TORONTO -- A Northern Ontario town has seen a surge of new residents after it began offering plots of land for $500.

Smooth Rock Falls, located nearly 800 kilometres north of Toronto and 100 kilometres north of Timmins, Ont., started offering land at rock-bottom prices in 2017, hoping to breathe new life into the town's economy, while offering much-needed affordable housing.

A large pulp mill had been at the centre of Smooth Rock Falls' economy, employing 200 people, but when the mill closed in 2006, the town's population began to steadily decline. The 2016 census recorded a population of 1,330, compared to 1,830 in 2001.

"Because the mill had closed, we lost so many people. People were moving out of town, putting their houses up for sale for practically nothing," said Smooth Rock Falls Mayor Sue Perras in an interview with CTV's Your Morning this week.

At the time, some residents were selling their homes for $20,000 or less while others even abandoned their homes altogether, Perras said.

"We needed to come up with a plan to stop the people from moving out and have people move in," she said.

After the town announced it was offering land for $500, it received over a thousand inquiries. The bold move attracted newcomers from as far away as British Columbia. As a result of the initiative, there are 60 new families living in the town.

"It was a great plan. It definitely was," the mayor said. "It brought people to our community to have a look at the different lots and everything and some people just ended up buying houses that already existed."

Back in 2017, the average home in Smooth Rock Falls cost $56,000. Today, the average price of a home is $137,000, up 144 per cent.

But even with the boom, Smooth Rock Falls continues to be the third most-affordable small community in Ontario, according to Zolo, an online real estate marketplace.

Smooth Rock Falls' next step is to bring more employers into the town. On the site of the now-closed pulp mill, the town recently opened a $3.2 million industrial park.

Perras offered this advice for other small towns struggling with a declining population.

"The biggest thing is to think outside the box. It's hard to come up with new ideas. And because we're all in the same situation in the north, we're all losing the one industry that we had for 100 years," she said, "So, we need to offer something that is outside the box."

With files from The Canadian Press.