Small towns. The friendly, peaceful and slower paced way of life. To many people, that way of life sounds like heaven, yet the population of many towns in Saskatchewan is in decline. There are still some people, though, who are willing to buck the trend and give small town life a try.
There are those born and raised in a town, and then there are those, like Loree Lawson, who move from the city to a small town.
Lawson and her husband had always talked about the idea of leaving the city, but never acted on it. Then in 2012, after stopping in Wolseley on a road trip, Lawson was smitten with the town. She started looking at houses online, found one she liked, and then Lawson and her husband went to take a look at it. Two months later they were moved in, adding to Wolsely's population of 854.
“We felt like life was too short to be doing jobs and just working to pay bills,” said Lawson. She now works part-time at the bank in Wolseley.
One of the biggest attractions of moving to Wolseley was housing prices. “We got a house that was bigger than the one we had in Regina, it has three-quarters of an acre,” said Lawson. The Lawson’s sold their house in Regina for $390,000 and bought the house in Wolseley for $168, 000. According to her, the low housing prices makes up for the price of commuting to Regina when needed.
“I don’t think I’d go back to the city, Wolseley is far enough that you get out of the city and you’re not subject to all the business of the city but it’s close enough that you can commute easily. The atmosphere is different, everyone is friendly and stops to take time and talk when you’re walking down the street” said Lawson.
Lawson believes city dwellers might be resistant to moving to a small town simply because of a fear of the unknown. She said it depends on your lifestyle, but that that small town life could benefit almost anyone.
Towns may fluctuate in population size said Randy Widdis, a geography professor at the University of Regina who specializes in historical, rural and population geography. He said that change in a town’s population depends on the location of the town; towns closer to cities like Regina have maintained and even grown in population simply because the commute is shorter and housing is cheaper.
However, towns further from cities are greatly declining in size.
According to Statistics Canada some towns such as Indian Head, Sintaluta and Wolseley have decreased in population. Between 2011 and 2016 they dropped by: 11.6, 0.8 and 8.1 per cent respectively.
“For young people, the opportunity of staying in these small towns is not so great anymore…a reason people leave is because of changing social trends. Young people are more attracted to move to the cities, the bright lights, so to speak,” said Widdis.
Widdis said this starts a snowball effect: with more people leaving there are fewer tax dollars, so fewer services. Governments close schools and hospitals because of a declining population, so people have to drive farther and farther to get these services, which is costly.
Those factors affect people who are thinking of moving to a smaller town. People will think, “Why would I go there when there’s no school for my kids?” said Widdis. And what is left behind are older people.
“For a remote small town, the picture isn’t looking good,” said Widdis.
Despite this decline of residents in small towns, there are those who still flock to nest their homes in rural communities.
Sintaluta, Sask. is a small town with a population of 119. It is about 10 minutes away from Wolseley. Sam Strain lived in Kitchener, Ont and his wife was born and raised in Toronto. In 2010 they moved to Sintaluta, a move that many people would not expect from a young couple.
The main reason for moving is that housing prices are so much cheaper. When Strain left Kitchener, the average price of a home was $1 million compared to the $60,000 they paid for their home in Sintaluta.
Services in town consist of a gas station, liquor store and post office. Residents drive to either Wolseley or Indian Head for basic services such as healthcare.
Many people might not want to take the time to commute to the city for work, but according to Strain, 45 minutes with no traffic is a dream compared to driving in Ontario.
Strain worked in Regina managing a tea shop when he first moved to Saskatchewan and he made the daily commute. He said as long as you have a car that’s good on gas it’s not bad, and the low housing and taxing prices compensate for the cost of commuting.
Strain no longer works in the city. He is now an ordained minister who reaches out to Indigenous youth in his area.
Strain said he would move back to a city if he got a really great job offer, but for now he likes living right where he is.