Canada’s Best Places to Live 2015

This year, a little-known suburb grabs the top spot

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by

From the Summer 2015 issue of the magazine.

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Best Places to Live

Valérie Beaulieu, shown here with her family at Iles-de-Boucherville National Park, appreciates living near natural sites as well as job opportunities in nearby Montreal. (Photograph by Alexi Hobbs)

Imagine you are exploring Canada for the very first time. You’ve committed to travelling around this vast country, looking for that idyllic spot for you and your family to call home. You’re armed with a checklist and reams of data tracking liveability across various measures—job prospects, affordability, weather and more—and are going to use it to identify the best place to live. 

We here at MoneySense do something similar each year, spending months sifting through reports from Environics Analytics, Statistics Canada and other data providers. In a country that measures 6,521 km across, with massively different economic regions and seven distinct climate zones, you can imagine it’s a lot to digest. We carefully weigh dozens of factors to get a big picture of the overall health of 209 communities across the country. The results for this year are in, and the number one city just might surprise you. 

Topping our Best Places to Live list this year is Boucherville, Que. You can find this predominately French-speaking community just across the St. Lawrence River from Montreal. Its population is just over 43,000, small enough to sit everyone comfortably inside Montreal’s Olympic Stadium and leave it still feeling somewhat empty. But a look at the city’s stellar liveability stats—plus conversations with residents, one of whom we’ll meet in the pages to come—reveals what makes Boucherville such an amazing place to put down roots. 

Boucherville knocks St. Albert, Alta., a small town on the fringes of Edmonton, out of the top slot. Two other Alberta cities, Calgary and Strathcona County, also took big tumbles, showing that the surge in the West that has been such a dominant theme in our report in recent years has come to an abrupt halt. Join us as we visit some of the winning cities and learn why they came out on top.

Full ranking: All 209 cities »

Photo gallery: Top 25 best places to live  »

Hometown vs. hometown

Canadians are proud of their country, but if we’ve learned anything in the 10 years we’ve been putting this report together it’s that hometown pride is even stronger. Ask Canadians where they think the best place to live is and don’t be surprised if they say it’s where they are right now. It’s hard to argue against civic pride, but that’s not what this report is all about. The purpose is to take an objective look at the communities across the country and identify the ones where residents can thrive.  

Sure there are lots of things you can rank a city on—and we consider 34 different factors before choosing our winner—but at MoneySense we feel there is a strong correlation between the economics of a city and type of life you are able build there for your family. Everyone wants to live in a beautiful part of the country, away from sub-Arctic conditions, but we question how much you’ll be able to enjoy a city if you have to work all the time—or if you can’t find work at all. It’s akin to owning a dream home and not being able to furnish it. Where you live shouldn’t jeopardize your retirement, prohibit you from putting your kids through school or limit your ability to take a vacation now and then. That’s why measures like housing prices, employment and incomes are particularly important, and are given the greatest weighting in our report. 

We also feel that if you’re going to call someplace home it better well have good access to health care, low crime, good public transportation and, yes, nice weather. We also recognize that not everyone is cut out to live in a small town while others are overwhelmed by a big city, which is why we also break down our list according to city size.

Full ranking: All 209 cities »

Photo gallery: Top 25 best places to live  »

Parlez-vous francais?

If you want to live in the best place in Canada, you might want to brush up on your French. Visit Boucherville’s website and you won’t find much information in English—that’s only available upon request. If you let language be a barrier to exploring this city, then it’s your loss. Boucherville scores high marks in just about every category we track, from low unemployment, high incomes and affordable housing, to strong population growth, good access to transit and a vibrant arts community. And while for years it resembled many suburbs, home to big box stores like Costco and Ikea as well as unimaginative chain restaurants, that too has started to change.

Six years ago, when Valérie Beaulieu moved from Montreal to Boucherville, there weren’t many options if you were looking for specialty grocers or small independent restaurants. These days there’s a growing number of food options, and other South Shore residents now make the trek to Boucherville just to pick up a baguette from L’Amour du Pain, which is ranked as one of the best bakeries in Greater Montreal by sites like Urbanspoon, Trip Advisor and La Presse

Beaulieu left the Island of Montreal for the same reason many have in recent years: a better environment for her family. “I love Montreal, but I think Boucherville is better for my kids. It’s a beautiful place to live,” she says. Before settling on Boucherville she explored several communities closer to Montreal. While many had beautiful older homes and the commute would have been slightly shorter, in the end she felt she could get more for her money by going just a little further out.

