How a Northern Ontario Village Attracts Big-City Escapees

The village of Burke’s Falls (pop. 957) is located on a small tract of land – 3.3 square kilometers – just north of Ontario’s cottage country in the Almaguin Highlands.

But despite its relative isolation from larger centers like Huntsville and North Bay, the small community is thriving.

Three new businesses are set to open this May long weekend, and a recent influx of residents from major southern Ontario centers has seen nearly half of the village’s 457 properties change hands since 2015.

But the positive changes come as no surprise to Nicky Kunkel, the village clerk administrator.

“The highway bypassed us years ago, so we started to rebuild from that,” Kunkel said. “Obviously we’ve had some challenges and struggles, but we’re definitely on the mend.”

Some of the recent growth is due to the pandemic, Kunkel speculates, as the community has seen an increase in out-of-town property buyers.

“We sit down with estate agents every year and see where [buyers] come, what’s going on? Where did the lawyer’s letters come from?” she said.

“So as much as possible, we know the vast majority are from the south.”

The Emporium is one of the small businesses in Burks Falls that is seeing renewed energy in the village. (Facebook: @theemporiumbuyandsel)

If there’s a silver lining to the pandemic, maybe it’s that people have come to cherish small towns with a slower pace of life.

“I think COVID has made it possible for a lot of people to work from home,” she said. “So why not come and live in a rural area or the countryside, stay at your cottage, work from your cottage, and just have that balance of work and city streets?”

“We’ve definitely seen adoption and we’re on the cusp of great development.”

This development, she says, is not accidental. And she’s happy to see people and businesses returning to the town center after years of public consultation, marketing and planning for the village.

“It was fantastic to see the interaction and the people on the streets coming to our downtown,” she said. “I don’t know if I thought it would happen this quickly, but I’m thrilled that the community has certainly embraced it, that we have new entrepreneurs coming to the village, and certainly that they’re reinventing Burke’s Falls.

Businesses opening this weekend include an antique store named The Emporium and the Yonge Street Thrift Store. Kunkel said two other businesses, a local newspaper and a photographer, are also moving to take advantage of the downtown buzz.

Another business, the Pulled Smokehouse Welcome Center Cafe — winner of the village’s Win This Space award — is also opening this weekend.

About Larry Noble

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