For years, the Canadian real estate market has been dominated by a handful of cities, such as Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. Everyone wanted to live in these red-hot markets – and for a good reason. These urban centres have everything you would want, from arts and entertainment to a diverse range of amenities. Then, of course, the coronavirus pandemic happened, and it turned everything upside down, including the dominant trends within the Canadian real estate market.

Who would have predicted at the start of 2020 that big city dwellers would be fleeing these metropolises to live in rural areas? This is one of the trends unfolding in the fallout of the COVID-19 public health crisis. With more Canadian businesses embracing work-from-home policies, many people are taking advantage of the opportunity to relocate to cottage country. As such, small cottage country towns are becoming attractive destinations for homebuyers.

Whether you are ready to pack up and leave your city-living days behind, or you’re looking for your next big investment opportunity, here’s what you need to know about some of the hottest markets in Canadian cottage country.

Canadian Real Estate: The Hottest Markets Across Cottage Country

#1 Kawartha Lakes, Ontario

The Kawartha Lakes has long been a getaway target for Torontonians since it is roughly a 90-minute drive from the heart of the city. The region is mostly known for its cottage vacations, but it offers a diverse array of activities and sights, including horseback riding, boating, hiking trails, golf, and so much more. Plus, you can access the Trans Canada Trail and Ferris Provincial Park. Now that the pandemic has altered buying trends, Kawartha is turning into an all-season home for many city dwellers.

According to the Kawartha Lakes Real Estate Association (KLREA), residential home sales surged 39.5 per cent in July. Home prices rose 3.8 per cent to a record high of $480,164. Since Kawartha is becoming a top destination for homeowners in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), there has been a surge in demand, but supply has been unable to keep up, which has turned the municipality into a seller’s market.

#2 Muskoka Lakes, Ontario

Like the Kawarthas, Muskoka is at the top of the list of most popular cottage country destinations. And, like the Kawarthas, Muskoka provides so much more than an idyllic getaway. From Gravenhurst to Bracebridge, you can relish in great seasonal festivals, hiking, wineries, and art galleries, all year long.

The Lakelands Association of REALTORS® reported a 29.8-per-cent jump in non-waterfront residential sales and a 64.2-per-cent spike in waterfront sales in July. Prices within Muskoka have also popped: 15.5 per cent for non-waterfront properties ($385,250) and 21.5 per cent for waterfront housing ($675,000). The housing supply in Muskoka remains low, but the demand continues to rise, resulting in a seller’s market.

#3 Gulf Islands, British Columbia

If you desire to be on the west coast, consider the Gulf Islands in British Columbia. This has long been a much-desired cottage destination, mainly for its five major islands (Pender, Galiano, Mayne, Salt Spring and Saturna). Although the Gulf Islands are appealing due to the fact that you can choose to disconnect, or you can still stay connected to the outside world with frequent B.C. Ferries, water taxis and private boats.

The Gulf Islands have been steadily rising for several years now, and real estate agents in British Columbia say that the region could attract even more interest in the months to come. Over the last year, prices have risen as much as 41.61 per cent. Since 2015, prices have gone up as much as 132.7 per cent!

#4 Eastern Townships, Quebec

For years, people have rented cottages for their chalet-style getaways in Eastern Townships. The Quebec region has 89 municipalities, including Magog, Sherbrooke and Coaticook. In addition to being surrounded by nature, the southeastern Quebec region has plenty of gourmet wine facilities, spas, golf courses, and winter sports, as well as more than a dozen national and regional parks that can be enjoyed year-round.

Data from the Quebec Professional Association of Real Estate Brokers suggest transactions climbed as much as 20 per cent in this region. Prices above the $500,000 level are also the new norm, and experts forecast that prices will continue to go up amid more Montrealers fleeing to the suburbs.

#5 Frontenac County, Ontario

Frontenac County is a three-hour drive from Toronto, sandwiched between Kingston and Ottawa. It would be easy to surmise that Frontenac is attracting mostly Torontonians, but the urban flight trend is bringing people from large cities across Ontario. The main problem is that affordable all-season cottages do not stay on the market long, especially those priced below $500,000.

In July, Kingston and its surrounding areas witnessed a new sales record, rising 35.8 per cent from the same period last year, says Kingston and Area Real Estate Association (KAREA). The average price of homes sold was an astounding $458,026, which was up 15.2 per cent from July 2019.

Earlier this spring, many cottage country mayors discouraged urbanites from leaving their big cities to come to these small towns for fear of spreading the highly infectious respiratory illness. But these warnings might not have been enough for city dwellers searching for vacation homes or all-season cottages. As people from the nation’s largest cities seek less densely populated communities, cottage country destinations nationwide can anticipate a massive boom – and this could last all year long for many of these rural regions. For realtors within these small communities, perhaps the fiercely competitive bidding wars commonplace in Toronto and Vancouver’s real estate transactions, will become the new norm in 2021.  Stranger things – like for example, a global pandemic and killer hornets – have happened.