Each rural community in Ontario offers unique attributes that contribute to the diversity of the province. Northern Ontario is home to a multitude of natural resources, producing more than $5 billion worth of minerals a year. Rich farmlands, producing some of the freshest vegetables, meat and dairy products in the country, populate Southern Ontario – with almost 52,000 farms scattered throughout the province.

Ontario’s landscape is beautiful and vibrant – boasting an impressive 329 provincial parks, 400 conservation areas and 292 conservation reserves that attract more than 10 million visitors a year. Over 250,000 lakes in the province make up an astounding one-third of the world’s fresh water supply.


Population (2011)


Median Age




Land Area, km2

14.1 person/km2


Wholesale/Retail Trade, Health Care, Manufacturing


Yet, despite a large majority of these resources stemming from rural areas, rural Ontario is declining:

  • While Ontario’s urban population grew by 15.13% over 2001-2011, rural and small town population in Ontario declined by 7.34%.
  • Population projections for 2011-2025 indicate that Ontario’s rural population will continue to decline – from 1,118,065 to 925,299 – painting an uncertain future.

Why is rural Ontario on the decline?

  • Ontario’s population is aging: Low birth rates and a higher life expectancy is causing the average age of Ontarians to rise, leaving a large gap in the labour force.
  • Younger working age adults are leaving and many are not returning: The prime working age population (those aged 20-44) declined by 26% between 2001 and 2011. It is expected that many of these younger working age adults left to pursue post secondary and employment opportunities in urban areas.
  • Rural Ontario is not attracting immigrants: Despite a large increase in immigrants over the last 10 years, only 2.8% reside in rural areas in Ontario.

What does this mean for rural Ontario?

Significant focus on rural Ontario’s challenges is critical – they will only continue to worsen if nothing is done. Increasing education and training in rural areas may not only help retain youth and workers, but provide communities with the skills, knowledge and talent to thrive. Strategies need to be in place to entice immigrants to settle in rural Ontario. It is becoming increasingly important for rural communities across the province to work together to build on their existing resources to create a stronger, more vibrant rural Ontario.

Rural Ontario is facing skills challenges:

  • The more ‘rural’ an area is, the more the average labour force participation rate declines. The participation rate is 14% higher in urban areas than in remote rural areas.
  • The level of schooling declines as the distance between rural areas and population centres increases. For example, 31% of urban residents have a university degree compared to only 5% of those in remote rural areas.
  • The level of educational achievement in rural areas is much lower than its urban counterparts.

Strengthening Rural Canada is working to determine if local skills development strategies can lead to economic growth and community resiliency by building a community’s human and social capital.