What are Canada’s best smaller cities to live in?

We rate the best cities with less than 25,000 people

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A total of 47 cities out of 180 on our 2011 Canada’s Best Places to Live ranking had fewer than 25,000 people according to the 2006 census. We’ve broken out the top five of these smaller cities and given some reasons why they did well and why they didn’t do better. The remaining 42 locations are also listed. For the entire ranking of all 180 cities, please see our 2011 Best Places to Live list.

Whitehorse, Yk. may surprise people as our number one city with fewer than 25,000 people and 12th overall. Whitehorse is the capital of the Yukon Territory and was incorporated in 1950. The city has a rich history going back to the gold rush of the 1890s and currently relies on mining, government and tourism as significant parts of its economy.

As you would expect, a city that is only 700 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle ranks low on the weather scale (143 out of 180). Crime is an issue and house prices trend to the high side. However, Whitehorse performs very well in most of the other categories. It ranks number one in two of the three income measurements and number 43 in the third. Provincial income and sales tax are low compared to the rest of the country. A population growth of 7% ranks Whitehorse number eight of all the cities in our study. Looking for work is easier here with a ranking of 11 out of 180 in our unemployment rate. Lastly, it comes in number 10 in our culture ranking which measures the percentage of people employed in arts, culture, recreation and sports.

Canmore, Alta. is number two on our list and number 27 of all 180 cities measured. Located on the edge of Banff National Park, about an hour’s drive west of Calgary, Canmore was a coal-mining town from the early 1900s till 1979 when mining operations were closed for good. Due principally to the 1988 Olympics, the city has re invented itself as a tourism and recreation destination.

The biggest challenge in Canmore is house prices, which are the highest in our study other than Vancouver. Cold weather and transit are also issues. Other areas perform well. The city ranks number two on the ability to walk or bike to work. Two of the three income measurements are in the top 10 and the city is number six out of 180 for low unemployment. Canmore boasts a reasonably low crime rate and provincial income and sales taxes are low or non-existent.

Number three on this list and 28th overall is Cobourg, Ont., a city on the shores of Lake Ontario about 90 kilometers east of Toronto. The area has been settled since the 1790s and the city got its present name in 1819. Now it has a mixed economy comprised of manufacturing, health care, retail and tourism. Its waterfront and historic downtown attract visitors.

Cobourg does not score near the bottom of any category. In the areas of house prices, a couple of income rankings, unemployment and doctors, the city finishes in the bottom half of the overall rankings. Cobourg’s weather is the fourth best in the country according to our measurements. Also walk or biking to work ranked 14 out of 180 and population growth, crime and culture did well.

Port Hope, Ont. is number four on the list and 33rd overall and is located 12 kilometers west of Cobourg making it neighbors on this list and on the map. The town was incorporated in 1834 after 40 years of settlement and became a transportation hub for many years. Currently, the largest employer is Cameco Corp., which operates a nuclear fuel conversion plant. The local economy also depends on several smaller manufacturers, retail and tourism.

Port Hope has a low number of doctors and health professionals. It also falls in the bottom half of our rankings for housing affordability, transit and the number of people who walk or bike to work. Next to Oakville, Ont., Port Hope has the best weather in the country. It also scores very well in crime, has good cultural representation, low unemployment, a very reasonable level of population growth and better than average personal income levels.

Our fifth city and 39th overall is Yellowknife Nwt. The most northerly city on our list, Yellowknife is the capital of the Northwest Territories. Prospectors moved to the region in the 1930s and it became a municipality in 1953. Currently the city’s economy is based on diamond and gold mining, government and tourism.

As expected, Yellowknife ranks low on our weather scale. It also has high crime rates and housing is quite expensive. On the plus side, the city is number one for walking and biking to work, the best city for provincial sales and income taxes, and ranks number three in two of the income categories and number 25 in the third. It also ranks high on our culture measurement and scores well for the number of doctors.

The rest of the list is as follows:

6. Thomson, Man.
7. Swift Current, Sask.
8. Portage la Praire, Man.
9. Yorkton, Sask.
10. Camrose, Alta.
11 Hawkesbury, Ont.
12. Salmon Arm, B.C.
13. Tillsonburg, Ont.
14. Wetaskiwin, Alta.
15. Cold Lake, Alta.
16. Ingersoll, Ont.
17. Collingwood, Ont.
18. Estevan, Sask.
19. North Battleford, Sask.
20. Riviere-du-Loup, Que.
21. Brooks, Alta.
22. Dawson Creek. B.C.
23. Okotoks, Alta.
24. Pembroke, Ont.
25. Elliot Lake, Ont.
26. Grand Falls-Windsor, Nfld.
27. Amos, Que.
28. Kenora, Ont.
29. Cranbrook. B.C.
30. Petawawa, Ont.
31. Edmundston, N.B.
32. Cowansville, Que.
33. Lachute, Que.
34. Dolbeau-Mistassini, Que.
35. Temiskaming Shores, Ont.
36. Matane, Que.
37. Campbellton, N.B.
38. Squamish, B.C.
39. Prince Rupert, B.C.
40. Terrace, B.C.
41. Miramichi, N.B.
42. Powell River, B.C.
43. La Tuque, Que.
44. Summerside, PEI
45. Quesnel, B.C.
46 Williams Lake, B.C.
47 Bay Roberts, Nfld.

9 comments on “What are Canada’s best smaller cities to live in?

  1. We returned to Calgary from Kitchener/Waterloo area. Why we came back I'm not sure other than to sell the home we have here. This is one of the most beautiful filled with fresh produce area we've lived in. Now I begin dreading all the cold and snow shovelling we will have to do. Make sure you visit and play at Chicopee a great little ski hill with alot to offer you. ok I'm bias.

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  2. I have been to many of these cities. The writer does not have his criteria correct, as I would not let my dog live in some of these places

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  3. What happened to Nova Scotia or did it leave Confederation !!

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  4. I lived in Whitehorse. This writer is out to lunch.

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  5. I have not been to these cities except Whitehorse (lived there for the last 6 years), but can definitely say that the quality of life there (minus the fancy concerts and film festivals) is very good. I live in T.O. now and it's definitely less safe over here.

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  6. TILLSONBURG IS LOVELY. MY FAMILY IS FROM THERE. PLEASE SPELL IT CORRECTLY.

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  7. The best small city is Pembroke, ON.
    The wost small city is Ponoka, Alberta.

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  8. I live in Collingwood and we absolutely love it. I’ve driven through Tillsonburg and Ingersoll plenty of times – probably nice places to live, however, not sure who would rather live in either versus Collingwood.

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  9. Any place with no gangs is worth its weight in gold! Most of all big cities in canada now are filled with gangs including the capital. All they appear to get is a slap on the hand so the attacks continue. Ottawa has had 17 homocides since january 1st its now july- 13 of these are from gangs. So are you can see ottawa would be very safe if these foreign gangs were not allowed to live here.

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