Although resourceful Canadian real estate developers regularly convert empty warehouses, obsolete office buildings, redundant schools and other non-residential real estate into condominiums and other housing, one famous residential conversion involved transforming a population rather than the buildings. Elliot Lake, in the north shore area of Lake Huron in Northern Ontario was converted from the "Uranium Mining Capital of the World" to an acclaimed retirement Mecca and "Jewel in the Wilderness."
Affordability is the key word here! The variety of housing options in Elliot Lake is typical of any modern community. The diversity of rental, condominium and ownership options include two or three bedroom homes, townhouses, apartments, and bungalows -- all available at affordable prices. The Elliot Lake Retirement Living Program offers the most attractive rents in the province with a variety of housing units such as apartments, townhouses, semi-detached and detached homes available for rent from about C$345 per month. The average cost of purchasing a home starts at about C$30,000 for a condominium or townhouse.
Created in 1987, Elliot Lake Retirement Living has become known as the "Most Affordable Retirement Program" in the country and Elliot Lake, as a "centre of excellence for retirement living."
Elliot Lake, located a short distance from the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 17) at a spot midway between Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie, is accessible to neigbouring communities and surrounded by wilderness adventure areas: more than 4,000 sparkling, crystal lakes and rivers, beautiful forests, unbelievably breath-taking landscapes and scenery, and abundant wildlife.
Until the late '80's, Elliot Lake was a bustling uranium mining centre. As the mining era drew to a close, the City of Elliot Lake recognized something had to be done or it might be headed down the road to "ghost town." Rather than close the City, vacant homes were marketed and sold or rented to retirees. Between retirement living, tourism and some logging, the City of Elliot Lake has rebounded and is managing to maintain the infrastructure that was designed for a booming mining community: roads, shops, restaurants, hospital, police/fire protection, local transit service, schools, a municipal airport and a wide array of recreational, social and leisure facilities and programs.
The boundaries of the City of Elliot Lake cover 800 square miles and include over 100 spring fed lakes, surrounded by wilderness Crown land. In June of 2001, special legislation enabled the City of Elliot Lake to acquire, market and sell Crown land for waterfront development. This project reportedly preserved the pristine natural environment while introducing cottage development on a sound, sustainable basis for the future, through deliberate planning and research.
The City of Elliot Lake owes its existence to the uranium mining industry. When a huge ore body of uranium was discovered in the Canadian Shield near Elliot Lake in the early 1950s, the town was rapidly built and numerous mines were brought into production. For the next 40 years, Elliot Lake produced most of the world's uranium. Because of that reliance on mining, the local economy and population boomed and busted along with world demand and prices for uranium. After the Cold War nuclear arms race abated, world demand dropped off, many mines closed and Elliot Lake's population shrank from over 16,000 to 6,000 by 1966.
The need for nuclear power in the 1970s created another boom and Elliot Lake's population swelled to just under 20,000 in 1981. However, by the late 1980s market demand died down when more economical uranium was found elsewhere. The last five mines closed in the early-to-mid 1990s, resulting in over 4,500 lay-offs and a town full of empty homes.
Throughout the mid to late 1990s, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC -- formerly the Atomic Energy Control Board) worked with leading scientists, mining experts and the public to find the best ways to decommission mine areas. They decided on an extensive program of capping all shafts, re-vegetating former mine and mill sites, eliminating hazards to public safety and finally monitoring and treating the tailings to ensure that the mine properties posed no significant risk to the local environment. According to the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, considerable data on the safe management of the tailings areas and water quality of the local watershed, collected by The City of Elliot Lake, the CNSC and the mining companies, is available for public viewing at City Hall or the local library.