Full ranking: All 209 cities »

Photo gallery: Top 25 best places to live  »

Welcome back Ottawa

Our nation’s capital held the top spot on our ranking for several years until it was knocked from its perch by Calgary in 2013. This year Ottawa is the top large city and No. 2 overall, and it came within a beaver tail of reclaiming the top spot. Like St. Albert, Ottawa benefits from being fairly stable while other cities have slipped back in key areas. Ottawa earns high marks for incomes, transportation, access to health care and low taxes. And while Ottawa’s average home price of $422,000 might not sound cheap to many Canadians, its affordability score is on par with cities half its size.

Ottawa is known for its historic buildings, museums and over-the-top Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill, but residents like freelance writer Dyan Cross love it for things like farmers’ markets and the Central Experimental Farm, an agricultural site in the heart of the city. She also likes the easy access to skiing in the Gatineau Hills and cross-border shopping in Ogdensburg, N.Y. While Cross describes Ottawa as being a stable and prosperous city, it has changed a fair bit over the years. Not long ago most things would shut down after 9 p.m., she says, but now she feels Ottawa has more good restaurants and better nightlife. 

While Ottawa has consistently been near the top of our list for many years, other cities have made more dramatic moves. Amongst the large cities (those with populations over 400,000) our biggest gainer this year was Hamilton Ont., which climbed to No. 41 from No. 77 last year thanks to improvements in things like unemployment and property tax. Surrey, B.C., also experienced a huge leap up the list as its population growth eased back to a more manageable 10.9% for the period we looked at this year (2010 to 2014), versus from 17.7% between 2008 and 2013. That change contributed to its jump in our ranking to No. 141 from No. 174 last year. 

Fortunately, the commute is still manageable. Even in traffic Beaulieu can get into Montreal, where she works as a TV researcher, in just 30 minutes. Given how pronounced the differences are between Montreal and Boucherville you’d almost think it’d have to be further away. While Boucherville is comprised of good-sized homes, an abundance of luxury vehicles, and the income to afford them, Montreal is plagued by high unemployment and low incomes and residents pay big bucks for cramped spaces.

Full ranking: All 209 cities »

Photo gallery: Top 25 best places to live  »

From boom to bust

Although Boucherville has often done well in our ranking, its rise to the top this year can be partially attributed to the decline in Alberta. The province is suffering due to the fact that oil prices have fallen by more than half since we last crunched our figures. But a closer look at the numbers shows why many Alberta cities slipped out of the top 20 and it’s not solely due to the slowing economy.

Indeed, unemployment in the province is starting to rise, but it’s coming off a very low level. And though there have been stories warning about rising Employment Insurance claims and home foreclosures, as Krishen Rangasamy, senior economist at National Bank, noted after the April jobs report, Alberta’s employment remains resilient. In fact, outside of the main urban centres in areas like Wood Buffalo (which includes oil-rich centres like Fort McMurray) unemployment rates are still well below what they were a few years ago. 

The drop many Alberta cities experienced in our ranking is in some ways due to their recent success. The heady days the province has enjoyed in recent years has attracted people to the province at an incredible rate. Between 2010 and 2014 the population grew by 15.4%—nearly twice the national average over that time. While population growth is healthy, growing too quickly leads to problems. And as Canadians flocked to the province in pursuit of high-paying jobs, it took a toll on services like health care and drove up home prices.

The drop of the western cities allows eastern cities to take control of the top of the list—at least for now. But don’t count Alberta out just yet. Consider St. Albert, Alta.—the top city in our list last year—has only dropped to No. 4. Calgary may have fallen out of the top 5 down to No. 19, but gains in a few key areas like health care could quickly push it back to the top. As a 2014 Calgary Herald article noted, health care is a challenge for the growing city. Roughly a fifth of Calgarians rely on walk-in clinics and emergency rooms when health issues arise because they can’t find a family doctor. 

