Montreal Gazette

TELECOMMUT­ING FROM THE EASTERN TOWN­SHIPS

Anec­do­tal ev­i­dence in­di­cates a spike in moves to the Eastern Town­ships, which has long played sec­ond fid­dle to the Lau­ren­tians for coun­try-bound ur­ban­ites, writes David Winch.

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The Town­ships are draw­ing more city pro­fes­sion­als who find small-town life ac­ces­si­ble in an on­line world. But can this scenic re­gion more than an hour’s drive from Mon­treal re­ally be the next hot neigh­bour­hood? David Winch ex­plores in

KNOWLTON Su­san Pe­pler wanted to try a new neigh­bour­hood. A down­town Mon­treal denizen, the Con­cor­dia grad and Daw­son-cer­ti­fied de­signer was happy and pros­per­ing in the west-cen­tral Shaugh­nessy Vil­lage. She had started there in the 1990s as an ad il­lus­tra­tor, and de­vel­oped into a full-fledged artiste with a gallery and on­line pub­lic for her flo­ral and Cuba-themed paint­ings. Per­haps a move to the Plateau was next?

But today her new home is else­where, built live on Face­book: “Lov­ing my new digs!” she posted on her FB news­feed as a new mi­grant to the Eastern Town­ships and a res­i­dent of Knowlton in the mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Brome Lake.

“Af­ter paint­ing for 10 years, and as much as I loved my house, my life and my friends in Shaugh­nessy Vil­lage, I re­al­ized I could take my paint­ing ca­reer and work any­where at all,” she said in an in­ter­view.

“I needed to live in the city then,” she said of her years as a free­lance ad­ver­tis­ing il­lus­tra­tor, sketch­ing coloured draw­ings for TV ad­ver­tis­ing con­cepts. Even­tu­ally her sis­ter set­tled near Lac-Brome. Knowlton ap­pealed to her be­cause she had fam­ily and friends there al­ready. She started ex­hibit­ing in 2006 in Knowlton; by De­cem­ber 2015 Pe­pler had bought a Vic­to­rian town­house.

“Now I have an awe­some lit­tle neigh­bour­hood near the lake and ma­rina,” she said.

She wants to build mo­men­tum in her ca­reer, ex­hibit more in Knowlton and Mon­treal, then in­crease her vis­i­bil­ity in On­tario and the U.S. Be­ing in touch on­line is key in that de­ci­sion.

“Elec­tronic com­mu­ni­ca­tions make any­thing pos­si­ble,” she said. “Ge­o­graph­i­cally, my clients are across the con­ti­nent and over­seas, but be­cause of the In­ter­net, it was easy to move out here and main­tain busi­ness as usual. All I re­ally needed was my can­vasses, my list and my lap­top.”

“I’m in touch with 1,000-plus clients, fans and fol­low­ers, mainly via my news­let­ter, but also via so­cial me­dia like Face­book and In­sta­gram. Ev­ery­one knows what I’m up to in the stu­dio. … My busi­ness hasn’t skipped a beat,” she re­ported.

The Town­ships are draw­ing more city pro­fes­sion­als like Pe­pler, who find small-town life ac­ces­si­ble in an on­line world. Anec­do­tal ev­i­dence in­di­cates a spike in moves to the re­gion, which has long played sec­ond fid­dle to the Lau­ren­tians for coun­try-bound ur­ban­ites. Mon­treal has tra­di­tion­ally viewed the Town­ships as “our Ver­mont,” a scenic cor­ner with lit­tle eco­nomic oomph. But will more com­mut­ing and telecommut­ing and the growth of ser­vice in­dus­tries — in tourism, com­puter ser­vices, ed­u­ca­tion, the arts — make the Eastern Town­ships the next hot neigh­bour­hood?

Que­bec’s In­sti­tut de la Statis­tique re­ported in March 2016 that the re­gions both north and south of Mon­treal are quickly gain­ing mi­grants from the city, a to­tal of 12,898 new res­i­dents in the 2014-15 pe­riod alone. The sprawl­ing South Shore Mon­térégie re­gion (pop. 1.54 mil­lion), which stretches from Longueuil south­east to Granby and Cowansvill­e, is now gain­ing as many new peo­ple as the Lau­ren­tians. And this grow­ing re­gion bor­ders the western edges of the Eastern Town­ships.

U.S. con­sult­ing firm Global Work­place An­a­lyt­ics de­fines “telecommut­ing ” as “the sub­sti­tu­tion of tech­nol­ogy for com­muter travel.” The In­sti­tut de la Statis­tique re­ports it has “no data on telecommut­ing” yet for Que­bec re­gions. Sta­tis­tics Canada uses the term “work at home,” and con­cludes that 20 per cent of univer­sity grad­u­ates, largely in ser­vice in­dus­tries — the in­for­ma­tion, fi­nance and culture fields — worked at home as of 2013, and this type of work was “grow­ing rapidly.” No re­gional break­down for telecommut­ing is avail­able be­fore the 2016 cen­sus re­sults. But given the prox­im­ity of the Mon­térégie and Town­ships, it’s likely that telecommut­ing is part of their pop­u­la­tion growth.

