Canada’s Worst Places to Live 2011

These 10 cities and towns struggle with common problems. Can they be overcome?



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Deciding on Canada’s Best Places to Live is a relatively happy pursuit. Parsing through reams of data from Statistics Canada, Environment Canada and local real estate boards, the staff at MoneySense magazine assembles a picture of thriving, prosperous cities and towns with strong economies and easy access to health care and jobs. Local media from places in the top 10 trumpet the news, and municipal governments step out to remind residents how great their communities are.

The process of compiling Canada’s Worst Places to Live is decidedly less pleasant.

While Canada is a rich country, there are cities and towns in each province and territory facing serious problems such as unemployment, crime and pollution. Some of these places are fighting back, while others are in decline. Many are simply victims of economics, geography or an unfortunate combination of the two.

Each year MoneySense magazine studies every community in Canada with a population of more than 10,000 people — 180 cities and towns in all — and ranks them in more than 20 different categories for a final figure out of a possible 105 points. Economic indicators such as unemployment rates, real estate prices and household income are included, as well as crime, access to health care and taxes.

(However, there are intangible indicators — such as community spirit or a sense of hospitality — that defy measurement and are therefore not included in our criteria.)

The bottom 10 places on our list are located mainly on the East and West coasts. They suffer from relatively harsh weather conditions and/or are resource-based economies sensitive to volatile world markets. All struggle with high unemployment rates, low household income levels and declining populations.

Here are the bottom 10:

171 La Tuque, Que.
While La Tuque is a standout in certain areas of our list — such as the second most affordable real estate in the country and a high percentage of commuters who walk or bike to work — the town faces significant problems in terms of household income, a declining population and a shortage of doctors. The 12.4% unemployment rate also presents a serious obstacle to prosperity.

172 Port Alberni, B.C.
This logging and mining town on Vancouver Island was once known as the Salmon Capital of the World until salmon stocks began to decline. While the town is transforming itself into a tourist destination for fishing enthusiasts, mountain bikers and kayakers, unemployment is a problem with the jobless rate at 10%. This has a negative impact on household income levels and the number of new cars on the road (a reflection of discretionary income). A higher percentage of new cars indicates a growing, wealthier city with higher discretionary income while fewer cars suggest the opposite. In this category Port Alberni ranked 179th out of 180 cities.

173 Summerside, P.E.I.
Summerside is the second-largest city in P.E.I. and is home to several industries such as Vector Aerospace, Cavendish Farms, Honeywell, McCain Foods and a Canada Revenue Agency office. Despite the industrial diversity, being a small town in Canada’s smallest province is not enough to keep people from leaving nor is it enough to draw a growing population to the centre. Summerside’s small population of 14,500 is getting smaller with a growth rate that shrank 0.3% from 2001 to 2006.

174 Norfolk, Ont.
Norfolk is a municipality on the north shore of Lake Erie in southern Ontario. Once a major tobacco-growing area, it has converted to other types of agriculture. Health care access is a major concern to Norfolk residents, as the area has just 0.76 doctors per 1,000 residents (the national average is 2.2).

Mayor Dennis Travale admits that while attracting and retaining professionals is difficult, the area is making great strides in terms of infrastructure, which should lead to economic growth in the near future.

175 Campbell River, B.C.
Campbell River is a costal town on Vancouver Island known for its salmon fishing, precious metals and coal mining, and pulp and paper industry. The town is trying to reinvent itself as a home for retirees, but high unemployment and low average household income make prosperity an elusive target. To make matters worse, average real estate prices in Campbell River ($336,000) are higher than the national average. As a result, the time in which residents can afford to buy a home is 4.85 years, ranking 153rd out of 180 cities on our list.

However, substantial investment in infrastructure and clean energy may help Campbell River turn a corner. The town recently won a green building award and is slated to host a new tidal energy project. (Update, thanks to our readers for pointing out Canada’s first tidal project in the Bay of Fundy. We regret the error.)

176 Quesnel, B.C.
Located in the B.C. interior, Quesnel was originally a gold mining centre and later transitioned to forestry. The town faces several problems including high unemployment, higher than average crime and difficulty in accessing health care.

Reduced U.S. demand for Canadian lumber and an infestation of pine beetles has hurt the forestry-dependent town. In response, Mayor Mary Sjostrom has set up an economic development corporation that has helped to secure significant grant funding for various projects.

Ranking 176th out of 180 for overall crime, Quesnel has some work to do. However, town council is working closely with the local RCMP detachment on initiatives such as dismantling marijuana grow-ops, increasing foot patrols, focusing on frequent offenders and establishing a new Crime Reduction Unit.

