Real Estate

The Move: After a cancer diagnosis, this Ontario couple headed to P.E.I. to retire (and relax)

For Ontarians Doug and Teri Johnson, a health scare was the catalyst for slower pace of life in Prince Edward Island
Andrea Yu
3T4A1138_MASTER (1)

The buyers:

Doug Johnson, a 58-year-old retired operations manager, and his wife, Teri, a 58-year-old retired medical lab technologist.

The budget:

$500,000

The backstory:

Doug and Teri spent their lives in St. Catharines, the southern Ontario city where they met in 1982 through friends. They raised their kids, Arlington and Olivia, in the same three-bedroom bungalow that Teri grew up in. Prior to the pandemic, the couple had been making plans for their retirement—which, they hoped, would include a prettier property with more land. “The bungalow wasn’t our dream home,” Doug says. “It was close to a busy road and our neighbours were right there.” Initially, the Johnsons were aiming to retire in 2024, but they reprioritized when Doug was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2020. “That made me say, ‘It’s time to relax and enjoy life,’ ” Doug says.

A wall of windows looks out onto the Northumberland Strait

They briefly considered relocating within the province—north to Collingwood or southwest to Leamington—but they knew that the $500,000 they’d likely net from the sale of their bungalow wouldn’t stretch very far in Ontario’s pricey market. Instead, they looked east to Prince Edward Island, which they’d visited three times on vacation. Doug fondly recalls beach trips, the requisite heaps of seafood and checking out the local music scene. “People really didn’t seem to be in a hurry—they’d strike up a conversation or stop in to let you know a ceilidh, or party, is going on down the road,” he says. P.E.I. checked the Johnsons’ most important box: less stress.

The hunt:

In February of 2021, Doug and Teri reached out to a Charlottetown-based realtor with a few more wish-list items: three bedrooms, a waterfront view and access to medical care for Doug close by. (Like the rest of the country, P.E.I. is facing a serious shortage of doctors.) Quarantine was still mandatory for out-of-province travellers, so the Johnsons had their realtor forward local listings. Properties were selling much quicker than they expected. First, they missed out on a three-bedroom ranch-style bungalow in northwestern Gordon Cove, and later, a three-bedroom raised bungalow in Cape Bear. They realized bidding wars aren’t as common in P.E.I. as they are in Ontario. Sellers out east often accept the first offers that come in.

The dining room

By April, the Johnsons were revisiting listings they’d once overlooked. One was for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom bungalow in Cape Wolfe, listed for $459,000. It was an hour northwest of Summerside, the closest city, but just a 25-minute drive from a hospital. A video tour, posted on YouTube, revealed a charming V-shaped home clad in a mosaic of custom stonework, with a new addition built by the previous owners. The sunny main entrance gave way to a living room with a wood-burning fireplace, which led to a sunroom with clear views of the Northumberland Strait.

Doug and Teri submitted an offer of $450,000, conditional on a home inspection, which the sellers accepted. The Cape Wolfe property was theirs, and they’d never stepped foot inside. “Everybody thought we were crazy,” Doug says. The couple stayed in the St. Catharines house for a few months until December, when it sold for $505,000. It was a good thing they had a place to sleep, because securing movers was nearly impossible. “Many of the companies were too busy moving other people to the East Coast,” Doug says. Last January, he and Teri finally settled in for good.

RELATED: The Move: Two working parents trek from B.C. to N.B. in search of affordable childcare

The Johnsons lost power for five days during Hurricane Fiona, but aside from some downed branches, the property remains mercifully intact. (Doug called it a good test for life in the Maritimes.) Packages are only delivered on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and Doug is still on the waiting list for a new GP. But then they’re also a short drive from a sea-glass-speckled beach, cycling on the Confederation Trail and ceilidhs with new friends in town. Teri even bought a keyboard and is taking lessons online. “I’ve always wanted to play,” she says. “I just never had the time.”

The obligatory lighthouse keeps watch along the shoreline