Decades-old migration records fall as newcomers by the thousands settle in New Brunswick

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Record international immigration and an historic movement of people from Ontario were the two major factors tipping New Brunswick population over 800,000 earlier this year, new estimates show.

In March, Statistics Canada’s “real time” population clock for New Brunswick struck the 800,000 mark, which was seized on by Premier Blaine Higgs as an important moment for the province.

“People across the country and around the world are seeing the value, the opportunity and the reward of choosing to live here,” he tweeted at the time.

On Wednesday, Statistics Canada released  more information about what caused the surge in population, including the arrival of a record 6,581 immigrants into New Brunswick in the year between April 1 2021 and March 31, 2022. 

In a scene that has become common in New Brunswick, Grand Manan residents turned out at the island airport earlier this month to welcome an immigrant Ukrainian family. Martha Eaton made two signs reading ‘Welcome to Grand Manan,’ one in English and one in Ukrainian. (Grand Manan Safe Harbour/Facebook)

It’s the largest number of people from other countries to arrive in New Brunswick  in a single 12 month period since records began in 1932.

Mohamed Bagha is the managing director of the Saint John Newcomers Centre, which helps immigrants settle into the community. 

He said it is a much larger job now than when he began in 2013 and New Brunswick was attracting fewer than 200 immigrants per month.

“We have been doubling almost every year,” said Bagha .

There “are challenges” with large numbers, he said, but immigrants themselves are generally “ecstatic” to come to Canada and have been well received in a province not as used to seeing newcomers as some others.

Mohamed Bagha is managing director of the Saint John Newcomers Centre and says for the most part New Brunswick has been welcoming of the record number of immigrants arriving, but he worries about the supply of housing for everyone. (Kirk Pennell/CBC)

“I think it’s getting much, much better,” said Bagha, “There’s a more positive attitude in communities.” 

Immigrants added significantly to New Brunswick’s population in the last year but even as they were arriving the province experienced a second but equally historic wave of Canadians moving east.   

During the year ended in March, Statistics Canada figures show 10,540 people from Ontario alone came to New Brunswick, in search of more space, cheaper housing or a change in their lifestyle.

It was the largest influx into New Brunswick from a single province in any 12 month period since records for that began in 1952.

Hayley Burrell moved to New Brunswick from London, Ontario., at the beginning of the pandemic As a real estate agent, she said most of her 2021 clients were people coming from Ontario like she did. (Hayley Burrell/ Facebook)

And because only 3,005 New Brunswick residents moved in the other direction back to Ontario during the same period, the province gained a net amount of 7,535 people in the exchange.

Movements between other provinces and New Brunswick were mostly a wash, but between the record Ontario migration and the record international immigration happening at the same time, population growth in New Brunswick over the year was more than double the Canadian average.

It is a stunning development in a province that experienced no population growth at all for 12 years between 1997 and 2010 .

“People are looking at New Brunswick in a new light,” said Higgs in a press release issued in March to mark the arrival of the province’s 800,000th citizen. 

“Our province has much to offer and people are taking notice and taking advantage of the opportunities they see here.”

Fredericton’s U-Haul rental location was regularly jammed with trucks and trailers over the last year as thousands more people moved into New Brunswick than out. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Effects of the rapid growth, however, have been two-sided.

Many arrivals include younger families who are helping to counteract the province’s rapidly aging population and fill gaps in the labour market.

New Brunswick’s school enrolment increased by nearly 2,000 this year with gains in five of the province’s eight districts.  And births, which have been in a seven decade decline in New Brunswick since peaking in 1948 even ticked up slightly,

But there have been problems, too.   

When New Brunswick’s population hit 800,000 in March, Premier Blaine Higgs announced it on Twitter. The surge was driven by international immigrants and Ontarians moving east. (Blaine Higgs / Twitter)

So many people arriving at once has left housing in short supply with the cost of  renting an apartment or buying a home escalating rapidly in the last year, if either can be found at all.

“Housing is a huge. huge problem right now,” said Bagha of difficulties immigrants are having finding adequate and affordable places to live.

“Right now, New Brunswickers  have opened their doors, giving them space in their houses but eventually finding space will be a challenge.”

It’s a looming problem that needs attention quickly.

On Wednesday, Statistics Canada was estimating New Brunswick’s population is already up to 804,855 since March, an increase of 20,700 over the past 18 months.

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