Economic Development Officers in Muskoka municipalities agree
That a Rural Renaissance is well underway here
In Muskoka, and especially in the Township of Georgian Bay, residents are finding three-bedroom townhouses with Bell Fibe Gigabit speed Internet for $2000 a month on the shores of Georgian Bay. “That is pretty cool” says Tianna Burke, an employed, rural millennial who has made the leap to live here.
Taking a glance at just who lives and works in our rural community stems from an article posted by Don Pittis, on March 04, 2019 on CBC News; Signs of a rural renaissance as Canadian cities overheat.
“We definitely attract millennials to work here. The quality of life and the ability to afford to live a ‘good life now’ instead of at retirement has changed the trajectory of our economic landscape”, states Jennifer Schnier, Communications and Economics Officer for the Township of Georgian Bay. “We welcome this rural renaissance because they are not coming here to work, they are coming here to live, to be active in our communities, and to build up our economy.”
These nimble workers are finding the careers they need to be able live the life they want now while at the same time satisfying their need to reduce their carbon footprint. In fact, it is a credit to this generation just how non-negotiable protecting the environment is, when finding that perfect job.
Meet Tianna Burke, a Conservation Biologist at the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve (GBBR). Tianna comes to Muskoka with a Bachelor in Environmental Studies and a Master of Science. This educated millennial lives full time in the Township of Georgian Bay in a residential community called Oak Bay Golf and Marina Community (Oak Bay). Her head office is in Parry Sound.
Tianna lives with her fiancé Mike and was already working for the GBBR when Mike was relocated for work. Working for GBBR, a non-profit environmental charity, allowed her a perfect mixture of research and public education/outreach. So, when the time came for relocation, Tianna approached her employer and was encouraged to find that working from home was an option. Where she chose to live was her decision, but the end result was perfect for both employer and employee.
Ultimately Mike and Tianna wanted to remain living in eastern Georgian Bay, a designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and found Oak Bay within the borders of Muskoka on Georgian Bay. This allowed Tianna to be 45 minutes from work (if needed), while Mike’s commute was now less than 30 minutes.
Tianna is doing her part to reduce her carbon footprint, and certainly she works for an organization where that matters, but what is most interesting is how much it matters to her. “Reducing my footprint, having great internet, and being able to have a work-life balance”, were the top 3 non-negotiables when choosing where to live. The Township of Georgian Bay met these three requirements with ease, allowing her to continue to work in a more rural environment. Here in the Township of Georgian Bay we believe that infrastructure such as Gig Speed Internet, well paved roads and environmental stewardship are parallel in priority. Township of Georgian Bay Mayor Peter Koetsier is clear;
“Our Economic Development Plan encourages staff to relentlessly pursue rural internet solutions for our residents. Having this Bell Fibe Gigabit Internet speed in our some of our residents homes on the shores of Georgian Bay, is an exact example of the results of our pursuits. Tianna, can now reduce her carbon footprint one step at a time. We couldn’t be more delighted that communities like Oak Bay are being built with the environment and the economy in mind.”
Prior to the Biosphere, work life balance was difficult and at 24 Tianna was burning out. She says “It’s a millennial thing. We come from a generation of people who are extremely competitive and need to overwork to be able to compete for fewer jobs. At a previous position, I found myself working 70 hours a week and still responding to emails at home. Now, that’s not what people do here, and it’s great to have an employer who cares as much about my off-time as my work time.” Tianna chuckled as she shared that if she is caught answering emails after hours, she is questioned by her coworkers, and encouraged to go be more engaged in her community and her own personal life. While she still uses her device for work, during her off-time hours “my device is for pleasure if I choose, not because I have to” states Tianna.
She noticed that in Muskoka, that the work places here are less structured and that this way of thinking appeared in the community she chose to live in. “I am not the only one working from home here. I see fellow residents who also live and work here and they have mastered the work and work hard approach, but also that home time and down time is your own” Tianna has come to realize “it is a way of life for people who grew up here. This is how they were raised, so it’s natural”.
