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MeFites in Canada: which artsy, progressive town or city should I move to?
September 14, 2012 8:21 AM   Subscribe

MeFites in Canada: which artsy, progressive town or city should I move to?

Friends who live in Nelson, B.C. are always making me jealous of its awesomeness. I'm looking for a place with a vibe similar to Nelson: community-minded, progressive, not too big, funky shops and eateries, excellent food coop, and a large number of artsy, eco-conscious, alternative folks and happenings.

Bonus if you live there/have lived there yourself, rather than "my first-year roommate's cousin moved there and I think I heard she liked it," although any recommendations, whether personal or second-hand, would be super helpful. This has been asked before for the States and Canada, but I'm continually amazed to hear about cool, offbeat arts towns I'd never considered, like Westport, Ontario, Wakefield, Quebec, and Tofino, B.C., so I know there must be others...

For what it's worth, climate is not a factor, nor are linguistic matters (fire away with Quebec recommendations). Thanks, MeFi!
posted by oswego to Society & Culture (24 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, in my humble opinion, it doesn't get better than BC, and I love the ocean, so it would be somewhere near the coast. Victoria is great because it's got good food, big enough for public arts funding, close to Vancouver, Nanaimo, Tofino, San Juan Islands, Seattle, has a major airport, a variety of types of jobs, access to skiing and the ocean and forests and cities. There are great towns on the Sunshine Coast but for me it's a bit too isolated, and a PITA to get anywhere else.
posted by barnone at 8:54 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not Canadian, but clearly British Columbia would be the way to go. Side benefit: you can easily make short trips to Seattle and Portland.
posted by Dansaman at 8:57 AM on September 14, 2012


community-minded, progressive, not too big, funky shops and eateries, excellent food coop, and a large number of artsy, eco-conscious, alternative folks and happenings

Halifax in a nutshell.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:59 AM on September 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think Nelson is in many ways unique, or at least on the far end of the spectrum. I'm not sure you'll find another community with quite as much as Nelson at a similar size. There are plenty of towns in BC with some of the same amenities, but I don't think any others have those on a Nelson level (not even Tofino). You'll find those towns mostly in the Kootenays, on the Sunshine Coast, on Vancouver Island, and, by itself, Smithers. I don't think you'll find any towns like this in Alberta.

My sister lives in Whitehorse and enjoys it greatly. Good arts scene, some progressive community (though not everyone, by any means, but Nelson is not all progressive either), lots of younger people, but I don't think there is a food co-op.

You might want to specify what you mean by "not too big", because to some Halifax, Victoria, etc. are not too big, but the towns you've mentioned are all much smaller (10K population or less). Do towns that are overrun by tourists bother you at all?
posted by ssg at 9:04 AM on September 14, 2012


As a native and extremely homesick Vancouver Islander, my horribly biased and completely emotional recommendation is definitely somewhere on the Island.
If you're considering Tofino, I'd strongly suggest taking a close look at Uclulet, which is just on the other end of the beach from Tofino. Ukkie has, in my opinion, everything that is wonderful about Tofino, but without as much of the occasionally douchey tourist/resort culture (though they're close enough together that you can easily get to the amenities of Tofino without too much hassle)
If you're looking for something a little more out there, look into some of the Gulf Islands (Saltspring is the most populous). HUGE (as huge as you can get on a tiny island) progessive and artistic community, and very community and environmentally minded, and a short ferry ride from...
Victoria, which would be my other suggestion. I, personally, find the arts community in Vic to be detrimentally incestuous, insular, and self-congratulatory, but it is certainly enthusiastic and (at least on a local level) thriving. There are pockets of Victoria that are exactly what you seem to be looking for, but you have to seek them out and dig a little beneath the cookie-cutter mess that is threatening to destroy whatever character Victoria once possessed.
posted by Dorinda at 9:17 AM on September 14, 2012


Penticton has a very nice vibe, and it's 45 minutes away from Kelowna, which has more shopping, restaurants, and events, but also a more materialistic way of life. On the scenic drive to Kelowna you can visit Summerland and Peachland, which are cozy and serene, but quite small, with very little happening. Penticton is not as isolated as Nelson, and it has a warmer, drier climate. Vancouver is a 4.5 hour drive away.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:31 AM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the answer partly depends upon what you define as "too big," but I'll agree with most of the other BC towns listed by folks upthread. Several towns in the Rockies on both the BC and Alberta side will likely fit. Banff, in particular, seems to really fit the bill (though you'll be living in a tourist town, with all of the weirdness that comes from a very transient population; the locals are very community-focused, but it might not feel that way at times due to the large number of tourists and transients).

