Ontario's small towns offer a reprieve from the traffic and of Toronto, Ottawa, or other bigger cities. These are great places to move if you are thinking of moving to something quieter, more peaceful and less costly, and small town living doesn't have to be small-minded. On the contrary! Many of Ontario's best small towns combine all the things people love about a scaled-back life, with just enough proximity to major centres and the attractions there. Here's a look at 10 spectacular small towns (population under 40,000) from around the province, and why you should investigate them more closely.
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, so we include 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.
Here's our list of the 10 best Ontario small towns that make a fun weekend destination, and are also interesting character places to live in or near. These towns offer security, peace, and comfort, while allowing you just enough local excitement to keep life interesting.
Population: 21,793 (2016)
Average property tax: $2,5221
Average value of primary real estate: $514,200
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
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
Population: 7,628 (2016)
Average property tax: $34001
Median house price in Goderich: $253,950 (2016)2
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 down 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 Goderich 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.
Median house price in Grand Bend: $389,9002
Average population change over 5 year period: 0.9%3
Grand Bend is one of the most renowned summertime destinations in the province. It's an ideal destination for a weekend road trip but it's also a great town to settle in. The actual population is very small, making it a peaceful place to settle. The low population keeps it under the radar for a lot of people, but we think Grand Bend is up-and-coming as one of Ontario's best places to retire.
Grand Bend is ideally situated close to the 402, which can take you to cross-border shopping or bring you into London, a city with just enough restaurants, night life, and other activities. If you are looking for a place to retire, what you might love about Grand Bend is the balance of summer busy-ness with the quietude of fall and winter. Grand Bend is considered part of Lambton Shores, ranked well on lists by MoneySense and others.
Ron Garinther is one local retiree who calls this just a great place to live. There are "homes with reasonable prices... [You can] walk to the beach." Perhaps most importantly, Garinther praises the "friendly residents" in Grand Cove, the adult lifestyle community he lives in here.
Living and retiring in or near Grand Bend
You should check out adult lifestyle communities near Lake Huron, retirement destinations that offer affordable living... but living in style combined with freedom. Use our advanced search to find ideal places to live near Grand Bend.
Population: 17,500 (2016)
Average property tax: $3,7761
Median house price in Niagara-on-the-Lake: $799,900 (as of Jul 2017)2
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. As of 2017, 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."
Average property tax: $34001
Average value of primary real estate: $357,445 (2016)2
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: 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 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.
Population: 31,000 (2016)
Median house price in Stratford: $319,9002
Average population change over 5 year period: 2.5%3
Stratford, Ontario is world-renowned for the Stratford Festival, but people who live there know that there's much more to life in the place once crowned "prettiest city in the world."5 The historic downtown is chock full of charm any time of the year, and all of it very accessible. Its heavily populated with antique places and artisan shops, as well as all the conveniences you'll ever need. Stratford is also a world-class "smart city," lauded for its progressive implementation of digital technology, as recognized by the Intelligent Community Forum.
Stratford is also situated equidistant to two large centers, London and Kitchener-Waterloo, where there are excellent health care facilities, should you need them. The town also brags (quite fairly) about its ample greenspace. It's situated in the heart of southern Ontario farmland, but within the borders of town there is expansive parkland, notably along the picturesque Avon River. Stratford is a wonderful place to visit and an even better place to settle, if you are looking for a small town that is relaxed on one hand, but also very exciting on another.
Living and retiring in Stratford, ON
Stratford is a prime example of small town value, when you consider how reasonable real estate prices are for high quality homes, both older and newer. Surrounding towns like Sebringville, Mitchell and New Hamburg all allow the same charm and peaceful living, often at even lower costs. Adult lifestyle communities near Stratford offer a unique combination of freedom and an ongoing real estate investment. There are also a number of exemplary retirement homes in Stratford.
Population: 9,100 (2016)
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: 724,900 (as of Jul 2017)2
Avg property tax: 3,051 (2017)1
Elora is home to the spectacular Elora Gorge, where the Grand River and Irvine Creek flow through the middle of town. The gorge creates innumerable spectacular landscapes, visible as you casually drive around, or even from many local homes backing onto this natural wonder. Trails by the gorge can provide you with daily amazement, and if you are a fan of hiking like that, the Niagara escarpment is also close, with the Bruce Trail winding along its crest. The town is also just close enough to Kitchener-Waterloo and Guelph, home to some of the best universities in the world, as well as great local dining and other attractions. Toronto is also not too far, for occasional day trips.
Elora is an ideal destination for Ontario nature lovers. Find excellent retirement homes near Elora, or check out a variety of housing options available if you are interested in investing in adult lifestyle communities near here.
*some names changed or withheld to protect privacy.
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