Full ranking: All 209 cities »

Photo gallery: Top 25 best places to live  »

Gainers

In the midst of it all

Mid-sized cities also made gains this year. Burlington, Ont., a city that constantly scores well in our report, is the top in this category, rising a few notches this year on our overall list to No. 3. Its close proximity to Toronto, Hamilton and the U.S. border is one of the main reasons families settle here, but as residents like Monica Rettig have discovered there’s much more to like about Burlington than its location. After growing up in Brampton, Ont., and spending her mid-twenties in Toronto, Rettig never envisioned returning to the burbs. In Toronto she could walk everywhere. If she was short on groceries there were plenty of dinner options at her doorstep. Everything was so close she didn’t even own a car. But then her circumstances changed. She got a job at Brock University in Saint Catharines, Ont., as a librarian while her husband worked in downtown Toronto. Burlington, being right in the middle, became the default compromise. “In the first few years we were not won over by it,” concedes Rettig. “It wasn’t easy to meet people and the whole walkability factor was a huge loss.” 

Six years in, and since starting a family, Burlington has really grown on them. “When you have kids it’s a lot easier to meet other families,” she says. All of the park space and the schools help raise the appeal. But by living here they’ve also discovered things that they wouldn’t have if they had stayed in Toronto. There’s a lot going on in nearby Hamilton, says Rettig, noting that they often find themselves heading there over Toronto now when they want an evening out.

Looking back, Rettig is happy with her decision to settle in Burlington. Housing is more reasonably priced here, and she believes it would be a struggle to own a house closer to “The Big Smoke.” And in Toronto, she says, she most certainly wouldn’t have a backyard. “It’s such a suburban answer but we are really enjoying the backyard,” she says when asked what her favourite thing is about living in Burlington. “These days that’s what we’re into.” Just like Valérie Beaulieu in Boucherville, Rettig has discovered that often it’s the small, simple things that make us truly love our homes.

Full ranking: All 209 cities »

Photo gallery: Top 25 best places to live  »

Canada’s Best Places to Retire

When you’re retired certain economic factors, like the unemployment rate, are less of a concern. Instead, retirees are often more interested in having good access to health care, mild weather and low property taxes. Ranking the list on 26 categories, Ottawa tops our list of Best Places to Retire this year. While Ottawa’s weather certainly can’t compare to senior hotspots like Florida, there is less snow to shovel when compared with other cities in our frost-bitten country.

Canada’s Best Places to Raise Kids

St. Albert, Alta., a bedroom community outside of Edmonton, takes the top slot in our Best Places to Raise Kids list this year. It has the perfect combination of factors that make life easier for young families. Kids have no shortage of friends to play with, considering that one-fifth of the population is under the age of 15 and 58% of families have kids. The large young population helps sustain events like the International Children’s Festival, which has been running in St. Albert for more than three decades. Daycare costs in the province aren’t cheap—the average is $955 a month—but it’s within reach of most families given that the median income is a healthy $129,000.

Canada’s Best Places for New Immigrants

To identify the best places for new Canadians we consider a number of the factors many immigrants might look for: good job prospects, high incomes, good transit and affordable housing. We also look for cities that already have strong immigrant communities that newcomers can tap into to help ease the transition. Many newcomers flock to big cities, but there are other options. Consider Saanich, B.C., just north of Victoria, where more than 17% of the population speak a language other than French or English at home. It’s also a safe city that has low unemployment and good public transit.

Canada’s Richest Places

Last year only two cities had an average household net worth above $1 million—this year there are six. West Vancouver, B.C., has a hefty $2 million lead over its nearest rival. Meanwhile Canmore, Alta., enjoyed the biggest gain in net worth, up 20% in one year.

 

41 comments on “Canada’s Best Places to Live 2015

  1. Hello. Your statistics have been helpful for the final project of my grade 9 Geography class. Many of my students were using the 2014 ratings in their project. Would you be able to point me to a link where we could view that information? Thanks for your time.

    Steven

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  2. Canada is nothing more than a pretty face country, it has broken family court system that is based biased against fathers when its supposed to be gender neutral.

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  3. the all round best place to live is in Owen Sound, Ontario, Grey-Bruce country we have everything we need in a 100 mile radius, plus the natural beauty between and Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. Come check it out

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    • Ajax is way better…this report is B$ ,80th for shame

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  4. Funny thing… I do live in Boucherville and indeed, it’s a great city !!!
    When we sell our houses, it’s often to move in another part of town :-)

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  5. Interesting Boucherville i don’t this city would score so high if you are English speaking. Being served in English would be as rare as the dinosaurs. Even worse try get a job as an English speaking person in a French workplace even if you’re bilingual. Not a great place to live from that perspective.

