What are Canada's best large cities? - MoneySense

What are Canada’s best large cities?

We rate the best cities with more than 500,000 people



Of the 180 cities on MoneySense Magazine’s Best Places to Live feature; only nine have more than 500,000 people according to the 2006 census. Although this is a small percentage of the cities in Canada, they hold 30% of our population and when their metropolitan areas are included; this jumps to almost half the people living in the country. So how do these cities stack up against each other?

First on this list and also number one in four of the last six rankings of all the 180 cities is Ottawa-Gatineau with a population of 1.13 million. Ottawa became capital of the then Province of Canada in 1857 partly because it was militarily defensible and further from the U.S. border than most of the other major cities. In 1867, it became the capital of the newly confederated country of Canada. Originally, the area’s industry was lumber based with easy transportation to Montreal and Kingston via the Ottawa River and Rideau Canal. Today the area’s major business is government.

Ottawa-Gatineau is not first in any category but also does not score badly in any area. The highest score out of 180 was fifth and the lowest was 124th. Of the 21 items measured, there were five items in the first quintile, nine in the second, four in the third, three in the fourth and none in the fifth. The lowest scoring items were house prices, number of health professionals and number of rainy and snowy days. The highest scoring areas were culture, transit, doctors, newer cars on the road and population growth.

Edmonton AB, the most northerly city on this list, had a 2006 population of 730,000 and comes in as number two and 8th overall. The Hudson’s Bay Company had trading posts in the Edmonton area in the late 1700s. The city was incorporated in 1904 and became the capital of Alberta in 1906. In 1947, oil was discovered near the city and now the economy is focused on energy and government.

Edmonton has challenges with higher housing prices, cold weather and crime. It ranks well in provincial income and sales taxes, two of the three income categories, and transit. Other areas where Edmonton came in the top half of the rankings were: time to buy a house, population growth, number of doctors and health professionals, unemployment, precipitation, pollution and culture.

Winnipeg MB, with a metropolitan area population of 695,000 in 2006, is the capital of the province and comes in at number three on this list and 10th overall. Winnipeg was permanently settled in 1812 and was incorporated as a city in 1873. Finance, manufacturing and government have augmented the original still strong economic base of grain and transportation.

Winnipeg scores poorly for crime, cold weather and provincial income taxes. House prices, discretionary income, population growth and walk or bike to work score in the middle of the rankings. Doctors, health professionals, household income and culture all come in the top third of our rankings. Transit, unemployment, precipitation and air quality all score in the top 20% of all cities.

Calgary AB had 1.1 million people in the metro area in 2006 and holds fourth place on our largest cities list and 16th overall. Calgary was incorporated as a town in 1884 and European settlement goes back to the late 1700s when cartographer David Thomson wintered here. The original economies of meatpacking, cattle marketing, transportation and distribution are still around but take a back seat to oil, which is the predominant employer in the city. Other industries include manufacturing, high-tech, ecommerce, tourism and finance.

Calgary’s challenges include high house prices, cold weather and a low number of health professionals. Also population growth and walking or biking to work come in at 114th and 119th respectively out of the 180 cities measured. Good news includes: one of the highest average household and discretionary incomes in the country (6th and 5th out of 180), a relatively low crime rate, good number of doctors, a high number of sunny days and an excellent transit system. The high income helps to take the sting out of house prices.

Number five on this list and 29th overall with a 2006 population of 578,000 is the city of Vancouver BC. The area was explored in the 1790s but was not settled until the mid-1800s and grew rapidly after the completion of the first transcontinental railway line 20 years later. The founding economy of transportation and trade is now augmented by finance, tourism, film, resource industries and aviation.

The country’s highest housing prices are a problem in Vancouver. Housing price and affordability count for over 14% of the total grade and the city is in last place in these categories. Other challenges for this city are high crime, unemployment (110 out of 180) and weather. Although Vancouver ranks number three out of 180 cities for having a warm climate, it also has a lot of precipitation. The city scores in the top 10 of our main list for being able to walk or bike to work, transit and culture. It also lands in the top third in two of our income categories, population growth and clean air.

Mississauga ON which is number six on our list and 32nd overall had a 2006 population of 669,000 making it the second largest city in the Greater Toronto area and one of the largest cities on the Great Lakes. Although the area has been settled since the early 1800s, Mississauga is the youngest community on this list, formed in 1968 by the amalgamation of several smaller towns. Today it has a varied economy that includes transportation, biotech, high technology, manufacturing, real estate and finance. Pearson International Airport, the country’s busiest, is one of the over 40 of Canada’s largest 500 companies headquartered here.

Mississauga scores low in the areas of housing affordability and walking or biking to work. It also ranks in the bottom half of all our cities (117 out of 180) in the unemployment category. On the plus side, the city is safe with a low crime rate, has excellent transit, good weather, a healthy population growth and high household incomes.

Coming in at number seven and 74th overall is Hamilton ON with a 2006 population of 505,000. The area has been settled since the late 1700s and Hamilton became a city in 1846. Located at the western end of Lake Ontario, the city has been a center for steel manufacturing for well over a century. Currently, Hamilton is the source of about 60% of the steel made in Canada. Manufacturing is still its largest employer followed by health, social services, education, finance, insurance, real estate and construction.

Reflecting its overall rank of 74th out of 180, Hamilton ranks around the middle in many of our categories. It scores in the bottom quartile for house prices, the time to buy a house and air quality. It lands in the third quartile for the number of people who walk or bike to work and number of new cars on the road. Household average income, discretionary income, crime, population, health professionals and doctors, unemployment, weather and culture all fall in the second quartile and transit is in the first quartile.

Toronto ON, is the largest city in Canada with over 2.5 million people and lands in 8th spot on our large cities list and 88th overall. The capital of Ontario is the only city on this list to have the distinction of being captured and occupied by a foreign army. During the war of 1812, the American army captured Toronto, then known as York, and burned the legislative assembly buildings. Over 5.5 million people or one in six Canadians live in the Greater Toronto Area. The city now has a diverse economy focused on finance, government, manufacturing, transportation, services, media, real estate and tourism.

Toronto has challenges with the cost and affordability of housing. Also unemployment at the end of 2010 was high and population growth from 2001 to 2006 was less than 1%. These four items account for about 33% of the total points. The city also ranks in the lower half of all our communities for number of doctors, health professionals and discretionary income. Toronto ranks in the second quartile in the areas of crime, weather, household income and walking or biking to work and lands in 2nd and 3rd place overall for transit and culture respectively.

Montreal QC, the second largest city in Canada with a 2006 census population of 1.6 million people, is number nine on this list and 123rd overall. The area of has been settled since the mid 1600s. Montreal was incorporated as a city in 1832 and by 1900 had over 250,000 people. The original economic base of trade and transportation has expanded greatly to include finance, aerospace, printing, telecommunications, tourism, pharmaceuticals, textiles, software and tobacco.

Like Toronto, Montreal does not perform as well as many of the surrounding cities that comprise the census metropolitan areas. The city falls in the fourth quartile in the areas of housing prices and affordability, average household incomes, discretionary income and unemployment. Also Quebec has some of the highest income and sales taxes in the country. The city ranks around the middle of all cities measured for population growth, crime, health professionals and weather. Montreal does quite well in the categories of walking and biking to work, culture and newer cars and is number one in the transit category.