Skip to main content

This northern Ont. city looking to attract 'white-collar wilderness workers'

Nestled in between two larger northern Ontario centres -- Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie -- the City of Elliot Lake is working on a plan to attract new tourists and workers over the next 18 to 24 months.

City of Elliot Lake, Ont. April 17/23 (Ian Campbell/CTV Northern Ontario)

Last week, the city council for the 'age-friendly' community gave staff the 'green light' to move ahead on a 2023/2024 strategy for new economic development.

"The changes that have happened, Elliot Lake is prime to attract remote workers and new workers. A lot of it is cost of housing, cost of housing has exploded everywhere in the province. Elliot Lake is still at a value proposition for homes and to attract people to the municipality," said Steve Antunes, manager of economic development.

"Especially now, with the changes, some people are being called back to work, which of course is changing some housing prices elsewhere in the province. But Elliot Lake has all the opportunities and advantages to attract workers to our community and those remote workers that can now move out of the larger centres."

Antunes said what has made the city attractive to retirees is its infrastructure, where there is high-speed internet and the cost of housing is lower.

"As someone who is originally from outside the municipality who's moved in, there are some growing pains from a major centre. But when you first move to Elliot Lake, a slight change in lifestyle, which is all for the better, but I am not lacking for moving to Elliot Lake as opposed to living in southern Ontario," he said.

City staff has identified several key areas they plan to target in hopes of making a transition to the small northern Ontario city with a population of more than 11,000 easier for families.

Housing, at one point, used to be a challenge for those looking to relocate during the pandemic and it's something that also hasn't escaped city hall.

"The inventory has changed and evolved. During the pandemic, people were selling their house in southern Ontario for a large sticker price and had the ability to move north," Autunes said.

"Our housing capacity, as of today, we're sitting at 50 resale properties on the market and our rental stock is increasing. It's always an ebb-and-flow with our rental stock because of the retiree program we have here in Elliot Lake. But to entice employees to the municipality, whether it's for entry-level positions or more senior positions, we have resale homes that folks can come in and purchase a home or afford to purchase a home in Elliot Lake."

He said council has approved the sale of a property that will be used to create 60 to 80 new residential rental units.

The city, with this new plan, also will be looking at infill lot identification and exploring the idea of tiny homes.

"Obviously, tourism and promoting tourism is an important thing to any municipality and we thought that we need to find a direction," said Counc. Charles Flintoff.

"Mr. Antunes developed it and we'll definitely support it and we have a few great ideas coming up. We have so much natural beauty that really money can't build it, an unlimited amount of fishing and lakes. We're going to promote kayak fishing this summer."

Flintoff calls it the city's untapped resource that they're hoping to explore. When it comes to this plan, he said he's hoping it'll attract a mixture of both new tourists and residents.

He said a lot of this comes down to hopefully expanding the tax base.

"It's very important to bring in new tourism, but we also want more people to move here. We've done an inventory of all our available lots and we're going to have them re-listed for sale," he said.

"I would say 'Elliot Lake is hybrid.' We want the retirees to move to town to support Elliot Lake with their businesses and everything, but we also want the young families and the young professionals to move to town and raise their family, that want to raise their family. And it's two minutes to go to the arena, and it's four minutes to go to a quad-chair lift, and you want to learn how to golf and fish and just go for a beautiful walk amid all our walking trails. So, if we can get the families to stay and the seniors to move in, we'll be in good shape."

The plan will see Elliot Lake move through a new branding stage that will involve a unified message, a new look, promotional items and a social media campaign, to start.

It'll also involve appealing to something Antunes lovingly calls the 'white-collar wilderness worker.'

"I know it sounds like a tacky, cheesy tagline, but it's something that I had a vision of. Those people that I knew growing up and even family members of mine that wanted to come and live in the outdoors and be surrounded by nature but 15 years ago we didn't have the technology that we do know," he said.

The plan is getting a big 'thumbs up' from one of the city's largest employers, St. Joseph General Hospital.

During the pandemic, the hospital saw its challenges in trying to recruit these same professionals and health-care workers that the city is hoping to attract and housing was a challenge.

"I think the city has done a fantastic job. Everyone in Canada almost knows that Elliot Lake's done a great job in becoming a retirement community, but that's changed now. I call it the 'four-pronged approach,' said hospital CEO Jeremy Stevenson.

"It's not just a retirement community, it's a tourism destination, it's an employment destination now. As one of the largest employers here, we offer a stable variety of employment for individuals, a better quality of work life for many people, also some affordability in this community."

Stevenson told CTV News they're seeing the city become more of a destination for immigration newcomers in Canada too.

"Great opportunities for them in this community and so I echo and applaud what they're doing and it very well aligns with our vision at the hospital," he said.

The marketing campaign is expected to last through 2023/2024.

Antunes said if they see three to 10 families relocate in that time to the city, in hopes of trying life in Elliot Lake, he will personally consider it a success. Top Stories

Stay Connected