There is an ongoing joke among Torontonians that we were last happy in the summer of 2016. There was hope in housing affordability, no COVID-19 and Drake came out with his song Summer 16. In the minds of many, this was Toronto at its best. Growing up in Canada’s largest city throughout the first quarter of the new century, I saw the up-and-coming big city grow into a cultural and economic behemoth. Toronto was never considered a world-class city when I was young, but now it is held in high esteem worldwide. Not one person I had met had anything bad to say about Toronto (unless they were other Canadians), and most had some sort of relative in the city. Yet, with all that popularity came some problems. The 6ix (as some call Toronto) has become hostage to its own fame as the city is now inundated with traffic, tourists, homelessness and crime like never before. It’s the same out on the Pacific. Vancouver has become one of the most expensive housing markets in the world. Incredibly expensive, competitive and busy, Canada’s biggest cities are suffering from their success as destinations for migrants, workers and tourists worldwide.
But Canada is a large country. It is the second-largest country in the world after Russia. This country is blessed with tons of land for new arrivals to call home, yet over 13 million people out of the total 38 million people live in MTV (Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver). The dominance of these cities and their respective provinces has attracted international visitors for decades. According to Statistics Canada, around 53 per cent of immigrants to Canada end up in one of these three cities. But no one said you had to stay there. Many new immigrants move into the big cities to move out to other locations sooner. But why come to MTV at first?
The reasons to move to either Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal are manifold. Say you are leaving your home country for the first time. Moving to Toronto can connect you with a thriving Ethiopian community if you are Ethiopian. Same with Chinese immigrants to Vancouver and Senegalese in Montreal. Having a community of people from your home country makes finding work, building links and adopting the nation much easier. But it is not all good. Toronto and Vancouver, especially, are extremely expensive places to live. While finding work is much easier in big metropolitan areas, housing, food and gas can all become extremely expensive. Not to mention the crime rate. Big cities have their positives and negatives. But Canada is more than just its big three. Immigrants can be found everywhere in this great nation.
Marie Consolata moved from Toronto to Edmonton in 2004 after living in Toronto for decades. The East African immigrant loved her community in southern Ontario, and leaving was hard. Still, she wanted her kids to grow up in safer communities and give herself new opportunities in the growing province of Alberta. In the early 2000s, Alberta was still relatively small, and Edmonton had just hit one million residents. Marie’s family might have been that millionth. Alberta has since ballooned in population as more people moved to Edmonton, especially Calgary. In 2021, 1630 people moved from around Canada to the Alberta government. Many do it for the cheap price of housing and increased livability. According to December 2022 prices, the average house cost in Ontario was over 800,000, while in Alberta, it was almost half at 429,000. Thanks in part to these cheap prices, Calgary was named the third most liveable city in the world by The Economist, beating out Vancouver in fifth place and Toronto in eighth place.
For many who leave their province, the only reason to go is economical. While big cities tend to have the most job opportunities, Canada is a vast country with many opportunities. Anyone willing can earn a great income in sparsely populated regions, especially in the country’s north. When Kamal came to Canada, he intended to work in Ottawa or Montreal but soon found it hard to gain meaningful employment. Intent on earning enough money to bring his family from Congo to Canada, he decided to move to Yorkton, Saskatchewan. Working in a more isolated place, he could earn close to six figures with little experience. Although the third least popular interregional migration destination, Saskatchewan has economic opportunities within the agricultural and mining industries. In only a year, Kamal earned enough to afford to bring his family and support other relatives back home. Others have gone even further, working in the northern territories like Nunavut and Yukon. Although extremely cold and expensive, the wages up north can be very attractive.
While moving for money may motivate many migrants, the culture of a location is important when people look at settling down. One massive change that has happened over the past few years is the evolution of Canada’s big cities from growing hubs to established urban jungles. But some prefer the smaller charms of mid-sized cities and less frenzied streets. Migration to the Atlantic provinces can provide that. Defined by their geography, the Atlantic provinces are hubs of distinct cultures like the Newfies, Nova Scotia’s historical Black community, and countless indigenous groups. Cities like Halifax are big enough to be fun without feeling claustrophobic, like Toronto can. After only two weeks in Canada, Jessica, a Rwandan migrant, knew Montreal was too much for her. Coming from a small town, she felt trapped and unseen in Montreal. She moved to Moncton, New Brunswick, to find a lifestyle closer to the relaxed nature of her homeland. Moncton was more home to her than the big city in many ways.
What makes a city or region more liveable than others is up to an individual, but with such wonderful geography, everyone from anywhere can find a place to call home. It’s worth having a look around.