“I am not so used to this yet, but when I pop my head out the door to my home office, I see my neighbours enjoying their days also. There are other home offices here and so I am not as isolated, in fact, I often chat with neighbours as we take a break to walk our dogs.” states Tianna.
“Moving to Port Severn, I do admit we are remote, rural so to speak, … but that’s a good thing and it is the change that we wanted”. Tianna notes that the amenities are still nearby and it is a lot easier to get to the urban centres. They live in the north and are living a northern lifestyle… “but we can still go for sushi if we want to, quite easily actually”.
So why Muskoka, and why Port Severn? Well, says Tianna, “living in the Biosphere was important, but needing to work from home made having fast internet a non-negotiable. So when Bell offered Gig Speed Fibe Internet, it made our move much easier”.
There were more items to check off besides the Internet, when it came to the list of non-negotiables. Tianna states “We wanted to live outside of the urban area because our dollar can go farther. We are in a position to save for our own house, our wedding and we live a pretty decent life. We have expensive hobbies, such as hunting and fishing, and we used to travel to Muskoka/Parry Sound to enjoy them. Now we live here and can basically walk out our backdoor to enjoy those same activities.”
Here in Oak Bay, Tianna and Mike have rented a three bedroom townhouse on Georgian Bay, in Muskoka and have Bell Fibe Gigabit Speed Internet. Their entire housing budget including utilities and internet is under $2000, and they could not find this anywhere else, having looked in Peterborough, Waterloo and the GTA. Muskoka is now home, and Mike is less than ½ hour from his work. Being close to work, able to maintain a work-life balance, and able to begin to save for their future has made life for these two much more relaxed.
We checked in with Romas Kartavicius, President of Eden Oak Development, who is responsible for the Oak Bay properties where Tianna lives. “We welcome these young renaissance millennials indeed to Oak Bay. We have many younger families in Oak Bay purchasing and renting, who simply could not negotiate anything less than Fibe Gig Speed Internet. We are so serious about this that we laid the necessary conduit into our builds to ensure that this was possible. To us, this is just as important an essential service as water and sewer, and we would stand for nothing less.”
Are you living the dream as is often referred to as a the Muskoka cliché? Tianna says “Yes we are, but this was our retirement dream, we were not supposed to be here for 30 years, but when we started to look, we realized we don’t have to wait, this is our now”. We checked in with Wayne Kelly who manages the Rural Policy Learning Commons, an organization that is studying the attraction of the millennial to rural communities. He has reviewed this Muskoka example and believes Oak Bay and the Township of Georgian Bay are on the right track.
“Gigabit Internet, affordable housing, and cottage country combined is an exciting opportunity in today’s economy. This is the type of situation that should really appeal to young professionals who can work online and Muskoka is putting together a great formula for rural development in our digital economy. In addition, Muskoka’s success with gigabit service and millennials is a story that is helping change the negative perception of rural Canada and highlight that digital economy opportunities don’t just happen in urban areas. This story is a great example of assets that rural communities can put together to appeal to people in today’s digital workforce. What’s happening in Muskoka shows why investing in rural broadband is essential for Canada in today’s economy – life in rural Canada can be very appealing for digital workers once that high-speed is in place.”
Insert Juniper, a young Bernese Mountain Dog, a companion to the cat Bojangles. Tianna’s work situation was now perfect to invite a dog to the family that matched the lifestyle choices these two have in mind. This little princess does not spend her day in a crate. She is with Tianna all day which certainly reduces any potential loneliness one might think of when working from home. “Even the dog’s quality of life is better.” Tianna comments. When questioned about the autonomy with this employer now that she has a dog, Tianna stated that it is a 10/10, whereas when asked of her previous employer, Tianna could not offer a number. “The products that I provide to the GBBR are far superior than what I offered at my previous employer. Being able to flex my working hours means that I can accomplish more” states Tianna.
