What makes a city great? When determining our 8th annual list of Best Places to Live in Canada, we looked at all the data we could find to determine which communities offer the best overall quality of life. After studying the socio-economic conditions in 200 cities and towns across Canada, we saw further evidence of the ongoing rise of the West relative to the rest of Canada. The economic boom in Canada’s resource-rich Prairie provinces has clearly impacted the fortunes of Canadians living there and as a result we have a new No. 1 overall city this year. Calgary has overthrown Ottawa as the best place to live after a three-year run by our nation’s capital atop the leaderboard.
Calgary’s jump to the top of the list shouldn’t come as a surprise. High incomes and an abundance of jobs fueled by the energy sector have been drawing young people west for years. Calgary’s 4% unemployment rate-well below the national average of 7%-is the big draw. Housing may expensive in Calgary, but home ownership is manageable thanks to above-average household incomes. That’s not the case in many of Canada’s other big cities, where high home prices far exceed residents’ ability to afford them.
Admittedly, we can’t gauge many of the elements Canadians treasure most about their cities; the nearness of family, the friendliness of neighbours or even delicious restaurants. Instead, we’ve stuck to the hard numbers to determine the safest, most convenient and viable spots in the country. Here are MoneySense‘s top 10 overall Best Places to Live 2013:
#10 Newmarket, Ont.
This town has it all, high household incomes ($107,353 on average), great weather, low unemployment (4.69%) and some of the lowest crime rates in the country.
#9 Lethbridge, Alta.
Brace yourselves; there are a number of Alberta cities in the top 10. Lethbridge sets the bar high posting impressive scores in the weather category (more than 70% of days in a year are rain- and snow-free) and homes are super affordable with the average price tag set at just $183, 491.
#8 Lacombe, Alta.
Lacombe is growing quickly thanks in part to a strong economy and low taxes. In addition to its 8th overall finish, Lacombe also placed 3rd on our Best Small Cities in Canada list. Average household incomes top $119,500.
#7 Saanich, B.C.
Saanich scored well in almost every category we tracked, including access to healthcare and low taxes. This suburb of Victoria would have done even better if the housing prices weren’t so high. The average home in the city costs $562,115.
#6 Ottawa, Ont.
Our 2012 No. 1 ranked city has fallen to No. 6 on this year’s overall list (2nd among large cities) but make no mistake, our nation’s capital is still one great place to live. Household and discretionary incomes in Ottawa remain high, but aren’t keeping pace with the growing wealth rushing to the West.
#5 Oakville, Ont.
Oakville earned high grades for being a safe city with plenty of high-paying jobs and a strong arts community. But it’s Oakville’s climate that makes it the envy of the nation. It’s the sunniest, warmest place we’ve got.
#4 Strathcona County, Alta.
The third richest city in Canada, Strathcona County also boasts plenty of daycare spaces and neighbourhood children making it a great place to plant roots. The average household brings in $147,945 a year and homes cost just $371,619 on average.
#3 Burlington, Ont.
Strategically placed in the centre of Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe, this city takes full advantage of being close to the economic engine of Toronto and the industrial powerhouse of Hamilton. The unemployment rate in Burlington is 4.65%.
#2 St. Albert, Alta.
High incomes ($139,628), low unemployment (3.82%) and affordable housing ($344,967 average house price) helps this Edmonton suburb take top prize in our ranking of the best small cities in Canada and 2nd overall.
#1 Calgary, Alta.
Looking for a big city with a laid back feel, plenty of job opportunities and a young vibrant community? Go west. A strong economic foundation has turned Cowtown into the best city in the country.
Visit moneysense.ca/bestplaces to see the full list.
How we crunched the numbers
To determine Canada’s Best Places to Live, we started with incomes and employment. After all, most people’s experience in a city is more positive when they have a high-paying job-and the ability to get a new one if they so choose. We looked at the price of housing, giving high scores to cities where home prices are affordable when compared with local salaries. Weather was also key. Sure, some Canadians love cold weather, but most will agree that extra sunny days, days above zero and days without precipitation are nice to have. Crime rates and access to medical treatment are also important factors, so MoneySense awarded points to communities with low rates of crime, good access to hospitals and high numbers of medical professionals.
Quality of life isn’t only about practical concerns. The ability to take part in cultural activities adds richness to our lives, so we gave points to communities with high numbers of people working in the arts or sports. We also tracked whether a city has a movie theatre or easy access to an airport. Of course, statistics don’t capture the personality, scenery or people that make each place special, but they provide a good idea of what life would be like if you lived there. For a full explanation on how we analyzed all 200 cities, read our full methodology.