Catherine Orer, a self-de­scribed “busi­ness strate­gist for cre­ative en­trepreneur­s,” was “climb­ing the cor­po­rate lad­der” in Mon­treal when in 2015 af­ter her sec­ond ma­ter­nity

leave, she and her hus­band de­cided to move from Longueuil to Bromont. The small city (pop. 8,438) about 80 kilo­me­tres from Mon­treal “of­fered our fam­ily a bet­ter qual­ity of life and prox­im­ity to na­ture,” she said.

Now she and her fam­ily live on a two-acre wooded prop­erty. Orer has main­tained her ca­reer path, work­ing on­line with clients from Mi­ami to New York City. Now her com­puter is her of­fice.

“I have clients on mul­ti­ple con­ti­nents that I meet and work with solely through the In­ter­net, so whether I’m liv­ing in down­town Mon­treal or in Bromont makes ab­so­lutely no dif­fer­ence.”

There is an up­scale bus ser­vice with Wi-Fi and Net­flix that her hus­band Chris­tian Berg­eron, a risk an­a­lyst at the Caisse de dépôt et place­ment du Québec, rides ev­ery morn­ing. That com­mute takes him a lit­tle over an hour along Au­toroute 10 to the Caisse head of­fice near Old Mon­treal.

Orer says com­mut­ing from south­east­ern Que­bec to Mon­treal does not have the same im­age as com­mut­ing from north of the city. “No one would blink at trav­el­ling from Blainville,” she said about the bustling sub­urb be­tween Laval and Mirabel. As greater Mon­treal has sprawled north in re­cent years, towns once con­sid­ered safely in cot­tage coun­try have be­come dis­tant sub­urbs. St-Jérôme, of­ten called “the cap­i­tal of the Lau­ren­tians,” has had AMT com­muter­train ser­vice since 1997; the rush­hour trip from Cen­tral Sta­tion is sched­uled to take one hour and 36 min­utes.

The Town­ships are fur­ther from Mon­treal than the Lau­ren­tians; while St-Jérôme is just un­der 60 km from Mon­treal, the western edges of the Town­ships — Granby

and Bromont — are be­tween 80 and 90 km south­east of the city, while Ma­gog is “an hour and a quar­ter from Mon­treal,” says bro­ker Si­mon-P. Mar­cil, in a pitch re­al­tors there of­ten re­cite.

Work­ing far from city con­ve­niences was not al­ways easy. Suzan Ayscough, a film-in­dus­try pub­li­cist, re­calls be­ing a pioneer com­muter in the Lau­ren­tian vil­lage of Morin Heights in the 1980s while work­ing with city clients. “It usu­ally took be­tween 45 and 90 min­utes to drive, de­pend­ing on the traf­fic,” she said. “I had a pied-à-terre apart­ment-of­fice in the city and got a fax there in 1985. I re­mem­ber clearly in 1988 when I be­gan fil­ing by the In­ter­net. … It was so lib­er­at­ing, even on my old Tandy with a noisy mo­dem. It changed my world. I could file from any­where. ”

Fed­eral cen­sus data from 2016 are still be­ing com­piled, but the Eastern Town­ships (largely over­lap­ping the prov­ince’s Estrie re­gion), have emerged as one of the prov­ince’s steady growth poles. Que­bec’s re­cent “Panorama des ré­gions (2016)” pub­li­ca­tion cited the Sher­brooke MRC (mu­nic­i­pal­ité ré­gionale de comté), along with Mon­treal and its sub­ur­ban ar­eas, as grow­ing vig­or­ously: be­tween 2011 and 2016, “14 of the MRCs in Que­bec showed sus­tained growth, of be­tween (1 and 1.5 per cent). Among these are the MRCs of Mon­treal, Laval, Longueuil and Sher­brooke,” it re­ports.

Town­ships jobs now of­ten fit a new pro­file, based in ser­vice in­dus­tries such as tourism, ed­u­ca­tion and spe­cialty foods. These in­clude mi­cro­brew­eries and vine­yards, niche ho­tels and restau­rants, and food pro­duc­ers like the re­gion’s ice-cider and fine-cheese mak­ers. But eco­nomic sta­tis­tics don’t al­ways ac­count for new res­i­dents who bring their jobs with them.

