A neighbour drove in a couple of weeks ago to get eggs and was immediately greeted by our four-legged door-bell, Mike.
Mike is an over-large Australian Shepherd we took in a few years ago. Mainly grey in colour and with every other colour thrown in, he has one blue eye and one brown. With his big bark he appears very formidable. Then you see the black markings down the side of his face and are told that the breeder named him after boxer Mike Tyson and his tattoo. One seems as crazy as the other. Many wait for us to appear in the yard before leaving their vehicles.
Our neighbour’s first words, mumbled through her mask, were: “Can we borrow Mike for a few weeks?” Why?
They and their son live in a neatly kept bungalow on five acres just north of us and a few kilometres from the village of Williamstown, which is a mere 15 kilometres from the Quebec border and a one-hour drive from downtown Montreal. Apparently, and remember this was February, several times a week people have been stopping in and ringing their door bell with one purpose . . . to buy their house.
They have no signs up, nor are they listed with an agent. Their house is not for sale. The people stopping are not real estate agents either but potential home buyers looking for property to buy. They all have one thing in common. They are driving vehicles with Quebec plates.
Talk to anyone in the village here and they will repeat the same story, Quebecers are sizing up houses to buy and then approaching the owners. Apparently several have already sold.
The same is happening on the area concessions. Potential buyers from Montreal are knocking on doors of any houses they feel they can afford. There are not many houses left which are truly being offered for sale now and those that are for sale are often very expensive.
The same can be said for already severed lots of land. Most of those posted for sale now are fairly new severances. Whereas a 5-acre, flat, treeless field on a paved road sold three years ago as a building lot for $50,000, a newly severed 3.6 acre lot on a gravel road, sloping to a bush at the back and with a drilled well is offered for $62,500 now.
One local contractor has been heard to say that with all the local building plans around, there is enough to keep everyone busy until at least 2023. Plus South Glengarry has decided to defer increases to licenses and fees until the end of the year.
For the townships lying along the Quebec/Ontario border this is the effects of COVID-19 problems in Quebec and especially in Montreal and suburbs. The sale price of houses in Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry has spiked. January this year – in the middle of winter when people don’t typically shop for a house – saw house prices hit a record average high of $359,663 – up 67 per cent from January last year.
It is reminiscent of the late seventies and early eighties when there was a mass exodus from Quebec and into the eastern areas of Ontario, especially those near the 401 and 417 highways, when people fled the French-language politics of the day. It was an easy one-hour commute to work on Montreal’s west island. The big perk was the lower income taxes here. We know many who made the move.
Now, with so many working from home, it is starting again. A whole new group to learn the ins and outs of rural living and how to fit in with an agricultural society. Some will stay, some will leave, realizing that it can be just as lonely in the country as in the city and that without public transportation, everything the kids want to do means driving them there and back.
Angela Dorie is an agricultural writer and a Jersey farmer near Cornwall.