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    • I think a lot of people that happen to be Anglophone tend to blame anything going wrong on that fact that they are Anglophones. If you were truly bilingual, it would be hard to tell which side you were leaning. Besides, most people living in Boucherville don’t actually work there.

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      • I think a lot of people who happen to be Francophone don’t understand what it’s like to be an Anglo in Quebec. I’ve known people who were bilingual who didn’t get jobs because of their last name but someone who only speaks French gets the job with no problem. There is a bias out there even if some people choose not to see it.

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        • I know many Francophones with an English surname. Do you think it’s harder for them to find a job? Of course, not. Your post doesn’t make sense.

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          • Except that he’s right. Tourism in Quebec is doing awful and the English are leaving. If you don’t think there’s a bias against a specific language then maybe you’re not looking hard enough.

        • The point is if you plan to work in another part of the world, it is a kind of respect for the other culture to make some efforts and learn some basic sentences in their language. Then it is obvious than people will recognize your effort and they will give great help. Otherwise stay in your town because your are not well prepared to immerse yourself in other cultures. I went to BC as a Francophone and I have learned a lot with my open mind! And I will do the same with my next trip to Spain and Japan. Good luck.

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  6. I’m from Ottawa and I would not want to retire here as the winters are bitterly cold & the summers are sweltering hot. Victoria BC, here I come!

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  7. I was very surprised to see the ranking of 192 to Drummondville. We moved here from the Saguenay in 2010 because, after a thorough analysis, it seemed to be the best place to live in Quebec. The City is extremely well managed, the taxes are low, housing is affordable, the crime rate is low, services are abundant and the location is close to major cities as well as the USA border. After looking at the rankings you give several places that we know, I disagree fully with the ranking that you attribute to cities and do not take it seriously.

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  8. Not sure how a city in a province that doesn’t treat it’s citizens equally and has repressive language laws, including telling parents they have to send their kids to French school, can be at the top of a list of best places to live in a free county like Canada. Boggles my mind. Basically if you are a nice white French Canadian family it is a nice place to live, don’t bother if you are an anglo or an ethnic you won’t be as welcomed, trust me I live it daily.

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    • You won’t find a more openly prejudiced place in Canada than Quebec. It’s amazing the amount of people that stick up for it that have clearly never lived there.

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      • Agreed with both of you. Canada has two official languages, yet Quebec is allowed to spit all over one of them and claim it’s justified. No one should ever choose to live there.

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  9. Cape Breton is not a city.

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  10. Did I read Boucherville and arts in the same sentence?!! Ottawa is probably good to raise a family (the only people you see there) but for nightlife and restaurant I’ll pass on that!

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  11. “If you let language be a barrier to exploring this city, then it’s your loss.”

    Really eh? How about we take down some of the bilingual signs in Ottawa, and then tell the french that? I’m sure that will go over really well.

    It’s interesting to note how we have to make everything bilingual for francophones, yet don’t receive the same in return. If a community is predominantly french, it’s understandable that most would speak the language– but nonetheless there should equal language representation in signs, getting served food, etc.

    Given the circumstance, this is hardly a “#1 spot” for anyone who isn’t francophone, or at the very least fluent in french.

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    • Here here. Glad to see others showing Quebec for what it really is. Quebec is a horrible place to live if you’re the type of person who won’t vote for the PQ. Which means most sane individuals.

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    • It’s a real shame for the English that are born there and are unable to get a decent job to save up money and leave. That aside, it’s a very dull province with nothing to see or do. It should be at the bottom of the list for anyone planning to move to Canada.

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  12. I want to live in HALDIMANDOUNTY.

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  13. I live in Vancouver and I will tell you it is a beautiful city full of activities, art and culture for the entire family. 50% of commuters ride their bikes, even in bad weather. There are very few overweight citizens in Vancouver because they exercise and eat healthy food. On the other hand….It is crowded. Every spare foot of real estate has been taken up by yet another high rise condo building. The skyline of English Bay can only be seen now by walking right to the beach and in many places you can’t even get to the beach. Foreigners have inflated the economy and put the average citizen out of the real estate market. How has that happened you ask? By bringing foreign money (you know who you are) to Canada and paying more then the property is worth, never living in the property and waiting for the values to rise. They sell it a year later at a huge profit then do it again. The average family in their 30’s with two incomes can not afford to buy a million dollar house in Vancouver and are forced to live and raise their children in an apartment on the outskirts of the city and commute to their employment an hour each direction.