177 Williams Lake, B.C.
Another British Columbia gold rush town, Williams Lake previously held the distinction of crime capital of Canada. It’s still an issue, as the town ranks 177th out of 180 cities in the crime category. The town faces many of the usual problems associated with crime — poor job prospects, low incomes and few incentives to attract industry.

However, Williams Lake is fighting back. Mayor Kerry Cook has partnered with the provincial government, First Nations leaders and community volunteers to address social and economic issues. Between 2008 and 2010, auto theft dropped an average of 71%, break and enters were down 40% and robberies were down 56%.

Moreover, a nearby copper-molybdenum mine is set to expand, creating up to 400 new jobs and boding well for the future of Williams Lake.

178 Val-d’or, Que.
As the name (“Valley of Gold”) suggests, this town 400 kilometres northwest of Montreal grew up around a mining operation, an industry which continues today in the form of the Lamaque gold mine. Val-d’or suffers from poor job prospects, low average household income and a population that has declined by 5% between 2001 and 2006. To make matters worse, Val-d’or also has weather that would scare even the hardiest Canadian: the average low temperature in January is -23 °C and it rains or snows 191 days a year.

179 Bay Roberts, Nfld.
Tiny Bay Roberts sits 90 kilometres north of St. John’s on the Avalon Peninsula. Last on our 2010 list, Mayor Glenn Littlejohn explains that the notoriety of being “Canada’s worst place to live” has actually paid dividends for the town. It brought the community together and also attracted the Kraft 10 in 10 Celebration Tour (a contest featuring local communities and celebrating the accomplishments of local athletes) last summer.

The discretionary income of a town measures prosperity, and is determined by taking the average household income and removing the cost of living and tax factors. For Bay Roberts, the average household income is low at $71,000 and so is discretionary income at 23%. These statistics can be attributed to the usual problems facing small, isolated towns: lack of employment prospects, poor population growth and few large industries nearby.

Despite economic challenges, Bay Roberts is experiencing growth in both residential and commercial real estate. A new business park is being constructed, which should relieve some of the residential tax burden.

180 New Glasgow, N.S.
New Glasgow is on Nova Scotia’s north shore, 159 kilometres north of Halifax. Major employers near the town include Sobeys, Maritime Steel and Michelin Tires. Statistics Canada data state that high unemployment is the town’s main concern but, according to Mayor Barrie MacMillan, there are more jobs available than people to fill them.

New Glasgow’s crime rate is another concern, mainly due to the town’s tax base of 9,500 that services a region of close to 55,000. The result is an overstretched police force and a ranking for overall crime of 159th out of 180.

However, a multi-pronged effort is underway to turn things around, including a downtown revitalization project, a business investment strategy and numerous partnerships with private sector, public sector and community groups.

24 comments on “Canada’s Worst Places to Live 2011

  1. I read the idea of cars correlating with income and worst place in Canada to live on yahoo and thought this can't be true. I have never seen an article looking at communities using such a statistic and find it quite ridiculous. I can tell you that we are by far the wealthiest of our friends and cars are the last thing we want to keep changing (theirs are fare more coveted than ours) and I can name a number of people in the same situation. I would argue that if you used a multiple regression model you would find far more imporant factors than this. I suspect there is something else at work here. We subscribe to your magazine and I hope not to see more of these values demonstrated. Cars are not good money sense. They lose value as soon as they leave the lot. In that instant the $1000 dollars will never be seen again.

    • You point out Cold Lake, yet no info is available nor are there any comments, how come?

  2. "and is slated to host the country’s first tidal energy project. " there has been a Tidal Power project in the Bay of Fundy for some time now

  3. "For Bay Roberts, the average household income is low at $71,000 and so is discretionary income at 23%" With an average household income of 71,000 I would hardly call that low in fact it would make it one of the more prosperous cities in Canada. A discretionary income at 23% is also above the national average. With these kind of statistics what makes Bay Roberts one of the worst places to live, I think most Canadians would love to be earning this kind of income and have so much discretionary to spend.

  4. I thinbk you need to turn the list in reverse. The worst places to live in Canada are Winnipeg, Halifax and Edmonton – all ugly, crime ridden and dirty. The worst place to live in Canada if you are English is anywhere in Quebec!

    • dude, have you been to Halifax before?? it's not Halifax that is crime's Dartmouth..there is nothing wrong with Halifax at all.

      • I'm still looking for any comments on Cold Lake……………where are they

  5. For the people who Think!! that Bay Roberts should be on this list has no soul or heart!!!! they only loook at materials a waste of temporary things that dont matter to God. And yes i say God because people of Bay Roberts put God first!!!! not like these low life non brain thinkers who think they know this town………Its the people who make the town and its there Fiath that keep them going and to me its one of Newfounlands most beautiful towns. History of famous Atlantic flights and a recent home town NHL Stanley Cup winner .


