Canadians flocking to resort towns to escape city congestion


Like many locations the world over during the pandemic, resort areas in Canada have seen a massive influx of affluent homebuyers in search of open spaces, both indoors and out.

Two such spots – Muskoka, Ontario and Whistler, British Columbia – have long been popular vacation destinations, but their real estate markets have exploded recently.

“We have seen a significant increase in sales and sales volume through COVID,” said John Ryan, an agent with The Whistler Real Estate Company in Whistler, a Western ski area north of Vancouver. “For the affluent, COVID has been very grounding and is getting them back to what’s important in life – family, health/wellness and balance.”

Mountainous markets

In Muskoka, a lake- and tree-filled area two hours from Toronto, real estate prices have steadily grown by 5 to 8 percent over the past 25 years. But, said Rick Scully, an agent with Harvey Kalles Real Estate, that growth has swelled to 20-30 percent for each of the past two years.

“When I started it was hard to find a cottage over a million,” he said. “Now it’s hard to find one under.”

It is hard to find even a lot for under $5 million these days, he pointed out.

Affluent buyers are clamoring for a second home, and increasingly a primary home, at in one of the towns dotting the three large lakes in the area – Muskoka, Joseph and Rosseau – or on one of the countless smaller ones, with waterfront property at a premium.

“It puts a lot of demand on these properties,” Mr. Scully said. “Oh, the minute they come on, they’re gone. A lot don’t even make it into the MLS.”

Buyers in Muskoka are seeking a more relaxed small-town lifestyle and proximity to nature. On many of the lakes, boaters can get to stores, restaurants and more without ever leaving the water.

People are starting to spend more and more time in the area rather than drive up from the city on weekends, and Muskoka counts many pro athletes and American actors as part-time residents.

Modern homes meet natural settings in the Muskoka area. Image courtesy of Harvey Kalles Real Estate

Homes are flying off the market across the country in Whistler, as well.

“We have seen strong results in all sectors of our market from small condos to luxury residences,” Mr. Ryan said. “Even parking stalls are hot.”

Some international buyers are purchasing multi-million-dollar homes sight unseen.

“We had sales in mid-$8 millions and low-$14 millions with buyers purchasing off photos and Facetime,” Mr. Ryan said. “Both still haven’t been to Whistler yet to enjoy their new homes.

“The other surprise is buyers who are buying in Whistler who have never spent time here and do not ski, but just want fresh air and low density for their families,” he said.

Laid-back living

In Muskoka, new homes and subdivisions are springing up everywhere, centering around the hubs of Port Carling and Huntsville.

Even the older lakeside cottages tend to be large – in the 3,000-5,000-square-foot range with at least four or five bedrooms – as homeowners there tend to have their entire extended families there all at once.

“Modern homes are in demand,” Mr. Scully said.

Buyers are also adding tennis courts to their properties and ensuring that there is a separate office and fast Internet, something that the area has only recently acquired.

In Whistler, buyers want access to skiing, hot tubs and the main village with their resort homes.

“Whistler offers some of Canada’s finest chalet residences, luxury ski-in condominiums and townhomes as well as village hotel condominiums,” Mr. Ryan said. “We also still have modest older ski cabins and chalets in majority of neighborhoods.”

And, of course, a mountain view.

Luxury homes in Whistler offer countless amenities and stunning views. Image courtesy of The Whistler Real Estate Company

“Whistler has always been attractive to outdoor enthusiasts, skiers & bikers, “ Mr. Ryan said. “We have arguably the most scenic drive in North America between Whistler and Vancouver, which constantly ranks as one of the world’s most livable cities.

“We enjoy a paved valley trail system throughout the valley, three world-class golf courses and three beautiful lakes for boating, kayaking and canoeing,” he said.

“We are very spoiled to have world-class restaurants, spas, sports medicine, art galleries and shopping.”

Modern infrastructure and comforts along with a dose of nature is a big part of the attraction to the Muskoka area as well.

Even the smaller towns boast great medical care, shopping and restaurants, Mr. Scully said, not to mention 14 golf courses that can all be accessed by boat.

“It’s all the things you’d need on a smaller scale,” Mr. Scully said.

“It’s really just a lifestyle that people want to have,” he said. “They can come up here and enjoy the water – the water is as clean as can be, it’s all trees so you have clean, fresh air. It’s a great part of the world.”