Counterurbanites and Commercial Landscape Change in the Canadian Countryside: Insights from Paris, Ontario

Alexander Elmes, Clare J.A. Mitchell


This paper examines the role of in-migrants in the functional transformation of amenity-rich places. Its overarching goal is to determine if and how internal migrants arriving from larger settlement areas (i.e., counterurbanites) are contributing to the creation of functionally diverse (hybrid), or functionally limited (pure) commercial landscapes in places endowed with heritage assets. We focus on Paris, an historic town situated at the confluence of the Grand and Nith Rivers in southern Ontario. Three objectives guide the research: (1) to determine which commercial landscape form (hybrid or pure) and landscape generating process (creative enhancement or destruction) best characterizes the downtown; (2) to establish counterurbanite presence in this commercial core; and (3) to assess their role in the downtown’s recent evolution. Evidence gleaned from secondary sources, and local fieldwork reveals that creative enhancement (functional addition), rather than creative destruction (functional displacement) is the dominant process. This has given rise to a hybrid landscape, where quotidian businesses (i.e., those selling ordinary goods and services) accompany five non-quotidian (i.e., distinctive) product types (i.e., authentic heritage, infused heritage, heritage-enhanced, faux-authentic heritage, and non-heritage boutique), each relying in different ways on the town’s heritage assets. Information gathered from 35 proprietors finds that counterurbanites, and other inmigrants, dominate the downtown core, with only six non-migrant proprietors represented. In-comers, including counterurbanites, sell both quotidian and nonquotidian products, with non-migrant vendors offering only ordinary goods and services. These findings reveal that by selling both product types, counterurbanites are contributing to the creation of a hybrid landscape in the city’s countryside. Their attraction is thus an important ingredient for facilitating diversity and economic viability in small settlement areas.

Keywords: counterurbanization, tourism, creative enhancement, creative destruction, Canada

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The Journal of Rural and Community Development is supported by SSHRC.