Best Canadian Cities

It’s no secret that Canada enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the world. For nearly two decades Canada has shared the top 3 positions with Australia and Denmark in the United Nation’s Human Development Index, alternating year by year with those countries and, occasionally, Ireland.

Cities of the world are ranked seperately for their liveability and there are several ranking systems and organizations who do this, including Forbes, Mercer (an international polling organization), the Economic Intelligent Survey (EIE), the National Geographic Society and, of course, the UN. Year after year, in each of these well-respected reports, Canadian and Australian cities continue to dominate the lists of most-liveable cities in the world.

Australian, Canadian and Western European cities make up the entire top 10 list of cities in the world, while American and British cities fall into the mid-way mark (although Pittsburg ranks highest among American cities as far as liveability goes). The reasons for this domination of the lists by only a few countries are complex but fairly logical. A number of factors, including health, education, environment, crime, employment, real estate, government policy, congestion, infrastructure and public transportation, to name a few, are all factored into the equation and the final product is that Canada has the most liveable cities in the top 10 rankings of any other country. Here are the various reports and their city rankings:

1: Vancouver (Canada)
2: Vienna (Austria)
3: Melbourne (Australia)
4: Toronto (Canada)
5: Calgary (Canada)
6: Helsinki (Finland)
7: Sydney (Australia)
8: Perth (Australia)
9: Zurich (Switzerland)
10: Auckland (New Zealand)

There are differences between all three different ranking systems, with the most notable being Mercer’s system. The Mercer ranking has come under fire in past years for its bias towards EU cities. Following their 2008 report it was revealed that they didn’t actually send any researchers to any non-European cities in question: they simply used data found online and in published documents and made their assumptions from that, so the Mercer report, while giving a very good analysis of EU cities, fails international cities.

The EIE report is among the best and most respected in the world and, considering that it follows closely with what the United Nations reports read, it is considered the most accurate livable city ranking system today.

Three Canadian cities, Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary consistently make it onto these lists, while Ottawa, Montreal, Victoria and the smaller city of Guelph (Ontario) repeatedly pop onto these lists and drop off again. Let’s look at the top three cities more closely:

Vancouver

Nestled on the lower-mainland coast of British Columbia, only a few miles from the US border, lies what has been repeatedly called by respected international organizations the “Best City in the World”: Vancouver.

With a population of 2.5 million, over 56% of whom are non-white, Vancouver has also been ranked by the United Nations as the “Most Multi-Cultural City in the World”, topping well-known melting pots such as New York, Los Angeles and London. The reason is that Vancouver is not considered a “melting pot”, where cultures merge together to form a common identity. It’s considered a “tapestry”, with layers of different cultures that form a beautiful picture.

Vancouver was founded in 1867 around a previous wild-west logging town named “Gastown” (founded in 1856). Gastown today still exists as a trendy pedestrian road in the centre of Vancouver, where the world’s only steam-powered clock exists. The massive Frasier River cuts Vancouver in two as it flows out to the Pacific Ocean. In the mouth of the river lies a big island and this is where Vancouver’s core is found.

Vancouver is a beautiful city. It is extremely clean and the public transportation, including a completely-computerized monorail system, is verifiably among the best in the world. Furthermore, architects have been, for years, building the city to blend in with the majestic beauty of the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Glass skyscrapers only serve to compliment the towering, snow-capped mountains in the background, as they reflect the sun and ocean and give the city skyline a dreamlike, Wizard Of Oz appearance.

Vancouver’s climate is close-to-perfect. Summers are not too hot and comfortable, with blue skies and cool ocean breezes blowing in from the west. Winter time is fairly balmy with temperatures rarely dropping below freezing, although Vancouver endures many months of non-stop rain at this time of year. It is this mix of perfect summer and warm winter weather that makes Vancouver a comfortable place to live, but it also attracts a darker side to the city.

Because of the warm weather, drug addicts, homeless people and general street urchin riff-raff flock to the city from all over North America and beggars and petty criminals can be found almost everywhere. The lower-east side is notorious for being a bleak stain on an otherwise perfect city. You know you’ve reached this end of town when the glass buildings, intricate fountains and serene gardens suddenly end and boarded-up old tenements covered in graffiti suddenly appear. There’s usually quite a throng of trashy-looking people, prostitutes and police cars hanging around this area.

Nevertheless crime rates in Vancouver remain among the lowest of the world’s cities and, coupled with the beauty, cleanliness and accessibility, as well as the high employment rate and high quality of living this city offers, Vancouver remains the best city in the world to live!

