a town with a unique character
Explosive growth brings both challenges and opportunities
Whitchurch-Stouffville, a small yet vibrant town in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) of Ontario, Canada sits strategically 50 kilometers north of downtown Toronto in the mid-eastern area of the Regional Municipality of York. The site the town sits on was originally inhabited by the Iroquoian peoples, more specifically the Huron-Wendat. Whitchurch Township was created in 1792 and its early settlers included Quakers and Mennonites from the nearby American states of Pennsylvania, Vermont, and New York. Other early settlers were German Hessian soldiers who fought for the British crown during the Revolutionary War.
With a fascinating history preceding it, on January 1, 1971, Whitchurch Township and the Village of Stouffville were merged to create the Town of Whitchurch–Stouffville with a combined population of 11,487, and an area of about 200 square kilometers. In 2019, the Town decided to drop the word Whitchurch from its signs, and while its official name remains Whitchurch-Stouffville, it’s more commonly referred to, these days, as just Stouffville.
A unique character and a changing population
Today, the town is a bedroom community of Toronto, with a population of about 60,000 -a number which has doubled over the last 20 years, largely due to the municipality being connected to the York Durham Sewage System. Another reason for the town’s explosive growth is its unique character in the GTA: while it has a very urbanized center, 95% of its surrounding area is rural and protected from development by provincial legislation, specifically the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act of 2001, designed to protect the ecological and hydrological integrity of the Oak Ridges Moraine.
“We’ve got a very small area that has all the urban amenities that any large city might want, but then you can walk in any direction, or drive two minutes in a car, and you are in either farmland or forest,” explains Mayor Iain Lovatt. “So, it’s a beautiful place to be.”
Stouffville’s recent growth has brought about a marked shift in the town’s demographics. What used to be a predominantly white farming community is now a very diverse municipality with 40% of its population classified as minority. “We now have, for the first time, a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee composed of representatives from the public and town staff,” Lovatt shares.
“Everything we do is through the lens of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: How we develop our events, how we create programming, and how we take into consideration language and cultural barriers. It’s amazing to see. Whether it’s our long-standing Strawberry Festival on Canada Day weekend, the Holiday Market, which is the last week of November, or movies or a concert in the park – seeing so many cultures represented is what makes Stouffville a great place to live.”
Tourism is a focus
Lovatt adds that as the town continues to grow, it is also reaching out to folks outside its boundaries. “We have got one of the best event teams in the GTA,” he states.
“For a small municipality like we are, we’ve been cranking out incredible events that are catching people’s attention. Our Holiday Market won two Festivals and Events Ontario Awards last year, and so did our Ribfest, a three-day festival held each summer. And with the Rouge National Urban Park trail system right on our doorstep, our focus on tourism is increasing. We’re going to capitalize on that and we’re investing in new trail connections that will take our Main Street area, where a lot of our small businesses are, right down to the Rouge National Park. That will allow people from Markham and Toronto to come right into Stouffville. They can ride their bikes or walk; have a meal or a drink; and head home or stay. So, it’s certainly a focus for us in the future.”
As towns grow and tourists are welcomed, infrastructure must be maintained. And Stouffville is no exception. “We’ve got Master Plans that drive everything,” Lovatt reports.
“We have a long-standing project on our books to redevelop our Main Street and we’re going to get to that. But first, we’re spending the money on a lot of the adjacent roads. That will take a lot of traffic off Main Street when construction starts. We have to rip up a 100-year-old pipe that goes right through the core area of our downtown, so that is probably going to be one of the biggest projects we’ve ever done. It’s going to be hugely disruptive, but we know that the investment we’re making on some of these ancillary streets adjacent to Main Street, this year and next year, is going to pave the way for us to have a successful Main Street construction campaign starting in 2025.”
“We’re also planning for a massive new community center to support the growth that’s coming to our community,” Lovatt continues. “And we have a new fire station that we bought land for last year in the Ballantrae area; we start construction in 2024. The biggest ticket item that we’ve got in terms of infrastructure is a new skating and multi-purpose trail in our Memorial Park that is going to allow the community to get out and skate during the winter months. It’s an $8.6 million project.”
Stouffville has several key partners that are contracted to complete its infrastructure agenda, including TACC, a leader in the Canadian construction industry since 1977; Condrain, a sewer and water main company, founded in 1954; and DECAST which provides water transmission, bridges, storm and sanitary, tunneling, and engineered precast products.
“They are building the stormwater tanks and all the pipes that go in the ground here in Stouffville,” Lovatt notes. “The company that’s putting in the refrigeration on the skating trail is CIMCO, a leader in the industry when it comes to refrigeration, ice rinks, etc. We try to ensure that we’re only working with the best when it comes to big capital dollar projects that we’re spending taxpayers’ money on.”
The town’s businesses
Stouffville has several major businesses in town. Teva Canada, one of the country’s largest manufacturers of generic drugs, is its biggest employer. “And they are doubling down on their investment here in Stouffville,” says Lovatt. “They are going to a 24/7/365 model of manufacturing that will bring hundreds of new jobs into town, and they are eyeing a site for a very large expansion project in the future.”
Another significant company is Magna International, one of the largest automotive parts suppliers in the world. Its global headquarters are in nearby Aurora, and its founder, legendary businessman, politician, and developer of one of the world’s first electric vehicles, Frank Stronach, is building a new plant in Stouffville for the manufacturing of the Sarit, his new micro-mobility line. “We’ll be cutting the ribbon on that in the spring,” Lovatt reveals.
Challenges and opportunities
Growth brings both opportunities and challenges. One of the chief challenges for Stouffville is how it is going to provide the necessary infrastructure and housing for its new residents. “A lot of the growth that we’re going to experience over the next 30 years is going to be restricted by the time it takes for us to service all the people that are going to move here,” Lovatt explains.
“There are a million immigrants a year coming into Canada and more than half of them are settling in the GTA, and tens of thousands of them are going to settle in our community. And we need to have homes for them to live in. It all feeds into the housing affordability crisis and our ability to deliver 1.5 million homes, which is the goal for the province of Ontario in the next ten years.
“So, while we’re an active and willing participant in the provincial goal to build housing, we’re going to hit some roadblocks because it’s the Region of York that oversees the implementation of sewage treatment and the big trunk sewers and everything that we want to build in Stouffville that it’s going to connect to. If that doesn’t happen in a timely fashion and a cost-effective manner, everything is going to come to a screeching halt. So, that’s my biggest worry.”
On the opportunity side, Lovatt believes that “people are waking up to the fact that Stouffville is probably one of the best-kept secrets in the GTA. We’re 20 minutes north of Toronto and we’re not going to have the urban sprawl that many municipalities surrounding us currently have and are going to have,” he maintains. “And that makes us unique. So, I think we’re going to have a lot of people who are going to want to come and live here, and who will love the work/life balance that our community provides.”
“We’re pretty much a bedroom community; a lot of people leave our town to work, whether that’s into Toronto or adjacent communities. I hope we will have a very active public transportation network, going forward, that will get people to and from the town.”
“Our focus is also to try to generate enough economic development in the industrial/commercial area so that there will be some very high-paying jobs here, where people can earn a good living and stay in the town they love to be in. So, we’re open for business. If you’ve got a business and you’re looking to relocate, we want to talk to you,” he concludes.
AT A GLANCE
WHAT: A unique and vibrant bedroom community in the Greater Toronto Area
WHERE: About 50 kilometers north of Toronto in the Regional Municipality of York
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