“It feels like we live at a resort”: Why a technician and a law clerk traded Toronto for Port Colborne

“It feels like we live at a resort”: Why a technician and a law clerk traded Toronto for Port Colborne

Who they are: Matt Madden, 29, a civil engineering technician; Charlotte Madden, 28, a law clerk; and their cockapoo, Penny
Where they lived in Toronto: A shared two-bedroom condo at Yonge and Bloor
Where they live now: A detached two-bedroom home in Port Colborne

Matt: I’m originally from Iroquois Falls in Northern Ontario. When I was 18, I came down to the Niagara region to play junior hockey for the Port Colborne Pirates. That’s when I met Charlotte. We were both in the same high school business class. After that, we ended up moving to Toronto for university. Charlotte double majored in equity studies and women’s studies at U of T, then did a law clerk diploma at Seneca College. I took global studies and minored in law at Ryerson, then went to Seneca to become a civil engineering technician. We first lived together in an apartment on Jarvis, right across from Allan Gardens.

Charlotte: In 2016, after graduating, I worked as a law clerk at Canadian Tire while Matt was still in school. We used a broker to find a place on Park Road, near Yonge and Bloor. It was a beautiful 800-square-foot condo with two bedrooms. The building was older, but the owner had recently redone the interior with timber floors and new appliances. Matt’s sister, who was studying business and finance at Seneca, lived in the second bedroom. Altogether, by 2017, we were paying roughly $2,300 in rent.

Matt: We loved our life in Toronto. Coming from a small town, I was impressed by how many things you could do for free: there were plenty of hockey rinks, and we were always doing outdoorsy stuff, like renting bikes and riding over to Evergreen Brick Works. We loved taking walks and going to Summer’s Ice Cream in Yorkville.

Charlotte: We really didn’t plan on leaving Toronto. Basically, we took a wait-and-see approach. We knew we might not live in the city forever, but we also worried that we wouldn’t be able to find good jobs elsewhere. In 2017, we got engaged and decided to stick around for a bit. We were like, “Let’s enjoy it here.” By the end of 2018, I was making $58,000 and Matt was bringing in about $53,000.

Matt: My sister was graduating in April, 2019, and she told us she was planning to move out of the apartment afterward. Our landlord was fine with us renewing our lease, but we weren’t sure if we could really afford it without my sister paying part of the rent. Money would’ve been a lot tighter. Because we were getting married, we felt weird about getting another roommate. So we started looking at our jobs and finances, and we noticed that our income wasn’t really going anywhere: we weren’t building any equity, we were basically spending all of our money on rent and living expenses. We realized that we would probably never be able to own real estate in Toronto.

Charlotte: Around that time, we were visiting my family in Port Colborne every weekend: both my sisters had settled down there and started having kids. So we weren’t spending much time in Toronto other than for work. We’d go to the office, go home, go to bed and do it all over again. We stopped enjoying everything the city had to offer.

When they play Jenga, Penny joins in by stealing the pieces and chewing on them

Matt: That Easter, we went down to Port Colborne to celebrate with family, and as we drove along Lake Erie, we saw this house that had just come on the market. Charlotte was like, “Let’s go have a look.” It was a two-bed, two-bath detached home with a big backyard. On the inside, it felt really cozy, like a big cottage. We loved it right away. But we didn’t know how to buy a house. And I was nervous because I thought it would be crazy to buy the first place we looked at.

Charlotte: We spent the whole Easter weekend looking at other houses, but we didn’t like any of them. We went back to Toronto and the realtor reached out to us and asked if we were willing to put in an offer. We got pre-approved by our bank and made an offer of $400,000. Then someone else made a bid, so we upped ours to $425,000. It was a bit of a leap. We knew Matt would be able to find a job somewhere, as an engineering technician, but it was going to be a bit more difficult for me to find work.

Matt: A few days later, I was sitting on the couch in the condo and Charlotte called me. She was like, “We own a house!” Once we got a closing date, we knew we’d be getting a dog. One morning, Charlotte sent me a picture of a bunch of puppies and said she wanted one. I jokingly said, “Okay, go get it.” By lunchtime, she had a crate, dog food, a collar and a leash, and was on her way to pick one up.

Matt and Charlotte like to take Penny on walks at a nearby quarry

Charlotte: Penny spent a couple of nights in Toronto with us before we moved in last June. She brings us way too much joy. I ended up getting a job at the City of Port Colborne in the planning department. It was a pay cut at first, but last November I got promoted to deputy city clerk and now I’m earning more than I was at Canadian Tire. And my commute to work is five minutes.

Matt: When I went in to resign from my job, my firm gave me the option of working from St. Catharines. I didn’t even know we had an office there. In Toronto, I was driving from Yorkville to Thornhill every day. It took me between an hour and two hours every evening. I don’t think I realized how much the traffic was affecting me. In Port Colborne, the commute takes about 30 minutes and I get home at the same time every night. I can golf, hit the gym, walk the dog and just hang out in the backyard. Lake Erie is across the road, there’s a public beach down the street and people have bonfires every weekend. It feels like we live at a resort.


February 12, 2020

A previous version of this article referred to Matt Madden as an engineer. That has since been changed.