Toronto

Canada’s largest city, with over 5.5 million residents, is also the fifth largest city in North America (after Chicago) and the economic, political and cultural hub of Canada. Situated along the north shore of Lake Ontario, Toronto has a picturesque skyline that could come straight from a fantasy novel. The CN Tower, the worlds second tallest freestanding structure (it used to be the first), dominates the city from all points and a blend of classical 1920’s-era skyscrapers shares space with modern all-glass giants.

As a megalopolis, Toronto is considered an alpha-city by the Globalization and World Cities Study Group and is one of the top financial centres in the world, ranking alongside Zurich, New York and London for its international finance and banking power.

Native Indians from the Mohawk tribes have lived in the area for millenia, and the name Toronto comes from them. Europeans first moved to the area in the mid-1600s and founded a French fur-trading fort. It wasn’t until 1750 that modern-day Toronto, called “York”, planted its roots (the Toronto police are still called the York Regional Police). The city was the original capital of “Upper Canada”. In 1813 the young American army attacked the fort and the bustling town that had grown up around it and, after a three-day battled, captured it. They plundered the town and set it ablaze, which was the primary motivation for the burning of Washington by British forces later that year.

Today Toronto is considered a super-clean city with tough environmental laws in place. With 40% of the population being non-white, it is also considered one of the world’s multi-cultural meccas. Employment remains high while real estate is affordable (before the 2008 economic crisis real estate in the city was reaching unaffordable levels). Toronto has a highly developed transportation system including a subway system and an anachronistic trolley bus system, in addition to a large fleet of clean-energy buses. Toronto has the third most developed public transit system in North America!

Crime rates in Toronto remain consistent with crime rates in other large urban centres, and over the past decade there has been an outbreak of gang wars and public shootings. Nevertheless, Toronto is still considered safer than any American city. Traffic poses the biggest problem in Toronto, as the inner-city roads were designed for horses and not cars and the 401 super-highway that runs through the city (the most heavily-travelled highway in North America, carrying trade from Detroit and Buffalo, through Ontario to Montreal) is constantly congested at all hours of the day and night.

The weather in Toronto is not for the weak. Winters can be cruel, with vicious snow storms and freezing temperatures, while the summer can be unbearably hot and humid. Millions of cars and miles of concrete only add to the heat. Nevertheless, Toronto is a great city for cultural and not-so-cultural entertainment, and visitors to the city almost always have a good time. Shopping and dining venues abound, and it takes a very determined person to find nothing to do in this city. That is but one reason why Toronto consistently ranks among the top ten best cities in the world to live.

Calgary

Seemingly in the middle of nowhere, on the western edges of the prairies within view of the Rocky Mountains, is the city of Calgary, Alberta. The fourth largest city in Canada, with 1 million people (2009), Calgary continues to rank among the top ten most livable cities in the world.

Employment rates in Calgary are incredibly high, and the city has some of the highest per-capita incomes in North America. This is in large part due to the massive oil industry that has made Alberta a super-rich province (with more spending power than 60% of the world’s countries!). With such high salaries and good job prospects, people flock to Calgary in a modern-day gold-rush, thus the city has witnessed a population boom unprecedented in Canadian history: in 1989 the population of Calgary was 750,000, by 1999 it stood at 950,000 and, ten years later, over a million.

Calgary was settled in 1873 as the British raced the Americans to the Pacific Ocean, dropping off outposts along the way to stem American expansion. A century later Calgary was a booming western city with a Texas-like attitude born by the type of people who want to live in a freedom-loving western city. Calgary is famous for cowboys, beef, oil and country music. The world-famous Calgary Stampede rodeo festival draws more than a million visitors to the city in the summer, and the city is included on nearly every major musical artist’s tour venues.

Calgary enjoys incredibly low crime rates, as the Alberta mentality towards crime and punishment is “A short rope and a long drop”. In fact, Alberta is the most politically-conservative of the Canadian provinces, and with some of the lowest poverty rates on the continent it is easy to stay on the right of the spectrum. The problems that face Calgary today are with real estate. Jobs abound in the Calgary: there are more jobs than people (thus the high salaries), and everybody knows this so the adventurous flock to the city in search of employment. Unlike the job situation, however, there isn’t enough housing for everyone and real estate prices remain incredibly high. Oil and gas workers are often lodged in workers camps until a house or apartment become available, while most people have to rent rooms in someone’s homes. With a massive expanse of prairie available urban sprawl seems out of control as developers flock to the area to build more and more homes for the thirsty market. This problem doesn’t seem as though it will go away any time soon.

Nevertheless, Calgary is a beautiful city. Shining glass skyscrapers seem to grow up out of the prairie and the hot, dry summers are offset by brutal, windy winters (temperatures can reach below 40 degrees C). This only adds to the rich, frontier-like lifestyle of this cowboy city, and Calgary remains one of the best cities in the world to live!

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