Growth in the Town of Erin – Explainer

A road sign saying Welcome to the Town of Erin

Written by Abel

Abel is the founder of Esper’Ance In Action. He is a Sustainability & social impact practitioner for 12+ years. Value driven, Abel loves to build community, engage and solve complex problems with empathy and compassion.

June 6, 2023

Download a pdf version of this article here: Erin-Growth_Explainer_PDF

Growth has been hovering over the Town of Erin, Ontario, for more than a decade, probably leaving some residents hoping it might never happen. Now that growth is starting in full swing, with all the nuisances and interrogations it creates, some Erinites are caught almost off-guard and overwhelmed by the amount of change and information coming their way in a short time. 

Between the construction of the wastewater treatment plant starting, the permit application for several subdivision projects of hundreds of homes, the changes in planning induced by the recent provincial legislations introduced (bill 23, 97), there is definitely a lot to digest and one can easily feel lost and despaired, not knowing what the future holds. 

The article below strives to humbly summarize factually, with no bias or judgement, what is happening in the Town of Erin and give a picture of what “growth” will actually look like for the municipality. 

The topic of growth and development is quite a complex one and regulations evolves regularly.  If you find some inadequacies in the article below, please do not hesitate to contact me by email to discuss it.

The need for growth? 

Every country in the world needs economic growth to sustain itself in the long-term. I won’t get into the whys of this here but Canada is no different. Put in a very simple way, the Country needs more people to create growth and fill workforce shortages

In Canada, growth strategy relies on organic growth and on immigration, needed to contribute to the economy and counter the effects of an ageing Canadian population. In 2022, Canada’s population grew by more than a million, a record, even for the fastest-growing G7 country. 

These aggressive growth targets trickle down to Provinces, with Ontario being one of the most popular, creating the need for more infrastructure and housing to absorb new comers as Ontario could see its population growing by 4.2 to 6 million people in the next two decades. 

Canada’s population growth and projection (click on the image to expand). Source: Statistic Canada 

Ontario’s population growth and projection (click on the image to expand). Source: Government of Ontario

Growth strategy – how does it work? 

Experts have already warned the Ontario government that accommodating its growth targets will require significant investment in infrastructure and housing, not only to absorb new comers but also to address the housing crisis Ontarians are facing, struggling to access the market and find affordable homes to rent or buy.

To address these concerns, the Ford Government has set up a target of building 1.5 million homes by 2031, even allocating specific housing targets to certain municipalities, in a very controversial move that has left many experts perplexed, convinced the new regulations won’t solve the affordability crisis and left environmentalists upset at the prospect of seeing unbridled sprawl encroach on protected areas.  

These targets are then transferred to municipalities at the regional (County of Wellington) and then township level. 

Repeal Bill 23

Read our explainer about the impact of Bill 23 on the environment and discover the contradictions and caveats in Ford’s pledge to build 1.5 million homes, which will likely not help solving the current housing crisis. 

In its 2020 plan for growth, entitled “A place to grow“, the Ontario government set a minimum population target of 160,000 people in 2051 for the County of Wellington from an actual population of 93,600 in 2016.

Based on that forecast, the County of Wellington launched an official plan review to allocate growth targets to various municipalities within the County. The plan review was approved in 2022 and you can learn more about the process in this presentation made to Centre Wellington’s Council in January 2023.

All the information related to this official plan update can be found on the County’s website, here

Source: Phase One MCR report, Final version accessible here

Centre Wellington is set to absorb most of the growth in Wellington County with 44%. The Town of Erin is second, set to absorb 22%, almost a quarter of the growth the be seen in the County of Wellington by 2051. 

The County expects that the annual population growth rate in Erin will be the highest in the County at about 2.3% (compared to an average expected of 1.5% throughout the County) between 2016 and 2051 when it was only 0.8% between 2006 and 2016 (source accessible here).  From this, the Town of Erin has amended its own official plan and set its growth management strategy

Town of Erin – From experiencing the charm to future focused

Town of Erin info & numbers: 

 Population: 11,981 

 Residential dwellings: 4,396 

Total land area: 299 Km2

 Village of Erin: 

  • Population (2021): 3,100 
  • Households (2021): 1,070


  • Population (2021): 1,400
  • Households (2021): 540


Sources: Map, population and residential dwellings = Wellington Advertiser

Other information: Wellington County MCR report

A wastewater treatment plant to enable growth

The major enabler for the Town of Erin to go from a quaint small town to the next frontier for development in the Greater Toronto Area is the controversial decision to build a wastewater treatment plant to accommodate the growth and comply with the provincial requirements to build more housing.

Overview of the work required for the wastewater treatment plant construction. Source and more info in this presentation

A LOT has been said about the wastewater treatment plant construction and I will not come back on this in this article. The construction of the plant is now a new reality Erinites have to condone with and there is little value to debate whether it is the best or worst thing that happened to Erin. With that said, there are a few important things to know about this wastewater treatment plant: 

– Developers have agreed to pay upfront $94 million in charges to finance some of the work associated with construction of the plant; 

– The cost of construction almost doubled from initial estimates as explained in this report presented to the Erin Council on February 23rd, 2023;

– Former Council explained last year that residents will not be obliged to connect until full funding would be secured and from my understanding (which could be wrong) residents are still  in the dark regarding the cost of connecting their homes at the time of writing this article. Word on the street is that the cost could be somewhere between $10,000 to $25,000; 

– Start of the work for the construction of the treatment plant has raised many concerns in Town, creating disruptions to businesses, challenges for traffic and emergency response, and led to some environmental concerns with the cut of numerous trees, either done already or planned on the Elora-Cataract trail for example;

 – The Town and other stakeholders are working towards improving communication and helping residents and businesses fare better through the work, with the implication of current council members. Learn more here.


