Where is the best place to live? Many Canadians are convinced they already know the answer: Wherever they are now. But as proud as we are of our hometowns, there are some cities that simply have it all. And for the second consecutive year that place is Ottawa.
Year after year, our nation’s capital excels on our list but we know there are naysayers out there. On the off-chance readers get the idea we have a soft spot in our hearts for the nation’s capital and played favourites, we shuffled the data a bit and used a tool to reweight our scoring system to see if Ottawa would be dislodged. It didn’t budge from its perch: Ottawa is unassailable as Canada’s Best Place to Live in 2017.
As you explore this year’s rankings, you, too, can play with the variables with our new interactive tool. It might be that you’re more interested in a thriving arts scene and are not alarmed by higher-than-average crime rates. Or costs be damned, you simply want somewhere milder in the winter. Go ahead and dial the different inputs up or down. Based on your priorities, you can find your own Best Place to Live.
At MoneySense, we are unwavering in our views about what makes one city better than another. It should be prosperous, but affordable. Safe, yet easy to get around. And it should have the type of weather that draws you outdoors.
Photo gallery: Top 25 Best Places to Live »
This year we’ve undertaken our most ambitious report yet, ranking 417 cities, towns and villages. That’s almost double the number of communities we’ve looked at in previous years. By doing so we now capture communities with populations as tiny as 9,000.
Tracking the data for hundreds of Canadian cities is a significant task. To help us accomplish this, we turn to Environics Analytics and other partners to help gather the most comprehensive data set possible.
Big cities love to compare themselves to one another. The rivalry between Edmonton and Calgary is well established. Vancouver frequently compares itself to Toronto, very favourably of course. Toronto doesn’t think any city is worthy of comparison, in Canada at least. Ottawa never seems to enter the conversation.
It’s fair to say Canadians underestimate just how strong a city like Ottawa is. Most only see it as a government town, failing to recognize it’s also home to one of the most respected tech hubs in Canada. The city employ 72,000 in the tech sector alone, led by companies like Shopify and QNX. Combine that with stable and well-paying government jobs and you have a level of economic diversity that is the envy of Canada.
Read more: Our Methodology »
It helps explain why the unemployment rate here hovers around 5%, while median incomes top $91,000. On their own those are both strong selling points, but there is a lot more to the city than jobs and incomes.
Ottawa is a safe and affordable city that hasn’t been caught up in the real estate frenzy that’s afflicted B.C. and much of the Golden Horseshoe. It offers great access to health care and boasts a thriving cultural scene.
Yet, it’s common to hear Ottawa described as drab and boring. That may have been true 20 years ago, says Ottawa mayor Jim Watson, but not now. “Back when I arrived here the closest thing to European cuisine here was Swiss Chalet. Today we have some of the best chefs in the country, if not North America,” he says.
“As a city we are thinking bigger and bolder than we have in the past,” he adds. There is plenty of evidence to support this claim.
Read more: Maclean’s John Geddes’s ode to his Ottawa »
Ottawa’s a wildly successful development of Lansdowne Park as a work/play area is bringing fun back into the city. New buildings are helping residents to look past the drab, monolithic architectural style of the 60s and 70s that were all too common. And to top it off a new $5-billion light rail line is due to hit the streets next year.
Plus, Ottawa is just 20 minutes from skiing, hiking and even cottage country.
Our top 50 draws from almost every province. Ontario captures about 40% of the top spots while Quebec and B.C. both each lay claim to another 20% of the top 50.
Atlantic Canada is the only part of the country not represented in the top 50. Quispamsis, N.B, about 20 minutes north east of Saint John is the highest ranked city in that part of the county, coming in at 105.
By expanding the list of cities, we invited dozens of bedroom communities into our report that we haven’t considered in the past and we were delighted to see that many of them sprang to the top of our list. Nowhere was this trend more noticeable than in the province of Quebec, particularly around Montreal.
As rich as Montreal is in terms of its culture, food and attractiveness, the city historically struggles on our ranking. That’s because it tends to have higher unemployment and lower incomes than other parts of the country. But these challenges are largely limited to the island of Montreal. The communities surrounding the city tend to be more affluent and offer more job security.