By KEVIN COX
Wednesday, July 17, 2002 Print Edition, Page A7
At the age of 72, Eric Hagen of Chester, N.S., delights in the neighbourly atmosphere and the sense of community in his rural seaside community.
While the retired real-estate agent revels in sailing the waters around the scenic town, about 65 kilometres southwest of Halifax, he worries about changes that may make it difficult for some of the older people in his community to stay.
The same splendid scenery and rural lifestyle that attracted the seniors have sparked an influx of professional people and sent property values and tax assessments skyrocketing.
"I made a good living here and my closest friends are here," Mr. Hagen said yesterday. "It's something I want to preserve so my grandchildren can live and work here. But older people who are here on a fixed income are finding it hard with the way assessments are going."
But despite the flood of new residents, the census figures show that Chester is still the second-oldest rural community in Nova Scotia, with a median age of 42.8 years. Only the eastern shore area of Guysborough has an older population, with a median age of 44.2 years.
Nova Scotia and Quebec have the oldest rural populations in Canada, with a median age of 40.8 years. The aging of the rural population can be partly explained by the movement of young people to cities, particularly in provinces such as Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Saskatchewan.
But it leaves health-care professionals and politicians worrying about how to provide everything from nursing homes to recreational activities for the rapidly aging population in rural Canada, where the median age has jumped 3.5 years to 39 years since 1996.
The median age in rural areas is now two years higher than in metropolitan areas. The jump was seen most dramatically in Newfoundland, where the median age increased by 5.4 years to 39.5, and the rural population declined by 11 per cent between 1996 and 2001.
Much of that decline has been attributed to the depletion of the cod fishery and the subsequent fishing moratorium that was introduced a decade ago.
Herb Brett, vice-president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Municipalities, said small communities are now looking at building more senior citizens housing and nursing homes for an aging population.
The migration of young people to the cities and the mainland has also had a devastating impact on some small towns in the province, he said.
"In Port Union there were 1,200 people working in a [fish-processing] plant and when that folded in the 1990s over the next several years about 70 small businesses also closed," said Mr. Brett, who is also deputy mayor of the central Newfoundland town of Arnold's Cove.
"It was a spinoff. When young people leave, businesses like video rentals just close. Senior citizens don't rent many videos."
Mr. Brett, whose three adult children have all left Newfoundland, said only increased economic activity in rural Newfoundland would bring young people back to their hometowns.
The aging rural population will also create challenges for health care, says Mount St. Vincent University Professor Janice Keefe.