If you're willing to move to the Yukon then I would definitely recommend Whitehorse. Dawson City also fits, but it is VERY far north and is really quite small (especially in the winter; I'm told that many of the townspeople literally board up their houses and flee south for the winter).

Some East Coast cities/towns might fit the bill, but I'm not too familiar with that part of the country.

I'll also rock the boat a bit and say that Edmonton actually has a lot of what you're looking for. It's one of the larger cities in the country, though, and finding/connecting with the alternative/artsy community might be tough simply because the city is so large.
posted by asnider at 9:57 AM on September 14, 2012


You say climate is not a factor, but Edmonton was -58.4 Celsius with the windchill in December 2009, and Winnipeg can be bitterly cold. Just sayin.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:21 AM on September 14, 2012


Guelph, Ontario has many of the characteristics you describe. It's a university town, with tons of farmers markets, walkable streets, cafes, progressive ideas (and active campaigns to match). Very very eco-conscious. It's the hub of agriculture in Southwestern Ontario, so fresh, organic produce is everywhere you turn. It has a bland suburban perimeter that should be avoided, but the core is pretty much what you have in mind.

Though if you really want to immerse yourself in the vibe you described, I agree with Dorinda that Vancouver Island is your mecca (wife did grad school in Victoria).
posted by dry white toast at 10:29 AM on September 14, 2012


St. John's, NL (especially in the downtown core) has an amazing arts community. There is tons of live music every week (and much more than just the trad stuff associated with this place), live theatre, dance, visual art, etc. The arts community is very welcoming to new folks and I know lots of artsy types who are CFAs (come-from-aways) who came here for a trip or school and made this place their home. Food coops are becoming a bigger thing here all the time. The city has finally started putting in bike lanes all over town. The East Coast Trail system is second-to-none if you love the outdoors.

Our weather can be rainy and sucky (although we just had a staggeringly sunny and gorgeous summer) but our winters are much more moderate than a lot of other places in Canada. Temperatures in the dead of winter tend to hover around the freezing mark. We get some crazy amounts of snow every few years but a lot of years we'll get way more rain.

Yes, I'm from here and I love it. Feel free to message me with any questions.
posted by futureisunwritten at 10:46 AM on September 14, 2012


Sherbrooke, Quebec is a lot like what you described. It's an university town and it has lots of local breweries, craft stores, a nice big farmer's market and lots of cool, small businesses.
posted by cyml at 10:51 AM on September 14, 2012


You say climate is not a factor, but Edmonton was -58.4 Celsius with the windchill in December 2009

It can certainly be cold here in the winter, but this is not the norm.
posted by asnider at 11:06 AM on September 14, 2012


Guelph isn't as nice as it used to be; it's becoming a yucky, unwelcoming cookie-cutter sprawl and it's basically just a suburb of Toronto nowadays. I'm saying Nelson FTW; It's a great place. I hear Fredrickton's good too, but there's apparently really bad racism and racial tension out east (and not a lot of jobs) so I've never been. But if you're white and don't mind that kind of thing, you might like it. Hamilton's a surprisingly cool place if you can get past the smell. And I like Winnipeg, but it's in the prairies so that's unappealing to some. Toronto Island is amazing, but there's like a 30-year waiting list.
posted by windykites at 11:06 AM on September 14, 2012


Also, since I just noticed that you have Wakefield, QC listed in your question: yes, Wakefield is a pretty great place for artists. It's a pretty small village, but it has an artsy vibe and is close enough to Ottawa/Hull that you'll still have easy access to big city amenities. It's also a primarily anglophone community, which may be nice if English is your preferred language.

It's worth noting, however, that they're building a new highway that will bypass Wakefield, which might result in major economic issues for the village and could potentially harm the arts community. I'd take a wait-and-see approach if you're seriously considering Wakefield.
posted by asnider at 11:10 AM on September 14, 2012


I hear Fredrickton's good too, but there's apparently really bad racism and racial tension out east (and not a lot of jobs) so I've never been. But if you're white and don't mind that kind of thing, you might like it.

