ever require. It's an exemplar of affordable living and low crime, and considered a strong potential real estate investment neighbourhood, according to Canadian Real Estate Magazine.2
Median house price in Simcoe: $631,0006
Simcoe might be the epitome of a quiet small town. The nearest big city, Hamilton, is roughly an hour away. Looking for tranquility? You’ll find it here. Simcoe is also an ideal place to retire, for people who enjoy time on the water. Lake Erie is the warmest of all the Great Lakes, and some beaches near here are spectacular. While Turkey Point is a popular destination, Long Point, just a little further down the road, remains one of the best kept secrets in the province. Marinas dot the shoreline around here, and on any balmy summer day, it’s harder to imagine a more beautiful place to be than fishing or boating on Lake Erie or Long Point Bay.
Population: 15,892 (2020)
Median house price in Napanee: $356,3152
Avg. property tax: $2,3191
Napanee is one of those up-and-coming retirement destinations that still flies below a lot of people’s radar. While it’s notable for its closeness to Lake Ontario and the 401, the true draw in this area is Charleston Lake, a strong investment for cottage lovers for whom prices in Muskoka are out of range. Napanee is also just on the cusp of Prince Edward County (see above). In 2018, the last year of rankings, Greater Napanee ranked in the top 300 among Moneysense’s best places to live in all of Canada1. And it’s on the rise.
Living and retiring in Napanee
Find a great place to retire in Napanee, or read reviews of active lifestyle communities in Eastern Ontario.
Median house price in Clarington: $499,000 (as of Jul 2017)2
Avg. property tax: $34591
Newcastle is another underappreciated gem on the shores of Lake Ontario, just at the edge of the GTA but brimming with the small town appeal that makes it worth checking out. Its proximity to Toronto makes it an excellent real estate investment even in retirement. Clarington municipality is rated highly by sources like MoneySense, noted for its high average family income, healthy growth, and low crime.
Living and retiring in Newcastle
Local residents love life in Newcastle. Judith* says, this community gives us "the opportunity to continue to live our lives together [in] the country atmosphere that we love." Her neighbour Cherry adds, it's a "laid back lifestyle here. It's easy to make friends when everyone is so friendly." Find superb new developments in Newcastle or find nearby retirement homes in Trenton.
Median home price: 745,595 (as of 2020)7
Manotick is another gem of eastern Ontario. We might have picked any of a number of towns that are part of the Ottawa Region but this one’s special. For one thing, Manotick is right on the Rideau River, where there’s still lots of open waterfront. Watson’s Mill and Watson’s Mill dam are beautiful local attractions that, were it closer, would make this town a well-known weekend destination for GTA road-trippers. It’s home to a number of beautiful new developments and buildings, but Manotick is different from other area locations that have been overdeveloped, in that it's made a commitment to maintain its heritage by carefully managing growth and working closely with developers.
Edith Allard is one resident who moved here from out of town and she calls it “Eden on earth.”
Population: 21,793 (2016)
Average property tax: $2,5221
Average value of primary real estate: $696,0006
Days per year above 0° Celsius: 216
Anyone who's ever been to Collingwood knows that it's one of the best places to be, in the province. Wasaga Beach in the summer and Blue Mountain in winter make this Ontario's playground, year round. For those looking for an idyllic community, lively in summer, and just quiet enough during the slower seasons, Collingwood is an ideal destination. It's listed among the 100 best places to live in Canada, according to MoneySense.
Penny Preston is one Collingwood resident who loves winter. "At 75+ years of age, snowshoeing seems safer than skiing, so that's what I love to do here," she says.
Don Wilson has lived in the area for over ten years, since retiring there. He and his wife bought a bungalow in an adult lifestyle community near town. They found themselves "a perfect home, plus all of the many amenities we could want for now, and looking ahead. [That] made the decision to move an easy one [for us]."
Retiring and living in Collingwood
Median home price: 516,915 (as of 2020)7
Here’s yet another charming eastern Ontario town with a riverfront and comfortable proximity to Ottawa. Carp also benefits from a combination of affordable real estate and a plethora of local charm. There’s several reasons this is a fun destination, starting with Diefenbunker. Anyone with the slightest survivalist bent could do worse than settle in Carp, Ontario! Other nearby gems like Dunrobin Shores are also worthwhile destinations for real estate bargain-hunters. As a bonus, and though this is fading from memory, Carp is also storied in UFO lore, where a purported crash here is still called “a landmark case in ufology.”
*some names changed or withheld to protect privacy.
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