November 29, 2018 3:32 pm
Updated: November 29, 2018 3:43 pm

Small Ontario town credits marketing scheme for drawing in new families to community

The Moose Motel in Smooth Rock Falls, Ont., purchased by Nayneshkumar Patel in August 2017 as part of a local campaign to woo newcomers, is shown in this recent handout photo.

The Canadian Press

A northern Ontario town of about 1,400 people is crediting an ambitious marketing campaign with drawing two dozen new families to the community.

Last year, Smooth Rock Falls, Ont., offered to reimburse 90 per cent of the cost of the land if people built on it within two years – reducing the land cost to as little as $500 in some cases.

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Town staff have been overrun with interest, fielding more than 1,000 calls from across Canada, said Mayor Michel Arseneault. Though no residential buyers took them up on the land offer, 24 new families have moved to pre-existing homes in the community about 100 kilometres north of Timmins since October 2017.

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“They came here and they found something that they liked, instead of building and taking advantage of our incentives,” Arseneault said, noting that while the land itself is cheap, building can be expensive and time consuming.

The average home in Smooth Rock Falls costs $68,000, Arseneault said – a far cry from October’s average sale price of $800,000 in the Toronto area.

The town launched its marketing campaign in an effort to slow the population decline in the wake of the closure of a pulp and paper mill in 2006 that was the area’s major employer. Between 2006 and the 2016 census, the population dropped from 2,400 to 1,330.

READ MORE: What’s really standing in the way of building more homes in the Greater Toronto Area?

Things in the town have felt brighter since the marketing success, Arseneault said, with residents volunteering and becoming involved in various committees.

“People are getting involved in the community,” he said. “They enjoy the quality of life.”

Chief administrative officer Luc Denault noted that the area is appealing to young families and retiring seniors alike, saying that the newcomers appreciate the schools and hospital.

“We have new babies coming. We’re seeing a younger generation of people, and as we get new people we’re seeing new needs, new opportunities,” he said, listing a possible daycare as an example.

WATCH: Toronto’s population density significantly less compared to other major cities: study

“We’re inching forward,” Denault said. “As you inch forward, as people come, there’s a greater sense of activity.”

New businesses are also moving to the area, he said, adding that an industrial park to be opened next year will encompass 12 different lots available for lease or purchase.

The town is re-releasing 12 vacant municipally owned residential lots for sale at up to 90 per cent off of market value, along with 10 commercial lots. Potential buyers have to submit detailed architectural concepts and site drawings describing their proposal in order for the purchase to be approved.

© 2018 The Canadian Press

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