Ontarians on the Move, 2021 Edition. #5–20 Years Ago, Torontonians were moving to Peel and York. Now they’re moving to Barrie, Oshawa, Milton, St. Catharines, and London, making for much longer commutes.

Mike Moffatt
6 min readFeb 16, 2021


Fifth in (what I hope) will be a series on population growth, migration, and what’s going on with Ontario’s housing market. Previous piece: #4 — It’s Mostly Young Families, not Retirees, leaving Toronto.

TL;DR: There have been substantial changes to the Ontario Census Divisions growing through intraprovincial migration. In 2001–02, York and Peel were gaining residents from Toronto. Today, York and Peel, along with Toronto, are losing residents to other parts of the province.

As you must have figured out by now, I’m a big fan of the intraprovincial migration data embedded in Statistics Canada’s Components of population change by census division series. This single series, over time, tells a detailed story of 21st century Ontario (since the data series begins in 2001–02).

In any given year, if we sum across the Ontario Census Divisions that gained, on net, intraprovincial migrants (that is, people who moved from one part of Ontario to another), we get a number around 50,000. That also means, if we sum across the Ontario Census Divisions that lost, on net, intraprovincial migrants, we get a number around 50,000, since the two need to balance each other out.

Though that 50,000 average isn’t constant, as shown below:

We see a big drop in the 2000s, a leveling-off between 2010–15, and things start to pick up again around 2015 (this was also the point in time that real estate markets like Kitchener-Waterloo and London started to heat up; this cannot be a coincidence).

In piece 3 of this series, we saw that Toronto, along with Peel and York, has been the biggest source of intraprovincial outflow over the past few years. The follow-up piece showed that the exodus was driven by young families, with older residents playing a secondary (but still important) role.

These trends go back further than the last few years. During the last 19 years, there’s been the same high-level pattern: the Census Division Toronto (which is simply the municipal boundaries of the City of Toronto) sheds population and most of the rest of the province gains it:

If Toronto’s losing residents to other parts of the province, then who is gaining them? Turns out, the answer changes substantially over time. For each of the years in the dataset, here are the Top-5 Census Divisions in terms of net intraprovincial migrants:

Where are Ontarians moving to?

I colour-coded each Census Division to match the map from the second part of this series. Here is what jumps out at me:

  • From 2002–11, York was consistently the biggest net destination for people moving from other parts of Ontario. By 2013, it no longer made the top five. Peel, which was 2nd in 2002, followed a similar trajectory.
  • Replacing them were Simcoe, Durham, and Halton, which are each farther away from downtown Toronto than York and Peel. Given that the within-province migration is often driven by young families looking for a place to live (which we’ll examine in a follow-up piece), this suggests that families are taking longer trips to “drive until you qualify”.
  • In the last few years, some of the destinations are quite far from the CN Tower, such as Middlesex, Waterloo, and Niagara. Some families “drive until you qualify” trips are getting quite long.

Unfortunately, there are a few things this data doesn’t tell us:

  1. It does not tell us where in the province these places are gaining residents, on net, from. Ottawa, for example, is likely not gaining Toronto families in search of affordable real estate. There is a different dataset that can shed some light on this, which we’ll examine in a follow-up piece.
  2. It also does not tell us where the individuals are working after they move. Are they taking jobs in Middlesex, or are they moving to Middlesex and still working somewhere else (and commuting?) Unfortunately, the best data on commuting is from the census, which is on a 5-year cycle. I am expecting that the next census release will show a substantial increase in the number of Ontarians who are taking hour-plus commutes to work.

If we examine the total number of net intraprovincial migrants not in one of the Top-5 Census Divisions, we see a big jump in the number of people ending up in other Census Divisions:

In other words, there’s been a big increase in the diversity of places in Ontario that Toronto outmigrants are heading to. I suspect some of that is due to an increase in the number of retirees who are cashing out of Toronto real-estate and moving to a variety of cottage-country destinations. I’ll be looking at that phenomenon in a future piece.

That’s where they’re moving to. Where are they moving from?

Where are Ontarians moving from?

We already know the answer is “Toronto”. But where else?

In 2002, York and Peel were the two biggest net gainers from intraprovincial migration; by 2015 they were two of the three biggest sources of outflow.

The other sources of outflow have mostly been Census Divisions (CDs) in Northern Ontario, Ottawa during the Nortel bust, and Windsor and Chatham during the manufacturing employment decline. I’m curious where all the outmigrants from Essex and Chatham-Kent wound up; remember that we’re only looking at intraprovincial migration, so the answer has to be somewhere in Ontario (and not, say, the oil patch). But where?

Unlike the “net gainers”, the places losing population through intraprovincial migration are quite concentrated — in fact, in 2019–20 only five (of 49) CDs saw a population decline through out-migration. The total numbers for non-Top 5 are quite small:

We’re now at piece 5 of this series; I think it would be helpful to review what we’ve discovered. By examining the data, a story is being pieced together:

  • In #1 -The Big Picture, we saw that Ontario’s population growth started to speed up in 2015, and over the last five years, the province’s population grew by over one million residents.
  • In Piece 2, we learned that this population growth is not concentrated in Toronto. In fact, the five Census Districts growing the fastest are Waterloo, Peel, Simcoe, Middlesex, and Halton.
  • In Piece 3, Toronto vs. Not Toronto that this population growth is due to a big increase in non-permanent residents (international students, workers on visas, etc.) along with an increase in immigration.
  • In that piece, we also learned that while international migrants disproportionately settle in the Toronto area, this proportion has fallen in the past few years. (I suspect this is due to an influx of international students across the province; we will need to confirm this in a future piece).
  • We also saw that the intraprovincial migration out of Toronto started to increase in 2015, likely due to home building not being able to keep up with population growth.
  • In Piece 4, we saw that the people leaving Toronto (and Peel) due to a lack of housing were young families, who scattered across the province in search of homes they can afford. “Drive until you qualify”.
  • And in this piece, we saw that the landing places for Toronto families leaving in search of real-estate they can afford gets further and further away from the CN Tower each year.

In the next piece on this series, we’ll examine what this all means at a local level, with a focus on Kitchener, Cambridge, and Waterloo.

Next piece: #6 — We need to pay attention to migration patterns and “drive until you qualify”. Here’s why.



Mike Moffatt

Senior Director, Smart Prosperity. Assistant Prof, Ivey Business School. Exhausted but happy Dad of 2 wonderful kids with autism. I used to do other stuff.