The Urban Expats

What happens to a city when the next generation of police officers, teachers, nurses and firefighters decide to leave? Portrait of a middle-class migration

The most a newly minted elementary teacher in the TDSB earns is $58,521. A registered nurse just starting out makes about $65,000, almost the same as a rookie Toronto firefighter. Dental hygienists earn a bit more than that, as do TTC bus drivers with two years’ experience; respiratory therapists earn a bit less.

These jobs could not be more different, yet they all belong to the same broad category you might call human civic infrastructure. They are not the bankers or the dealmakers, the tech innovators or the venture capitalists who drive the city’s economic engine. They are the ones on whose shoulders those people stand: the ones teaching their kids, caring for their aging parents, keeping their homes standing and responding to their emergencies. They are a city’s backbone, and they are nearly all valued more or less the same and on a fixed pay scale: somewhere between $55,000 and $65,000 when they start out, and between $80,000 and $100,000 as they gain experience. Many could certainly get by in Toronto on that income (and many do), but when they can thrive elsewhere, the decision becomes an easy one. And if Toronto’s human support infrastructure hollows out, everyone suffers. Toronto has already experienced shortages of both school bus drivers and supply teachers. Once these workers put down roots elsewhere, it’s difficult to woo them back.

Consider that first-year teacher, who earns a monthly income of $4,875. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city is $2,314 per month, some 47 per cent of his earnings. Student loans and credit card debt and car payments would eat up another significant portion. If renting is a hardship, home ownership is an impossibility: if he somehow could make a 20 per cent down payment on a $723,000 downtown condo (the current average price), he would fail the mortgage stress test and be denied financing. If he had a partner who earned a similar amount, they’d still fail. The situation doesn’t get much better as they move up the pay scale: two teachers with 10 years’ experience, earning just over $100,000 each, would still be denied a mortgage on a $1.3-million detached.

The cost of housing is the most egregious symbol of how unaffordable Toronto has become. According to Statistics Canada, compared to the average Canadian city dweller, Torontonians pay more for just about everything else, too: three per cent more for restaurant meals, eight per cent more for household operations (like telephone service, Internet connectivity and child care), nine per cent more to own a car (when parking fees, insurance premiums and other costs are factored in) and 13 per cent more for public transportation. And yet for so many public-service jobs in the human civic infrastructure category, the wages remain the same whether you’re based in Toronto or, say, Campbellford.

Living in Toronto comes at a literal premium. Torontonians pay the highest cost of any city in North America for a litre of milk, according to the crowdsourced cost-of-living aggregator site Expatistan. Dwellers of the 416 also pay more for a litre of gas: historical data compiled by GasBuddy shows that Toronto gas prices are consistently higher than those in neighbouring cities such as Barrie or Hamilton. There’s no discernible logic for most of these discrepancies beyond the demonstrably false assumption that if you are in Toronto you must have more money to spend.

All of which helps explain why Toronto is now faced with an unprecedented outflow of people from the city. From mid-2017 to mid-2018, a total of 49,758 Toronto residents were lost to intraprovincial migration. The exodus has more than doubled since 2014.

The love of big-city life only gets you so far. Barrie and Hamilton were among Toronto expats’ most popular destinations for resettlement. Just about anywhere else—Oshawa, Newmarket, Guelph, Burlington—the dollars earned by teachers and nurses and bus drivers and all the other people who make cities work go much further.

The stories below are portraits of six couples who would have been excellent contributors to Toronto had they chosen to stay. They are the engineers, doctors, teachers and police officers who made the quantitative and qualitative decision to take their families, talents and money elsewhere. Toronto is constantly lauded for being a place of inclusivity and opportunity, but as the city grows ever upward and prices follow, it’s worth asking the uncomfortable question: is that still true?


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.

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