Rural Tigers Transforming Manitoba Landscape

Commentary, Les Routledge, Rural, Urbanization

Rumours about the death of rural Canada appear to be greatly exaggerated.

If one were to visit rural Manitoba in the near future, one would be struck by the amount of growth in unexpected areas. Social scientists referred to these communities of growth as “rural tigers” and they are growing in small town Manitoba. Coming out of what was termed oblivion, these communities are poised for a rural transformation.

Take the case of Oak Lake Resort in western Manitoba, outside of Brandon. They have recently opened up a new 18-hole golf course and a club house that houses what appears to be one of the highest-end restaurants in western Manitoba. They are also starting a shuttle service between Brandon and Virden to the resort for a round of golf and steak-and-lobster dinner.

Of course, the development does not stop there. There are also several new $200,000 + cottage developments on the lake front and reportedly there are another 80 lots on the way for development this year alone.

Moreover, the new owners have replaced the old camping units on the campground with new RVs.

In nearby Virden, a new economic boom is emerging. Their main street area has seen the arrival of several new stores and there is a new up-scale restaurant being developed that will operate on two levels and be owned by a reputable chef in the region. People run want ads in the newspaper looking for rental accommodations because none are on the market in this community. Overall, I think that Virden needs to change its postal code so it matches those in Alberta.

If one were to speculate where all of this new growth is coming from one need only travel a bit further north to the village of Elkhorn, where they are welcoming some new businesses and the community is experiencing in-bound migration.

Yes, that’s right. Rural parts are now receiving their fair share of a population influx. Assumptions about where new immigrants are locating are not completely correct. Although most new Canadians still locate in large urban centres, many are choosing to live in rural Canada, and they have the potential to transform the rural economy.

I do believe that the influx of new arrivals (i.e. new to our communities but not necessarily to Canada) is behind a lot of this activity that we are observing in Western Manitoba. New people bring new ideas and the predisposition to invest and act on those ideas.

If these trends continue, they could very well signal a rural expansion not seen in 50 to 80 years.

Even further north along the border, Assissippi Lake is experiencing a huge building boom. According to local officials, they expect that there will be more year-round houses located around the lake within five years than currently exist in the Town of Russell. Imagine that, a new town emerging on the Prairies out of grassy hills.

Besides the influx of newcomers, it appears that rural Manitoba is experiencing its own oil boom.

I have not been out to the Reston-Sinclair-Ebor area within the last 12 months, but I understand that they too are experience a significant amount of in-bound migration and new development. It sounds as if the RM of Pipestone is becoming Manitoba’s version of the blue-eyed sheiks in that they are experiencing a wealth of new tax revenues and a lack of ideas about how to spend this windfall.

On the way to Virden, I passed through the town of Hartney. What a difference a couple of years make. They have gone from a situation where businesses were closing to one where they too are experiencing a significant in-bound migration of people.

We also have our own slice of Alberta-style development occurring on the north-shore of Pelican Lake.

Meanwhile, back home in the Killarney-Boissevain area, we continue to enjoy one of the best quality-of-life environments in the world. Just as mentioned in other parts of Manitoba, we have experienced a significant arrival of new Canadians from foreign countries in the last 12 to 24 months. The migration of retiring people to our community from northern resource towns is continuing and the trickle of migrants from Winnipeg is turning into a stream. We are also now seeing the arrival of the first wave of “Alberta Refugees” who are seeking a better life for their young families. Even the little hamlet of Ninga is joining in on this situation and has experienced a 10 per cent to 20 per cent increase of houses and population over the last few years.

This part of Manitoba has been waiting for this up-tick in development for nearly 50 years. If this process keeps on building, this region may get added to the Morden-Winkler and the Kindersley-Outlook areas as members of the “new rural tigers” group of expanding communities in Western Canada.