Some ur­ban refugees avoid growth ar­eas and go “deep ru­ral.” Geral­dine Stringer moved to the Town­ships in 2012 from Mon­treal. An ar­chi­tect by train­ing, Stringer had orig­i­nally moved to Que­bec from Bos­ton on an in­ter­na­tional ur­ban-plan­ning pro­ject. In 1991, she met her hus­band Jean-Pierre Pel­letier at the Uni­ver­sité de Mon­tréal, then she worked for en­gi­neer­ing firm Des­sau on projects around the world. Mean­while, her hus­band was do­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal plan­ning and com­mut­ing reg­u­larly to the Univer­sity of Sher­brooke.

Af­ter a decade liv­ing with this ar­range­ment, they moved to tiny Way ’s Mills, half­way be­tween Coat­i­cook and Ayer’s Cliff, near Sher­brooke. “Tech­nol­ogy plays a very big part” in the cou­ple’s de­ci­sion to

work in the coun­try, she says. They can com­mu­ni­cate via Skype with stu­dents. “Get­ting high-speed In­ter­net in the vil­lage was ab­so­lutely cru­cial” to be­ing able to work there, she said.

Al­though “the first win­ter was hor­ri­ble” there, she has since ac­cli­ma­tized and finds it “beau­ti­ful to walk with our dogs in win­ter” and “fun” to live in a leafy ham­let of just 22 houses, with fields and cows across the road. Now a hor­ti­cul­tur­al­ist, Stringer plans gar­dens for clients through­out the Town­ships. She de­scribes re­turn­ing to work in Mon­treal as “noisy and busy.”

Mean­while, the Town­ship­pers’ As­so­ci­a­tion, which ad­vo­cates for the 46,628 an­g­los liv­ing in the his­toric Eastern Town­ships area, re­ports that re­cent com­mut­ing and telecommut­ing trends are “not yet a big de­mo­graphic” in the Sher­brooke area. “It’s likely to be

more com­mon in the Brome Lake area or in towns like Cowansvill­e, Granby, etc., which are phys­i­cally closer to Mon­treal,” said spokesper­son Corinna Poole.

In the col­lege town of Len­noxville, a bor­ough of Sher­brooke, there is a clas­sic em­pha­sis on new high-tech firms to gen­er­ate jobs. Bor­ough pres­i­dent David Price un­der­lines the emer­gence of Global Ex­cel, a startup launched by Bishop’s grads in the 1980s, which has mush­roomed to 400 em­ploy­ees, pro­cess­ing bilin­gual in­sur­ance and med­i­cal claims. Such growth is rooted lo­cally, rather than de­pend­ing on Mon­treal ex­pa­tri­ates adopt­ing their town.

A new wave may be com­ing, how­ever, un­furl­ing steadily on the coun­try­side. The Town­ships have re­lied on their charm for a long time. Now they might gen­er­ate some buzz.

I have clients on mul­ti­ple con­ti­nents ... so whether I’m liv­ing in down­town Mon­treal or in Bromont makes ab­so­lutely no dif­fer­ence.

 ?? MARIE-FRANCE COALLIER ?? Busi­ness strate­gist Catherine Orer gave up the bus­tle of Mon­treal for the quiet of Bromont, where she and her fam­ily live on a two-acre wooded prop­erty. She con­tin­ues to work on­line with clients from Mi­ami to New York City.
MARIE-FRANCE COALLIER Busi­ness strate­gist Catherine Orer gave up the bus­tle of Mon­treal for the quiet of Bromont, where she and her fam­ily live on a two-acre wooded prop­erty. She con­tin­ues to work on­line with clients from Mi­ami to New York City.
 ?? PHO­TOS: MARIE-FRANCE COALLIER ?? Artist Su­san Pe­pler, with her dog Gigi, at her home stu­dio in Knowlton. “As much as I loved my house, my life and my friends in Shaugh­nessy Vil­lage,” says the for­mer Mon­trealer, “I re­al­ized I could take my paint­ing ca­reer and work any­where at all.”
PHO­TOS: MARIE-FRANCE COALLIER Artist Su­san Pe­pler, with her dog Gigi, at her home stu­dio in Knowlton. “As much as I loved my house, my life and my friends in Shaugh­nessy Vil­lage,” says the for­mer Mon­trealer, “I re­al­ized I could take my paint­ing ca­reer and work any­where at all.”
 ??  ?? “Get­ting high-speed In­ter­net in the vil­lage was ab­so­lutely cru­cial,” says Geral­dine Stringer, an ar­chi­tect who moved to tiny Way’s Mills in 2012.
“Get­ting high-speed In­ter­net in the vil­lage was ab­so­lutely cru­cial,” says Geral­dine Stringer, an ar­chi­tect who moved to tiny Way’s Mills in 2012.
 ??  ?? Some telecom­muters go “deep ru­ral.” Way’s Mills, be­tween Coat­i­cook and Ayer’s Cliff, near Sher­brooke, has just 22 houses and two churches.
Some telecom­muters go “deep ru­ral.” Way’s Mills, be­tween Coat­i­cook and Ayer’s Cliff, near Sher­brooke, has just 22 houses and two churches.

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