B.C. City Guide 2018 - Parksville
Credit: City of Parksville/Debbie Tardiff

widgetThis Island enclave attracts its share of retirees, but young families and small businesses like its oceanfront vistas, too

You probably know about Parksville’s sandy beaches, hefty retiree cohort and tourism industry, which runs full-tilt all summer only to hunker down over the winter months. But it might surprise you to hear about the Vancouver Island city’s fast-growing film industry—complete with a new 32,000-square-foot studio and prop shop—that hit its stride after the Hallmark Channel began shooting the Chesapeake Shores series in the area in 2015.

That hint of the movie biz isn’t the only new development to wake up this sometime-sleepy town. Yes, the Parksville–Qualicum Beach corridor is still an older community—the oldest in Canada, with a median age of 63.9 and 59.6 for Qualicum Beach and Parksville, respectively—and tourism still dominates, with resorts like Tigh-Na-Mara among the largest employers. About 25,000 people show up for Parksville’s annual Canada Day celebration, and its Beachfest sand-sculpting event drew 130,000 last year.

But the city is close to the transportation hub of Nanaimo, and, like many Island towns, it’s been boosting its tech scene: improving its fibre connectivity and creating a centre for digital media along with new industrial space. Small, independent businesses have taken advantage, and although 40 percent of them cater to tourists, there are notable exceptions, such as Canadian Electric Vehicles Ltd., award-winning interactive web comic developer Pixton Comics and surgical tools maker Micro Precision Parts.

The downturn in Alberta is also affecting Parksville’s demographics, with many former oil-patch commuters choosing to stay and find work in its booming construction sector. Over the next 25 years, the city is forecast to have the second-fastest growth among B.C. communities of its size. That’s partly thanks to retiring boomers, but also because young families like the idea of living in what’s known as Canada’s Riviera, a stone’s throw from warm beaches, old-growth wilderness and a density of golf courses that’s nearing critical mass.

The downside to those resort-y perks is that rents are much higher than in other mid-Island towns, making the area a tough sell for lower-wage workers, and the vacancy rate is zero. But the city is trying to catch up: the value of building permits in Parksville–Qualicum Beach has rocketed from about $12 million in 2008 to well over $40 million last year. Much of the construction is multifamily developments—particularly in the Coombs area and in Parksville proper, which is more retail- and service-oriented than garden city–quaint Qualicum Beach.

Despite the growth, the new glitter and even the half-million tourists that visit every year, Parksville is holding onto its safe, family-friendly brand—this is a city that chooses ice-cream parlours and scrapbooking stores over marijuana dispensaries. Find the right niche, embrace the small-town vibe, and it could be the spot for you and your business to grow old gracefully together.

Population: 29,943
Household age (0-45, 45-64, 64+): 13.2%, 29.1%, 57.7%
University grads: 21%
Average household income: $80,782
Average household income under 45: $74,521
Five-year income growth, 2012-17: 16.1%
Five-year population growth: 5.7%

Average detached home price: $547,057
Average condominium price: $265,707 (multistorey); $382,260 (single-level)
Average monthly rent for a two-bedroom: $1,200
Average annual household spending on shelter: $18,726

Key industries: Service industry; hospitality and tourism; education; health care
Notable employers: Quality FoodsSchool District 69Tigh-Na-Mara Seaside Spa Resort
Regional unemployment: 5.8% (February)

Total value of building permits issued in 2017: $44,521,362
Change from 2016: –9%
Cost of a business licence: $50-$2,000 (typically $150)
Average processing time for a building permit: 2-6 weeks
Business property tax rate: $11.60 per $1,000 of assessed value
Average office lease rate per sq. ft./year: $15
Average retail lease rate: $17

Quality of LifeQUALITY OF LIFE
Major post-secondary institutions: Vancouver Island University
Major recreational amenities: Eight provincial and five regional parks (including Cathedral Grove and Mount Arrowsmith UNESCO site); seven golf courses; Oceanside Place skating rink; curling rink; soccer/football field; tennis courts; aquatic centre; community centre; beaches; boardwalk; hiking trails; beaches; boating and paddling; mountain biking; caving; nearby skiing
Key annual events: 160, including Parksville Uncorked beer and wine festival; Brant Wildlife Festival; Canada Day celebration; Parksville Beach Festival/Quality Foods Sand Sculpting Competition; Parksville Lions International Kite Festival
Average annual household spending on recreation: $4,487
Residents who walk or bike to work: 4.5%