As a writer, Ken McGoogan has more freedom in choosing where to live than a lot of Canadians. The author of seven non-fiction books, who most recently penned How the Scots Invented Canada, has lived in every region of the country during his 64 years—from east to west, including a jaunt up north. McGoogan eventually chose to settle in Toronto, where he has lived with his wife, Sheena, for the past nine years. With a certainty that will raise the hackles of non-Torontonians across Canada, McGoogan extols the virtues of his chosen city. “To me, this is the best place to live in the country.”
McGoogan’s opinion, controversial though it may be, is nevertheless well informed. As he’s moved around the country, McGoogan has always been aware of what makes each place unique. His upbringing in Deux-Montagnes, Que., exposed him to French-Canadian culture early in life. In his youth he answered the call of the big cities of Toronto and Montreal, and he loved the vibrancy of each one. The French-speaking world of Montreal can be alienating for English speakers, however. “If you’re not francophone, you’ll have trouble participating in 80% of the city’s life.”
He later lived in Vancouver while completing a degree in creative writing at the University of British Columbia, and he loved being able to explore the scenic Pacific coast. The constant rain? Not so much. “If you get 20 or 30 days in a row of rain, that can wear on you after while.” The promise of a job in television took him to Nelson, B.C., but he ended up working in a sawmill. McGoogan admires Nelson for its population of “back-to-the-landers,” people holding out against the increasingly upscale and suburban nature of other B.C. towns.
He completed stints as a writer-in-residence in both Dawson City, Yukon, and Fredericton. Dawson City is nearly an eight-hour drive north from Whitehorse, but to McGoogan’s surprise, he could still buy his favourite magazines on the newsstand. “I see Dawson City as the farthest point where western civilization reaches,” he says. Fredericton, though not nearly as remote, was similarly quiet, which made it perfect for writing.
The biggest chunk of his life—two decades—was spent in Calgary, where he and his wife reared two children. “It’s a great place to raise a family,” he says. The surrounding natural landscape allowed them plenty of opportunities for family activities, such as skiing, which they did nearly every weekend.
Through all of his roaming, McGoogan has developed a good sense of what he wants from the city he calls home. Near the top of his list is access to a well-stocked library. “Odd as that may sound, that is important to me.”
That preference illustrates that where we choose to live is a deeply personal decision. And because where we call home is so personal, it is easy to feel hurt by perceived criticism. This is an issue MoneySense runs into each time we publish our ranking of Canada’s Best Places to Live. Last year, for example, Bay Roberts, Nfld., ended up on the bottom of the list. “It’s mind-boggling,” mayor Glenn Littlejohn told CBC News. “I’m so frustrated by the article today I can’t even express to you my disappointment.”
MoneySense receives hundreds of scornful emails and phone calls each year, and even a casual perusal of the comments left on the online version at MoneySense.ca reveals that many question the wisdom of the list’s creators. We are faulted for not taking a bunch of factors into account that, for some, are of utmost importance. What about the scenery? What about the friendliness of neighbours?