Developers in the starting blocks

GALLERY (click to see next pictures) – Drone pictures of the construction work ongoing at the Erin Glen subdivision, owned by Solmar, East of the village of Erin. This subdivision is one of the biggest happening currently with a capacity of  1,525 units planned. Pictures by Adrian Michel, accessible here.

The growth targets set for the Town of Erin, basically require to more than double the population of the town by 2051, from 11,800 in 2016 to 26,300. 

It is estimated by the County that to accommodate the incoming population, the Town of Erin will have to build about 5,090 homes, more than actually stand in the Town today, representing 145 new homes per year until 2051.  

As shown by the County’s plan on the right, the village of Erin will have to more than triple the number of households in 30 years, while Hillsburgh will have to quadruple it. Growth is mostly directed towards urban areas in the Town of Erin. 

Click on the image on the right to see it in bigger size. Source: Wellington County MCR Report

Ongoing development applications and construction

It is difficult to follow all the development ongoing in town and keep track of what is happening. Here is an attempt to a quick summary (information is subject to change and only residential / mixed developments have been selected). 

There are currently more than 4,100 residential units being planned, under permitting or being built in the Town of Erin at the time of writing this article (and to our knowledge) More info in this document here

Click on the image to see bigger. Construction zone: summary of residential or mixed development projects in the Town of Erin, as of June 2023. Information compiled from The Town of Erin and the County of Wellington. (design by Esper’ance in Action – do not reproduce without permission) 

The amount of construction activities and projects have been overwhelming for residents who did not expect change to happen so quickly. Latest on the list, the introduction for permitting of a subdivision project in the heart of Hillsburgh, proposing 799 units. Residents have expressed their concerns during a chaotic engagement meeting at the initiative of the developer. 

Proposed lands for the latest development project submitted to permitting in the Town of Erin: 799 units in Hillsburgh by Ballantry homes

Growth: what is it good for? 

As the picture above shows, some of the developments proposed in the Town of Erin will affect precious farmland that the town is losing at an increasing rate (indeed, since 2006, the town has lost almost 60% of farmland acreage).  At a time of climate crisis and other economic and environmental challenges, one can wonder what growth is good for and why our country so desperately pushes for it. 

Ospringe Highlands‘ sixty 3,000+ sq feet plywood “McMansions” on a half acre lot of what once was prime farmland, sold at more than a million dollar seem like an heresy in the current world but are unfortunately the norm in Ontario. Here’s to hoping that a more stringent building code is implemented to make housing resilient and efficient. Picture from Google Maps.

Unfortunately, as human population continues to increase worldwide, it seems that growth is inevitable and will continue to affect many. Unless we rethink the way our societies evolve, start thinking beyond growth and in terms of well-being and social and ecological benefits rather than in economic  indicators, we will continue to see the train wreck of fast, unsustainable growth happen again and again. 

The most frustrating is that the solutions exist (building standards, eco-buildings and communities, etc.) to accommodate growth in a way that is smarter, future ready and respectful of the ecosystems and the people, also ahead of the shocks that our communities are facing. Unfortunately, the “status quo”, the “quick buck”, the easiest solution, remain the main trend, jeopardizing our planet and future generations. 

The Clichy-Batignolles éco-quartier, in Paris (France) is an amazing example of how growth and development can be done with energy efficiency, biodiversity, resource conservation, climate adaptation in mind and consider also social needs with affordable and social housing. Learn more about this project here

The point of this article is not to provide my personal view regarding growth but offer a detailed picture of what is happening in Erin, as an example of what many regions are going through in Ontario and in the world. 

Even if it seems that the “ship has sailed”, this is not entirely true and here are my 2 cents when it comes to deal with the changes coming our way: 

– Community is all we have to go through this transition. Being united and making sure neighbors are okay might not seem much but will go a long way;

– Keeping informed and engaged: asking questions rather than letting an information vacuum become a reason for unfounded rumors and approximations;

– Participate (if possible) in the process and take a proactive role in this growth phase by attending meetings, sending comments and questions in the permitting process and joining information sessions; 

– Keep the developers accountable as they will try to get their way at any opportunity. 

Learn about the permitting design in the Town of Erin. Click on the image to see bigger or download the pdf

Information meeting with Blackthorn Development in Hillsburgh in May 2023. Taking an active role in the permitting process is one of the main tool residents have to influence development. (Photo credits: Wellington Advertiser)

We often feel powerless and hopeless in the face of change, especially when such a big transition is happening at what seems an extremely quick pace, but we are not. The regulatory process, albeit imperfect, is our best tool to influence how growth will happen and what developers will do, as frustrating as it seems at times. 

Here are the tools you can use to take a more active part in the construction projects happening in the Town of Erin (dashboard, info sessions and feedback are now focused on the wastewater plant construction, hopefully the Town will keep them for future construction projects):

Project Dashboard

Stay informed about the construction project with the Town of Erin’s dashboard.

Information sessions

Join the liaison committee meetings or attend the drop-in sessions to get updates.

Ask questions directly

Contact the Town or your elected representatives to ask questions, raise concerns and get info.

Participate to the process

Read  public council documents, and reports, attend public meetings, etc. 

Provide feedback

Raise concerns on actual construction work through the town’s feedback form.

Beyond this, grassroots community building, information sharing, advocacy and education are at the core of embarking as many people as possible to take action and change the status quo so that growth happens in a progressive and responsible way, respectful of people and the environment but also ahead of the challenges our communities are facing. Getting more people to vote for instance is crucial to steer away from the current unbridled sprawl that has been encouraged by our current provincial government, who by the way is under investigation for its shady proceedings. 

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