Calgary: Best Large City

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.

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Cold and boring. That was Jasmine Sultan’s perception of Calgary just a few years ago, before she moved there to take a job. Now you can often find her out and about with friends, enjoying one of the new restaurants or coffee shops popping up all over the city. “Calgary just has a good, sensitive vibe,” she says. “It’s so laid back and humble.”

Calgary has been quietly climbing the ranks of MoneySense’s Best Places to Live ranking for some time now. This year, it’s not only our No. 1 large city, it’s our overall winner out of all 200 small, mid-sized and large cities on our lists, knocking off three-time champ, Ottawa.

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 boom in 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. “It’s a very young city,” says the 26-year-old, who works in capital markets at one of the big banks. “There are a number of people who have lived all over the world, so I’m meeting people who have had a lot of different experiences. And being near the mountains certainly helps.”

Edmonton, which ranks No. 3 on our list of best large cities, also enjoys the fruits of a strong resource-fuelled economy. Despite worries about the future of the resource sector, Edmonton still expects its economy will grow by as much as 4.5% this year and stands to benefit even more if oil prices firm up.

At No. 2, Ottawa remains a great place to live. Household and discretionary incomes in the nation’s capital remain high, but aren’t keeping pace with the growing wealth rushing into Calgary and Edmonton. Sultan, who spent most of her life in Ottawa before moving west, can’t get over the contrast in wealth between Ottawa and Calgary. “That was something that really shocked me,” she says. “People here who are my age travel the world and don’t go into debt. People own their own condos.”

Housing is 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.

Does Sultan still think Calgary is cold and boring? Boring, no way; cold, perhaps, but it doesn’t bother her anymore. “It’s always sunny here,” she says. “It can be 20 below outside, but it’s gorgeous.” Sultan admits that one day her family could lure her back to the nation’s capital, but otherwise if she had to choose between the Rideau or the rodeo, it’s the Stampede all the way.

18 comments on “Calgary: Best Large City

  1. Yeah, I live in Calgary and I disagree with this 100%. This city is a hole filled with oil and gas, nothing more. I stay here only because I'd make a lot less doing the same job anywhere else in the country.

    Reply

    • The nice thing about Calgary is that it goes through booms and busts… when we bust it will be nice to see you go.

      Reply

  2. Lethbridge is 4th for mid-sized cities? It is not a bad city, but is Regina really worse than Lethbridge?

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    • Yes it is.

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  3. While overall Calgary isn't hell, it isn't paradise either. In a nutshell, there isn't much to do here, unless you have enough cash to go skiing in Banff every weekend, or to go out often to an expensive restaurant or trendy bar catering to the wealthy elite. Yes, the average salary is higher in Calgary than elsewhere in the country, but that figure is dramatically skewed by those who make obscene amounts of money, as most people here do not make high salaries here. If you are not awash in cash like most normal folks who scrape by on close to minimum wage jobs, you are out of luck. Most Sundays, my wife and I look at each other and wonder 'what can we do today' and all we end up doing is going to one of the few indoor markets in the city for an hour or so. On a normal salary, a family cannot afford to go to the Rockies even once a year. On top of that, this city is has no real downtown where you can just hang out outside and do a little bit of free crowd-watching like in most international cities. It is truly a boring big city, and the only time you will see people on the street downtown is during lunchtime.when office drones are released from their cubicle for an hour or so and pack the nearby restaurants.

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    • You said it well, Philippe. I have lived in also Toronto and Vancouver for many years before Calgary.
      Not much to do in terms of cultural activities aside from what happens in the summer. Has a great parks pathway system.

      It is quite expensive to be constantly going to the Rockies to vacation. Gas does cost money, never mind hotel if you want to stick around. Oh yea, more driving….in our great sprawly city.

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      • I grew up in Vancouver and would never move back to that dump… rain for 10 months out of the year and sky high prices that force many to rent forever.

        Calgary is the best place to live if you want to have a family and actually own a detached home in a nice community. Vancouver just does not come close.

        Side not: Not ONE of my high school friends that I grew up with in Vancouver, live there today. They have all moved away.

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  4. Winnipeg over Vancouver really? Is it the year-round shit weather, native gangs, and ugliness that make a city? Guess so.

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  5. I like your article for its quality content you have. I personally enjoyed your post and would love to disseminate.

    Reply

  6. I'm quite surprised to see my home town of Vancouver so low on any of the lists. But, there are so many amazing cities and towns in Canada, that to just be on the list is to be in good company. Congratulations to all! Life begins north of 49.

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  7. Every city has good points and bad. It really is what is important to you. If you want to own your home and raise a family… Calgary is the best. If you are more for living for yourself and don't care to spend too much time at home… Vancouver would be better. Basically, Vancouver is good for people living "in the now", and not too concerned with their future. Calgary helps you get ahead.

    I don't think I could ever retire in Victoria, though. Too detached from reality. Their image of utopia is pretty far out there. Kelowna would be better.

    Reply

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