Is her employer happy?
“Absolutely, states Greg Mason Director at the GBBR. We are pleased with the consistent products produced by Tianna, and we are delighted that her carbon footprint, both by not commuting but also by not doubling her workspace footprint is minimal. There is no point in having an unhappy employee, nobody wins, so this scenario we believe in. So much so we are encouraging other employees to follow suit. Go live where you are happy, produce a superior product. With this approach, we all win.”
Tianna can now extend her organization’s presence in the south of the Biosphere by being here among people. “I’m not full time at home, I do have research and I work within the community conducting environmental outreach, but when I get home, home is really home now. Its busy, but such a good busy. I am known as the Biosphere girl, and that is a huge compliment. I love all the questions I get from neighbours about the birds we are seeing or about what to do if they see a snake or bear. It’s important to me to teach on and off the job about how to live alongside wildlife”.
“I live in a community with neighbours and I engage with them, keeping in mind they moved here for the same lifestyle choice as I did. There are not a lot of people our age here… so maybe we are escaping what is expected of our generation, but our neighbours want a laid-back, fun life, and this is a place they can enjoy in their retirement. Our friends visit us and they want this life also, but it is such a leap for them to imagine. For us it’s a relief” says Tianna. Mary Doyle, Cofounder of Rural on Purpose was highlighted in the CBC article and responded to our piece.
“More and more people want to make the move to a rural community; it’s where they go to vacation, relax and refresh. The barrier is being able to see themselves do their work there. Will it be isolating? Will there be opportunities to connect with other professionals like them? We help communities build ‘Freelance Friendly’ environments with supports like coworking for independent professionals and remote workers, so that their work life is as fulfilling as the rest of their life. When you combine that with Gig speed Internet and a fractional cost of living, relocating to a place like Muskoka becomes a compelling proposition for anyone.”
The better value and the better life is here in Muskoka. One would think that Tech or industry would not have any interest in this life, but these careers can happen here also. “We literally have the same internet as any urban centre. Our dollar does go farther… we are living the life, or living the dream as the cliché suggests” states Tianna. This is in large part with ensuring that conversations with developers about the need for internet as a planned service is important. Schnier recalls speaking to owners at Oak Bay several years earlier about Cat5 wiring, (which is another Internet service delivery system) as they placed that technology in their original homes, so when Bell Fibe Gigabit Internet arrived in November of 2019, she was not surprised, and certainly pleased. “Now the Township of Georgian Bay can participate in this renaissance showcasing a competitive product in an attractive community” states Schnier.
“The air really is cleaner here, the pragmatic and natural resources are here, we make eye contact with our neighbours. Yes, the large cities do offer a higher lifetime income but for us, it is paired with a much poorer quality of life”, states Mike. Many have said that this generation of millennials want everything right now, and maybe they are right, “Our right now is perfect, and this was supposed to happen at the end of our careers but we are not waiting to retire to do this, we are here, living this now – under 30, and we are not leaving. Why shouldn’t we be able to have a life where we can work hard but also enjoy just as much?” echoes Mike as Tianna smiles in the background.
Oak Bay Golf and Marina, the Township of Georgian Bay, and the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve, is a trilogy partnership that brought Tianna to town. Organizations like Venture Muskoka, a cohesive Muskoka Economic Development platform, have spoken for years about rural internet. As Wayne Kelly suggests story telling needs to shift when talking about rural internet solutions. as there are now several examples of communities like Oak Bay all around Muskoka. Moving forward we will continue to share success stories here on Venture Muskoka, and by subscribing to our website we will help you to stay informed.
What’s next? The Township of Georgian Bay and other Muskoka communities will be participating in the Rural on Purpose 30 Day Co-working Takeover Challenge in April and May with 35 other rural communities from around the world as we build truly unique co-working options for freelancers and remote workers. We will do what we can to welcome Tianna’s many friends whom we would encourage to “take the leap” to the north.