Of the 415 Canadian municipalities that the magazine compared, almost 60% of those in the top 50 spots are smaller communities with fewer than 40,000 people.
Small towns have traditionally been painted as sleepy, struggling places that younger generations are eager to leave behind. But, the data collected as part of the best communities ranking tells a different story.
Communities in Ontario and British Columbia made up the majority of the top-ranked municipalities. Ontario communities took 28 of the top 50 spots, while B.C. communities earned 16 spots.
This isn’t surprising, considering those two provinces have great weather, strong economies, low sales and income taxes (B.C.), and the country’s shortest healthcare wait times (Ontario).
Most of the highest-ranked small towns can be found in the Greater Golden Horseshoe area of Ontario or on Vancouver Island. This means they’re within driving distance of the higher-priced real estate in Victoria or Toronto.
Small-Town Living Benefits Numerous
Small towns in more remote areas can experience issues with lack of reliable internet connections, slower job growth and less-accessible healthcare. And, according to a 2015 report by Strengthening Rural Canada, workers in remote, small towns earn about 30% less than those in urban centres.
Small towns closer to large cities tend to offer the most benefits. These communities are well-connected; have their own strong, local economies; see robust population growth; and offer easier access to healthcare services. Many also act as suburbs, where residents can enjoy the quiet, natural beauty available just outside of major cities, while also taking advantage of the opportunities offered by nearby urban centres.
In exchange for a willingness to make a longer commute, small-town residents can find more affordable homes that often offer more features and square footage than urban homes. But, not all residents of smaller towns make the commute to work in a bigger city. According to census data on commuting patterns, many people in small towns actually work in town rather than commute, thanks to successful local economies. For example, 25-65% of the people living in the eight higher-ranked small towns near Toronto work in their hometowns. Only the town of New Tecumseth has a large share of commuters, at 44%.
The share of people in the small towns of B.C.’s Interior and Coast regions who work in their hometowns is even larger than in Ontario. While larger communities like West Kelowna have more commuters, those with homes in Salmon Arm, Prince Rupert, Terrace and other small, more-remote communities, tend to work where they live.
What About Large Cities?
Canada’s largest cities present a certain type of compromise. Owning Toronto homes or Vancouver properties provides access to some of the country’s highest-paying jobs, but living in these cities also means paying some of the highest prices for real estate. For example, to buy a home outright, an average Toronto family would need to save its entire household income for close to nine years, while in Vancouver, homes require nearly 13 times the average household income. This is not the case in smaller towns, where residents have an attractive alternative to urban centres in which they can get more bang for their buck in real estate investments.
Data for the rankings was provided by Environics Analytics and was combined with other publicly available data from a variety of sources. The categories were weighted based on their importance to the average person. The strength of the local economy and affordability each accounted for 20 percent of the overall score, making them the two highest-weighted categories. These were followed by access to healthcare, weather, commute, crime, taxes, population growth, culture and amenities.
With more people looking to live outside of large, urban centres to reap the benefits of more affordable housing, quieter neighbourhoods and a slower pace, Canada’s small towns are becoming a hot commodity. No longer considered unprogressive or obsolete, these towns are offering attractive alternatives to those looking to escape big-city living.