By RHéAL SéGUIN
Wednesday, July 17, 2002
After years as the unemployment capital of Canada, Trois-Rivières now holds the more enviable title of the metropolitan area with the oldest population in the country.
According to the second round of data from the 2001 census released yesterday by Statistics Canada, Trois-Rivières has a median age of 41.2 years, surpassing Victoria, which held the title of the retirement capital of Canada. (Victoria is now No. 2 with a median age of 41.0.)
The median age is the point at which exactly half the population in an area is older than the other half.
Trois-Rivières, located on the St. Lawrence River halfway between Montreal and Quebec City, has a population of 126,000 and offers affordable housing, cheap transportation, a low crime rate and a good quality of life. But it has never had a reputation as a retirement community.
Jacques Veillette, 62, and his wife, Colette, 61, were as surprised as anyone to hear that Trois-Rivières could attract so many retirees. "Victoria has such milder weather, it's such a beautiful place," Ms. Veillette said.
But like many of the city's older residents, the couple moved to Trois-Rivières to work and stayed after reaching retirement age.
"The quality of life here is great, homes are cheap to buy and we have a bicycle path near our back yard where we can Rollerblade all summer long," Mr. Veillette said. "The city has a lot to offer but I never expected it had the potential to attract so many people like us."
Unlike Victoria, where retirees flock to enjoy the mild weather and the leisurely lifestyle, demographers explain that Trois-Rivières earned its title by default.
"Trois-Rivières is an interesting phenomenon," Statscan analyst Benis Boudreau said. "Victoria attracts people who have either retired or are preparing for retirement in the 45 to 60 age bracket. Trois Rivières, however, does not attract the elderly. It gained the title because young people have left the community to work elsewhere."
Mr. Boudreau said the Trois-Rivières demographic trend is indicative of what is evolving throughout Quebec, which makes it and Nova Scotia the oldest provinces.
Throughout Eastern Canada, the older population is growing more rapidly than in other parts of the country, largely because regions with stronger economies are attracting the young workers. Quebec also has one of the lowest birth rates in Canada and one of the highest numbers of residents aged 65 years and over.
According to Louis Duchesne, a demographer at the Institut de la statistique du Québec,projections show that Quebec's median age will be closer to 46 by 2026.
"Quebec's median age will remain higher than anywhere else in Canada," Mr. Dushesne said. "This will create a lot of tensions on the work force." The only solutions will be to either encourage women to have more children or require people to work longer, he said.
According to the experts, it will also create increasing financial strain on the health-care system, social programs and support services for older people, especially in communities such as Trois-Rivières that have already begun addressing many of the problems.
The mayor of Trois-Rivières, Yves Lévesque, is proud of his city's newly established notoriety. He emphasized the economic benefits of boosting Trois-Rivières as a retirement community but insisted that attracting jobs and young workers would always be his main priority as unemployment dropped in recent years to less than 10 per cent from 14 per cent.
"Retired people have much more money than before and that's great. It injects more money in the region," he said. "But we have to bring down the [average] age of the community and to do that we have to create jobs. . . ."