I left Toronto to live in a small town and missed it terribly. Now I’m back for good

I left Toronto to live in a small town and missed it terribly. Now I’m back for good

“I knew I didn’t fit in when I saw a dead deer hanging in my neighbour’s garage”

Photos courtesy of the subject

You may remember me. In 2020, I left Toronto and bought a house in Grand Bend. Toronto was in lockdown back then. I had just been let go from my start-up gig and was living alone in a Leslieville condo that felt like a fishbowl.

I loved Toronto, but Covid had exacerbated big-city frustrations: the cost of living, endless construction, noise and pollution—without any of the entertainment, dining or sports. The pandemic was Toronto without its cool. And it was just awful. As a single middle-aged woman with no children, I wanted a new chance at life. So me and my dog, Post Malone, went on a recon mission looking for our new home.

One weekend in May, we visited some friends in Grand Bend, a town of 3,000 residents on the southern shores of Lake Huron. Even the two-hour drive was serene, and I instantly fell in love with the region’s beaches. Being around water has always put my mind at ease. In the middle of a pandemic, I felt like I was on vacation. By the end of the weekend, it was all I wanted. I sold my Leslieville condo for $1.1 million and purchased a post-war bungalow in my new hometown for $645,000. 

Most people in my life thought I’d miss Toronto, that I’d soon be back with my tail between my legs. And they were right—sort of.

Related: We moved from Toronto to Italy to renovate a farmhouse from the 1700s

I felt a new sense of calm in my early days in Grand Bend. With so few people around, the lake might as well have been my own private ocean. My life was enhanced. I missed some of my friends in the city, but I could still FaceTime them, and it wasn’t as though we’d be seeing one another in person any time soon. All the stunning nature reminded me that I enjoyed time with myself. I also had some updates done to my new house: exterior painting, a new backyard deck and a kitchen reno.

But part of me did miss Toronto. I lusted for late-night takeout only to discover that none of Grand Bend’s restaurants were open after dinner time. Most importantly, I started to feel like I didn’t quite fit in. I was the only single woman for miles, and I’m sure my neighbours thought I was crazy for moving to the country alone. There were no local singles to mingle with. From dinner parties to beach days, I was consistently the third wheel. My friends would meet new friends through other couples and their kids’ sports and school programs. Meanwhile, I was just wandering around with my dog, and the isolation started weighing on me. 

Looking back, I didn’t have much in common with the rural demographic. While I was counting down the days for the only sushi restaurant to open for the season, the locals were snowmobiling, hunting and embracing the outdoors. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that lifestyle, but the community hardly reflected the Hallmark movie of rural life playing in my head. Where were all the hot big-city lawyers visiting their families for the holidays?

Then came Christmas. I missed the sparkle of the holiday season in Yorkville or at Sherway Gardens. If I wanted an in-person shopping experience, I’d have to trek to London in blizzard-like conditions, and the risk wouldn’t be worth a mid-tier mall.

In spring of 2021, Toronto was opening up. It was my cue to visit—a concert here, a sporting event there. Then my visits became more frequent, and I realized that Toronto’s big-city energy had returned. Maybe I could stay in Grand Bend and satiate my culture fix with a few monthly trips to the city? One weekend, driving back to my bungalow after taking in a Leafs game, I got stuck in a four-hour traffic jam. My mind was racing. In that moment, I thought, “All I want is to stay in Toronto.” And the universe seemed to agree. 

In March 2022, I accepted a job offer from a bespoke advertising agency downtown. I could work remotely at first, but I was required to relocate back to Toronto by January 2023. It was great news. I’d already been fantasizing about what life back in the city would be like. Then, a few days before I was scheduled to start my new position, the company suddenly shut down on account of losing its client. I was upset, but I had already made my choice: it was time to move back to Toronto. I listed my Grand Bend home and prepared to move.

Barrett’s private beach in Grand Bend

I wasn’t embarrassed by my reversal; I was relieved. I had tried something new and enjoyed it for a bit, but coming back to Toronto meant long-term happiness. And the timing was perfect because it was a seller’s market: I sold my bungalow for more than $1 million. It ended up being the most lucrative investment of my life—money in the bank for my future in a city that is getting more expensive every day. 

I resolved to be as close to Toronto’s beaches as possible. Unfortunately, housing prices had skyrocketed while I was away. Eventually, Post Malone and I settled in a temporary home between Leslieville and the Beaches. Then, in November 2023, we moved into a brand new unit in the Wonder Condos on Logan Avenue. I’m paying more than $4,000 in rent (a lot), but I want to ride out the current climate of increased property taxes and interest rates before buying.

I absolutely love where I am now. I love my east-end sunrises as much as I once loved being surrounded by nature. To those who said I’d be back, you were right. And I’m happier than ever.

The view from Barrett’s condo in Leslieville

Did you leave Toronto only to regret it? Send your story to realestate@torontolife.com.