As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a visible migration of urban populations into rural communities. A new research initiative is examining the migration trends taking place in Ontario and their impact on rural communities, economies, and environments.

As a part of the Urban Exodus: Understanding the Impacts of Migration to Rural Ontario as a Result of the COVID-19 Pandemic initiative, a set of research insights have been developed by graduate research assistant Heather Graham (MSc Rural Planning and Development student), Ryan Gibson and Sara Epp to outline key findings on COVID-19 pandemic migration based on data published by Statistics Canada following the 2021 Census and special COVID-19 surveys. Some key findings include:

  • Urban businesses and organizations were nearly four times more likely than rural businesses and organizations to anticipate shrinking their office locations as a result of a transition to workforce teleworking.
  • The top three industries anticipating shrinking of their office locations as a result of teleworking were: information and cultural industries (44.8%), administrative and support, waste management, and remediation services (28.8%), and accommodation and food services (26.9%).
  • In all industries, workforces did not anticipate continuing to primarily telework once the COVID-19 pandemic was over.
  • Only 10.8% of all urban businesses and organizations and 8.9% of all rural businesses and organizations anticipated that between 90 and 100% of their workforces would continue teleworking post pandemic.
  • The census divisions with the largest population decreases between 2016 and 2021 were Rainy River (3.3%), Timiskaming (2.6%), Cochrane (2.2%), and Algoma (0.3%).

The following research insights can be found on the project website:

The Urban Exodus initiative is led by Dr. Sara Epp and involves Dr. Chris Fullerton (Brock University), Dr. Ryan Gibson (University of Guelph). Over the coming months the initiative will conduct a survey of rural communities and conduct case study research to better understand COVID-19 related migrations to rural Ontario. Watch the project website for future activities and updates.

This research initiative is funded by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), through the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance.

Heather Graham, Ryan Gibson, and Sara Epp