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.