That's a pretty odd (and kind of offensive) generalization to make about a whole bunch of places you have never been to. Also it's patently untrue for most of the many places I have been to in eastern Canada.
posted by futureisunwritten at 11:36 AM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


The only place I've heard a lot of racism in Canada was when I've been out on the prairies, or when with some of my older relatives in BC (Whom all moved their from Alberta). This is also a rather large part of why I don't visit half my family much.
posted by Canageek at 11:42 AM on September 14, 2012


I moved to Montreal in 2000. It is progressive, funky, artsy, bike-friendly, walkable and full of alternative folks. If you live in the Plateau or Mile End, there are food co-ops. The summer is nothing but happenings.

I'm a New York boy, so Montreal has never felt too big to me. But I think most people would agree that it never overwhelms. You never have to drive very far, or pay too much. That's why there are so many artists and bands here.
posted by musofire at 12:47 PM on September 14, 2012


Montreal is nice, but if you are not Francophone you may want to re-consider. There is a current political climate with the Parti Quebecois in charge. Generally they are against Anglophones and they have promised the strengthen the language laws.
posted by Napierzaza at 1:14 PM on September 14, 2012


As others have mentioned, Guelph, Ontario and Montreal, Quebec fit your criteria quite well.
posted by cranberrymonger at 1:26 PM on September 14, 2012


Why is it always with the Montreal is so unfriendly to Anglos? I lived just near Monkland Village for 6 years and never had a problem fitting in. Even when I tried speaking in French in shops, the staff would hear my accent and switch to English right away. I can't say enough good things about Montreal, so I will just say that if it meets your criteria of 'not too big', then I heartily endorse its awesomeness,

If a small city is more what you have in mind, I lived in Thunder Bay, Ontario for a good chunk of time. The outdoor rec opportunities are endless. Kayaking, hiking, swimming, fishing, camping... pretty much anything you like to do outside (even surfing!) can be done within 10 minutes drive from town.

That said, it does get sort of old sort of fast - as in you will pretty much explore everything that can be explored in town within a few weekends, but there are a number of funky artsy shops, film fests, awesome resturants, concerts, cultural events and other happenings that keep it fresh.

I enjoyed living there. The landscape is BEAUTIFUL, the air is fresh, and the sun doesn't go down in the summertime until 10:45pm.
posted by empatterson at 1:37 PM on September 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also - if cost of living is on the table as a factor here, Thunder Bay is one of the cheapest places I have ever lived. Real Estate is a good investment there as the regional economy is picking up quite a bit. If you are of student age or thinking of going back to do Masters/PhD studies, Lakehead U has quite a bit to offer.
posted by empatterson at 1:50 PM on September 14, 2012


Nelson's great (I moved here about a year ago) but jobs are hard to come by. It's also small if you're used to bigger areas - it's a long drive to anywhere with a significant population (even Kelowna is 4 hours away).

I have a couple of friends who moved to Whitehorse, and rave about it, but it gets really cold in the winter (obviously).

I've also been hearing a lot of good things about Smithers, which apparently is getting a lot of the arty / hippie / homesteaders type that have been priced out of the Kootenays. I've never been there, though, so I can't claim first hand knowledge.
posted by sauril at 4:12 PM on September 14, 2012


I live in Montreal. empatterson, it's kind of amusing that you have no anglo problems... in Monkland Village. NDG is traditionally anglo. Nobody would stay in business long if they didn't hire people willing and able to switch to English at need.

But right now I would not advise anyone to consider coming to live anywhere in Quebec unless they're able to speak some French and prepared to accept that speaking French is considered a basic, non-negotiable skill for most jobs.

If the OP is independently wealthy and doesn't have to work, they can handwave this, but working people have to take it into account.
posted by zadcat at 10:42 PM on September 14, 2012


If the OP is independently wealthy and doesn't have to work, they can handwave this, but working people have to take it into account.

The OP said that language is not an issue and that people should feel free to recommend places in Quebec. I'm going to hazard a guess that the OP means it, perhaps because he is bilingual (he does currently live in the only officially bilingual province, after all).
posted by asnider at 11:04 PM on September 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


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