  7. The Annapolis tidal power station (Nova Scotia) was a government pilot project initially designed to explore harnessing energy from the sea that now contributes 20 MW (mega watts) to the electricity grid. Construction of the Annapolis project began in 1980, and was completed four years later, and is the first and only modern tidal generating plant in North America. It is located in the Bay of Fundy on the Atlantic coast of North America, on the northeast end of the Gulf of Maine between the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia .A more recent and larger project in the bay of fundy has been put on hold untill more robust turbines are completed

  8. I lived in New Glasgow, NS and it is most definately NOT one of the worst places to live in for the reasons stated. There are plenty of jobs there. While they may not all be high end executive positions, are still jobs available for people. According to the article, crime rate is high. I'm curious what they base this on. When I lived there, it was one of the safest places I'd ever been. I only moved away to be closer to my family.

  9. I'm surprised Digby N.S. wasn't included on this list

  10. For those who think Bay Roberts is the worst place to live they have obviously never been there.

  11. I was born and raised in Bay Roberts. I thank God that my values are moral and reliable. I visit there often and am grateful that while there I do not have to lock my home nor my vehicle. My children have always been able to move about whenever they wanted safely. I am a retired toronto police officer who though that "knoledgable" people knew more than me and so left for Toronto with it's "streets of gold" well there is more poverty, crime and moral decay in Toronto. Montreal, Vancouver or other "BEST???" places in Canada than anywhere in NL- on a per capata basis.
    Also you describe Bay Roberts as 60 miles North of St. Johns, this is as inaccurate as the rest of your article. The town is situated on the West side of Conception Bay, aproximately 23 miles West, Southwest by West of St. Johns or about 60 miles by auto, "Around the Bay". You do realize what cumpas points are, don't you??? Yeah right.
    Read these articles on the internet because I would never waste a cent on MoneySense magazine, ehy, well since you asked…Oh never mind you wouldn't understand intelegent information.

  12. You know…if you're going to slam an article for being unintelligent, you should probably run a spell check first…

    Just sayin'

    • Who gives a sh@%t! This person is making a legitimate point, and was probably a little peeved when he/she wrote the comment.

      Newfoundland in general, has to be one of the safest places in Canada! I have actually been there!

      And, as you probably know: Just reading "stats" is not enough to give one a "real feel" for anything – you have to actually " experience things for yourself…"stats" can be skewed in any direction to prove ones point!

  13. If you are looking at surrounding communities with a population greater than 10,000, why isn’t Saanich on your list? We have more than 100,000 people in our community yet we appear to be lumped in with Victoria, which is actually a much smaller municipality.

    If you are going to do something, at least do it right.

  14. My son tings are looking up in me farders home town… Way to Go Bay Roberts, you moved up one notch from last year! lol. Just kidding. It's a wonderful place to live; especially if your on the other side of the Bay, formerly known as Coley's Point. Hello to all my cousins, aunts and uncles down there on Roach's Line.

  15. On the reporter's observation of New Glasgow's "tax base" vs. "service area"–New Glasgow is one of six municipalities in the area of 55,000 noted (Pictou County) and does not service the entire county's policing, or roads, or dog catching. There are some partnerships between NG and one or two other smaller municipalities for some services, but the rural area, where the largest part of those 55,000 reside, is policed by the RCMP, which is a very simple thing to fact-check. Please, journalists, pick up a damn phone and ASK. This discredits the rest of the article IMO–who knows what else they couldn't be bothered to check.

  16. I agree James, I grew up in Norfolk and am so happy that I had such a great place to live in my childhood.

  17. Another worst place to live is OROMOCTO in New Bruinswick where public bus service and good jobs don't exist. The next Prime Minister has to put close attention to this lack of consideration to this town. Our youth is getting bored and they think on leaving us sometime.

  18. Authors of this have obviously never lived in any of these and have no idea how to measure 'Quality of Life'!
    Based on this, our major cities are seemingly better to live in than those fantastic small towns across the country.
    Hope people don't make decisions based on this rediculous list.
    Bet the authors would rank Detroit as best in the World!!

  19. what a joke, but what else could we expect from moneysense….classical economic growth indicators in a dying field. The 'new' automobiles on the road as an indicator of wealth….makes me want to puke in my environmentally friendly pesticide free North Vancouver backyard. How does a wealthy city translate into a desirable place to live? Like all those rich Wall St. types jumping of the 30th floor?

    My guess is the moneysense team knows no other quality of life other then the materialistic obsession that fuels the rat race. These guys would probably frown upon a monestary in Bhutan for lack of Armani suits and Rolls Royce's….a joke. Listen to your inner voice and find your own happiness.

    I think this is not the case and this is based on bad information and its written by someone that doesn't leave is office in a big town and has negative views on small towns.

    This is typical talk for someone that never lived outside big metropolitan areas for some extended time.