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  14. What in your survey changed so drastically that it threw Regina and Saskatoon down 35 and 38 spots in one year?

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  15. Nice article, but are your “average property tax” statistics per person? If they’re per household, they’re way off. I know this because I live in one of the top 10 cities you list.

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  16. Note: the comment I just made about the inaccurate tax information concerned your “10 best places to retire” article.

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  17. Couldn’t agree more with the result, at least the first position in the ranking. The ups and downs are fair, it seems to have been a thorough research.

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  18. What about Niagara-on-the Lake?

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  19. Thanks for confirming what I am so disgusted about. Saskatoon, where I have lived for the past 40 years, is truly going downhill, no thanks to the Mayor who has been in power forever and a bumbling City Council, add to that the City Manager. We have gone from from 13th place to number 51 and rightly so. Main roadways were built too narrowly, traffic congestion that will only get worse, potholes galore even though our taxes were raised last year toward fixing them. Very poor management of bridges, and new bridge construction is years overdue. Breaks my heart.
    We are leaving Saskatoon for BC this year. There should be a limit as to how many years a Mayor can serve, and a Performance Evaluation for the City Manager yearly and a dismissal for incompetence. Alas, but we are the Saskatoon sheeple.

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  20. In previous years, I used to chuckle at the comments complaining about your rankings. Chuckle no more. Boucherville…..really?!?

    Crumbling bridges which which contribute to a terrible commute, stagnating employment and housing prices, coupled with Quebec’s oppressive taxation, and a can’t miss resentment towards Anglos and visible minorities, Boucherville would rank near the bottom of communities on my list if I was looking to move to Montreal. And yes I am fluent in French. Moneysense, you’ve really outdone yourselves this year.

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    • “If I was looking to move to Montreal”

      My condolences to anyone who even glances that way. Worst hole in all of Canada excepting maybe Vancouver.

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  21. If you want to live in Boucherville, you can’t operate a business in English, your kids won’t be able to go to English schools, there are language police, you’ll be stuck in a self-defeating province that values its language over business, you’ll probably have to endure another referendum at one point during which you’ll likely move anywhere BUT Quebec, etc. It’s paradise!

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    • Pure BS. I live it Ottawa and I don’t plan on living here once I’m finished my B. Engineering. The problem is Ottawa has no long term longevity, the Ottawa economy is heavily dependent on the Public Service and there is a long term downward trend in public service employment. If you also include the bilingualism requirement it also makes it tougher for some people to find the few meaningful employment opportunities available. Those two factors alone should have been factored into the equation. I’m fortunate to have a skill set that’s in demand so employment isn’t an issue for me, but others aren’t so lucky.

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    • It really can’t be said enough. Those looking for places to move: Go ANYWHERE but Quebec. Anywhere west other than BC would be a good place to start.

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  22. Saskatchewan’s towns and city should rate much higher. Does not seem right.

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  23. What happened with the Saskatchewan’s provinces Regina e Saskatoon? They had dropped in this annual report. Anyone knows what is happening there?

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  24. Trouble with Canada is and always has been it is the country of tomorrow, and that never comes. Many of the immigrants, Asians, would have gone to the USA if they could have gotten Green Cards, indeed, many Canadians of any background would do this today if they could. So it is a frustrated country constantly comparing itself to its neighbor. Careers are difficult to locate unless you have attained a

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    • Canada’s problem has always been trying to follow the worst American trends only harder and faster. If you want the real Canada stick to smaller towns and suburbs and out of Quebec. It really is a lovely country if you can get away from the wannabe Americans.

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  25. High up on these lists are Oakville, Burlington, Halton Hills, Caledon, Guelph. But in the centre of all this great living is the ever-growing Milton, Ontario. They’ve even placed Hamilton above Milton. Milton should be higher…much higher.

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  26. Any advise on the best cities for young professional married couples fleeing a Donal Trump presidency?

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