The Urban Expats
They gave up on Toronto and headed to Bracebridge. Part six in our series on the middle-class migration
Who they are: Derek Smith, 32, an anesthesiologist, and Heather Sawula, 31, an ER doctor
Where they lived in Toronto: A one-bedroom rental at Yonge and Bloor
Where they live now: A three-bedroom rental duplex in Bracebridge
Heather: We were in medical school at U of T between 2011 and 2015. That’s where we met.
Derek: In 2014, we moved in together into a two-bedroom condo in the Church and Wellesley neighbourhood. It was one of my favourite apartments.
Heather: We lived there for about a year, then we both got into the family medicine residency program at Queen’s University in Kingston. After two years there, we wanted to do fellowships—mine was in emergency medicine and Derek’s was in anesthesia. He matched with University of Toronto and moved back to the city.
Derek: I got a one-bedroom apartment at Yonge and Bloor. Heather was finishing up in Kingston and visited when she could, but she also did a few placements at SickKids and Humber River and Sunnybrook. I was working primarily out of Michael Garron Hospital.
Heather: By 2018, as we were finishing up our fellowships, we started talking about where we wanted to settle down and build our lives. I’m from the St. Catharines area and Derek is from Aurora, and we both grew up with backyards. We wanted that for our kids. In Toronto, where our money wouldn’t go as far, that felt far less attainable.
Derek: Plus, the norm for doctors like us after finishing medical training is to have accumulated between $100,000 and $200,000 of debt. You want to get married, buy a house and have kids, but that’s not so easy when you haven’t been able to save for a down payment.
Heather: We looked at Cobourg, Midland, Napanee and other medium-to-small communities. Derek’s sister lives in Huntsville, he had done a few med school rotations in the area and I used to work at a summer camp there. We were also intrigued by the idea of practising community medicine. We thought, Why not live and work in a place where everyone wants to spend their summers anyway?
Derek: There’s not much of a renter’s market in Muskoka, so it was difficult to find a place. In July 2018, my sister told us she’d noticed a row of duplexes built by a Toronto developer. We wanted to pay down our debt as fast as we could, so it made a lot of sense. We now live on the top floor of a duplex. We have three bedrooms and a gas fireplace and we pay $1,600 a month. An 80-year-old couple live below us, and sometimes the wife, a lovely Scottish woman, cooks us dinner.
Heather: We’re saving up for a lakefront property. The houses are going for $1 million to $2 million for what we want—four bedrooms, two bathrooms and a garage—which is a lot, too. But our money gets us so much more here than it would in Toronto. We hope to save enough to buy soon.
The Urban Expats
A six-part series on the middle-class migration
Part one: Eric and Sarah Campbell moved from a one-bedroom rental at St. Clair and Bathurst to a two-bedroom condo in Guelph
Part two: Melissa Milligan and Tim Manning moved from a one-bedroom-plus-den condo at Yonge and Queens Quay to a three-bedroom row house in Burlington
Part three: Karin Archer Myles and Brendan Myles moved from a three-bedroom semi in the Upper Beaches to a five-bedroom detached in Burlington
Part four: Ramesh Arulchelvan and Jayani Perera-Arulchelvan moved from a two-bedroom-plus-den condo at King and Jarvis to a three-bedroom detached rental in Brampton
Part five: Stephen and Ashley Sheridan moved from a one-bedroom rental in Leslieville to a three-bedroom detached home in Innisfil
Part six: Heather Sawula and Derek Smith moved from a one-bedroom rental at Yonge and Bloor to a three-bedroom rental duplex in Bracebridge
Have you given up on Toronto real estate to head for cheaper pastures? We want to talk to you.