Is Aurora losing its identity?

York National Realty Inc. |

Real Estate Services Aurora Ontario

Is Aurora about to lose its unique character and small-town feel?

Lynda Yeoman  does not want to become part of a quiet but spreading migration out of Aurora, but after living here for over 4 decades,  she is now considering leaving town.

She loves her home and the neighborhood her family has lived in for decades, but points out the town’s lack of a strategic plan ignores many long-term residents who are growing uneasy with a small town that is changing too rapidly.

“Developers have been busy building sprawling subdivisions and big-box stores that has transformed the town, Aurora used to be a unique small town north of the city with charm and character. Now we have Walmart and rush-hour congestion. ”

A recent article in the Toronto Star by San Grewal exposes more complicated challenges driving away residents of another Toronto-suburb.  “Brampton faces a complex situation: massive suburban-style growth coupled with a huge influx of new Canadians, mostly South Asian, settling in a community that for decades was mostly white.”

“White flight” is a phrase few dare speak aloud, but statistics suggest a growing unease with a city that’s changing too fast.

The same phenomenon might soon affect Aurora, King City and other small towns in York Region and Simcoe County that are seeing record population growth. Aurora, with a population of over 58,000, has doubled its size since 1986. The community will continue to grow and the population is projected to reach over 70,000 by 2031.

A closer study of this unprecedented growth reveals a paradox: While the recent immigrant population has exploded, white residents are dwindling. That’s hardly a picture of the multicultural ideal so celebrated in this country.

Sociologist Jason Edgerton finds a little more complexity in those numbers:

“You must factor in retirement and  low birth rates,  but some of the other decrease in population of white residents could be described as white flight — former mainstream communities are not comfortable being the minority.”

“It’s important to understand that this trend is multidimensional. Aspects of racial/ethnic shift perhaps, but the issue is more complex. In Toronto’s  history, many neighborhoods have followed a pattern of demographic change:  first settled by people from the British Isles, then other Europeans, and more recently immigrants from Asia and Africa.”

Such rearrangements often happen as people aspire to and then succeed in moving up the economic ladder.

Marry-Ann Dunning sits at the Country Style on Yonge street in Aurora, where she gathers daily with a group of seniors for coffee and a lively chat. Aurora’s cultural shift is often the elephant in the room.

“The people I know who are moving out, it’s mostly because of demographics,” she says. “They’re beginning  to feel like strangers in their own neighborhood.”

In recent weeks everyone is talking about the new Chinese grocery store that has opened up in St. Andrew’s plaza. The space sat empty for many years after IGA closed its doors and suddenly there is new activity and traffic in the neighborhood.

Mary, who moved from Toronto in 1976, says she welcomes the opportunity to raise the issue and insists it is not about racism or intolerance.

“All towns go through this phase. In Toronto we have Little Italy, Greek-town, Chinatown. Intolerance didn’t push people to leave, it was more of the same ethnic group moving in and purchasing available real estate.”

Lynda Yeoman sees it differently: there is a lack of vision from the town’s leaders.

“We wouldn’t have such uncontrolled growth if the town wasn’t planned so poorly. Allowing high-density development along Bayview and the emergence of big box stores on Leslie has permanently changed the face of our town. ” She says the tensions have little to do with intolerance. “There’s no leadership” as the town undergoes a massive demographic change.”