Haliburton County’s population is going to grow by around 10,000 people over the next 30 years, Peterborough-based consulting firm Watson and Associates is predicting.

In a report to County council Sept. 13, firm partner Jamie Cook said he had studied numbers from Statistics Canada, the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation, and the four lower-tier townships before arriving at the number. The report provides a long-term outlook on jobs, housing, and population figures between now and 2051.

Cook said it’s a comprehensive study with background to the County’s official plan, and upcoming development charges work.

“This will help form the basis of further work for the County to look at urban land requirements, servicing needs, and long-term planning policies,” Cook said.

When looking at long-term growth in the Highlands, Cook considered the wider provincial macroeconomic picture to get a sense of how economic trends, competitiveness, and growth rates elsewhere may affect the potential growth of permanent and seasonal populations in the County.

He said migration is now the key driver of population growth locally.

County discusses growth

“Historical growth over the past 20 years has been fairly moderate, but in the last five years, we can see a significant uptick in overall population growth locally,” Cook said. He noted the County saw an approximate three per cent annual growth rate between 2016-2021, compared to around one per cent annually from 2001-2015.

“A three per cent growth rate is very significant – it’s about double the provincial average,” Cook said.

Impact on housing

It’s resulted in a dramatic increase in conversions of seasonal properties to permanent, year-round homes. Between 2016-2021, 61 per cent of the County’s new housing inventory was conversions. Cook expects this to substantially decrease in future, to 42 per cent by 2026 and 18 per cent by 2051.

He said building activity across Algonquin Highlands, Dysart et al, Highlands East and Minden Hills has been “pretty steady” the past 15 years, with between 100-120 new units each year. Long-term, he expects that number to grow to around 170 households per year.

By 2051, he’s predicting housing growth of 5,200 units in the County, expecting 66 per cent will be new builds, and 34 per cent conversions.

Cook says around 80 per cent will be low-density builds, such as single-family homes.

He attributed the conversion rate to the influx of people relocating to the Highlands from more expensive housing markets, noting they could afford to renovate waterfront cottages and relocate permanently. He expects those units to return to seasonal use in the future.

“Looking at the supply of units for conversion and considering the demographic trends of baby boomers aging and their desire to live year-round in Haliburton, as well as other generations following the boomers, we anticipate less opportunity for conversions, and there will be some pressure to convert back as baby boomers decide they don’t want to live in a cottage on a full-time basis as they get into their more senior years,” Cook said.

Population analysis

Cook projects the County’s population will be significantly older by 2051. Per Statistics Canada, 14 per cent of the County was over 75 as of 2021, and Cook expects that to double over the next 30 years.

“We’re seeing about 55 per cent of net migration to the County being in the 55-plus age category [in 2021]. We project that changing to roughly 45 per cent, so we’re seeing a bit more influence of families, younger adults, and children, but it’s still not enough to augment this aging population.

“It has significant impacts on population growth, servicing needs, municipal infrastructure and services, and housing.

This is a big finding – not surprising given the migration trends in recent years, but something to be very mindful of,” Cook said.

He added more people are dying than being born, so the area is going to become increasingly dependent on migration to boost its population.

Dysart projects to maintain its spot as the most populated township in the County 30 years out, growing from 7,300 people to 11,600 people… Minden Hills is projected to grow almost 41 per cent, to 10,000 people from 7,100, with Highlands East estimated to grow from 3,900 people to around 5,500. Algonquin Highlands is expected to grow from 4,000 residents to 5,000. Cook projects the County’s permanent population to be around 31,000 by 2051, up from 21,000 in 2021. He expects the seasonal population, pegged at 43,400 in 2021, to drop to around 42,900.

Cook said the projected population should lead to the creation of around 3,000 new jobs, two thirds in the commercial, retail, and institutional sectors. Cook said there was some cause for concern with the County getting older, it may put additional pressure on the labour market.

“Businesses across the County are already struggling to fill job postings now. In 2051, if over 28 per cent of the population is over 75, I’m not sure how this County can remain sustainable and provide for needs of that demographic,” said coun. Lisa Schell.

“Businesses across the County are already struggling to fill job postings now. In 2051, if over 28 per cent of the population is over 75, I’m not sure how this County can remain sustainable and provide for needs of that demographic,” said coun. Lisa Schell.

Coun. Cec Ryall asked what the County can do in the short-term to avoid potential long-term disaster. Cook said bolstering the local housing supply is the best path forward.

Coun. Bob Carter said he had a hard time buying into some of the projections, particularly surrounding future population. He noted Cook had presented a 1.3 per cent annual growth rate as the most likely outcome for the Highlands, but that the provincial rate is closer to 1.5 per cent.

“I don’t see us growing at less than the provincial average,” Carter said.