Dense, walkable, cute affordable Canadian cities?
July 9, 2011 7:36 PM   Subscribe

Asking this question for my mom: where should I live in Canada? (criteria: dense small city, pretty, affordable, walkable, climate not too cold.)

My mother is a dual citizen of Canada and the US and is looking at relocating in the next few years. She loves Victoria, British Columbia and wants to live in somewhere as much like that as possible, but would like to live somewhere less expensive and less isolated from the rest of Canada. She's been living in the American suburbs for the last 15 years and wants to live somewhere more dense, walkable, and liberal. Not at small as Perth, ON but not as large as Toronto, warmer than Montreal, would rather not live somewhere where French is the dominant language. Ideal housing cost would be under $250,000 for a 2-3 bedroom condo.
posted by Jeanne to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
There's Windsor, Ontario, right across the river from Detroit. Small, warm (but very humid in both summer and winter). Or maybe somewhere in the region of Niagara, though that's probably pretty expensive.

I don't find Montreal terribly cold, for what it's worth. I found winter in Windsor harder to bear because of the humidity.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 7:46 PM on July 9, 2011

London, though the lake efect does mean a metric crapton of snow every year.
posted by scruss at 8:00 PM on July 9, 2011

I was going to suggest Windsor, as well.
posted by Giggilituffin at 8:03 PM on July 9, 2011

Oh, and the maritimes, though I can't guarantee winter won't be cold. Halifax is nice - the downtown is very small but the suburbs are nice and sprawly and walkable. Nice people town.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 8:09 PM on July 9, 2011

Halifax, Halifax, Halifax.

It hits literally all of your criteria.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:35 PM on July 9, 2011 [6 favorites]

Guelph, ON tends to avoid a lot of the worst of winter (though gets the worst of the storms in the summer), it's walkable, community-focused, very liberal, and as a bonus you can be in downtown Toronto in an hour. Definitely pretty, and with one of the best arts scenes of mid-sized Canadian cities.

Halifax is also very nice, but only slightly less isolated than Victoria.
posted by t_dubs at 8:40 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and the maritimes, though I can't guarantee winter won't be cold.

The Maritimes has a bunch of completely different climates. Halifax is mild and drizzly like Vancouver. Moncton is ... not.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:41 PM on July 9, 2011

Eh, I've been in Halifax for a few blizzards. Yes, it's generally milder but sometimes winter does happen. Still very nice though!
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 8:45 PM on July 9, 2011

Seconding (thirding?) Halifax or Bedford, NS. 2-3 bedroom condos can most certainly be bought at that price, and there are plenty of destinations within a few hours drive (Annapolis Valley, Lunenburg/Mahone Bay, PEI, New Brunswick, etc.) Can't think of a better place that meets your criteria!
posted by betafilter at 9:13 PM on July 9, 2011

Well... my first idea was Victoria. I guess my second would be Halifax (on the bigger side) or Charlottetown, PEI - which is tiny, population-wise, but definitely urban when it comes to walkability, shops, etc. I don't know how liberal Charlottetown is, but they have very good ice-cream. Both have milder winters than Ontario, but the climate isn't as mild as B.C.

I would point out that Victoria is a 2-hour bus and ferry ride from Vancouver, and Vancouver has excellent connections both within and outside of Canada - if her concern was about travel to and from the city.

Alternatively, if she wants to be near Toronto/Southern Ontario (if that is what she is worried about re isolation), there are small university cities like Kitchener-Waterloo. The Kitchener side is old, and therefore walkable; the Waterloo side is car-oriented development. But because of the universities, the two cities have a lot more going on culture-wise than cities their size normally would.

I've also heard from people that they really like Ottawa - but the housing market is crazy and the winters are bitterly cold.

/me, if I could live anywhere, it would be Kitamat - I've never been, but I've heard it's the most wonderful place in the world. The mountains are higher, the trees are denser, the ocean is wetter.
posted by jb at 9:27 PM on July 9, 2011

Kitchener-Waterloo is probably not dissimilar from Guelph.
posted by jb at 9:28 PM on July 9, 2011

Ottawa is cold, and far from affordable if you want to live in most pedestrian-friendly areas. it has its advantages, but its definitely not a cozy retirement town (although it is very, very quiet).
posted by Yowser at 9:34 PM on July 9, 2011

Guelph and K/W have a town and gown problem
posted by PinkMoose at 9:51 PM on July 9, 2011

I live in Victoria. It's expensive, but we manage. Anyway, a friend moved from Victoria (where he was unhappy) to Halifax, and he loves it. However, Halifax is probably more isolated than Victoria.

I think the challenge with Canada is that nice cities like Nelson, Victoria and Halifax are all pretty isolated, and if it is not isolated it is COLD. This is why we chose Victoria when we relocated from overseas.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:58 PM on July 9, 2011

Nanaimo, Parksville or Qualicum. All about 90 min from Victoria or so. You would have to carefully choose a downtown or North Nanaimo location to get the walkability. Parksville and Qualicum are just north of Nanaimo and very walkable. Nanaimo is the shopping hub for most of the Island, but you're still just a quick car/bus/train ride from Victoria and all it offers and about 2.5 hours by ferry (including driving/transit time) if you want to go to Vancouver (or there's the seaplane that goes downtown to downtown). There's an airport so it's not too tough to get a connecting flight if she wants to travel. The mid Island is lovely, comparatively warm (less windy than exposed Victoria) and affordable compared to Victoria.
posted by acoutu at 10:29 PM on July 9, 2011

I concur about Halifax. One of the most walkable cities in the country, it definitely has winter, but it's moderate compared to many parts of the country. Very affordable.

Might also consider Hamilton. It has affordable housing stock and more stuff happening downtown. Lots of snow in winter though.

I'd advise against Windsor for now. Its not in the best economic shape so there isnt much going on.

Has she explored living costs in Greater Victoria, outside downtown. Saanich might be a more affordable option, but she's right that it is generally more expensive to live on the Island.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 11:01 PM on July 9, 2011

Does she need to be able to find a good job?
posted by Intrepid at 11:09 PM on July 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Fredericton, NB meets most of the criteria except the coldness. Charlottetown as well is maybe a little smaller but is one of the most walkable. Most people I know think Canmore, AB is one of the nicest small cities but is also a little frigid.
posted by Yorrick at 11:11 PM on July 9, 2011

You might want to consider Kingston Ontario. It's far enough from Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal that it has its own identity, but it is accessible to all of the above.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 12:02 AM on July 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

What about Stratford, Ontario? I don't know what the rents are like there, but it's small, ultra-pretty, compact and...culture, culture, culture!
posted by BostonTerrier at 5:02 AM on July 10, 2011

I'll chime in to second Kingston. It can get cold but not too bad, very walkable, a nice bit of culture due to being a university town + on the route from TO - Ottawa.
posted by Lemurrhea at 6:56 AM on July 10, 2011

Two problems with your criteria: Everywhere in Canada is relatively cold (aside from Victoria and Vancouver) and everywhere in Canada is relatively isolated from the rest of the country. This place is huge with a small population spread out from coast to coast.

That said, I would second Fredericton NB. Crazy leafy green, liberal, university/government city, gorgeous, walkable, great vibe, love it.

I would auggest that your best bet might be Ottawa, though. I live there right now and it's no colder than anywhere else I've lived in Canada (Halifax, Moncton, Calgary, Toronto.) I find it beautiful, there are tons of new condos going up that are within your price range and are centrally located in neighbourhoods that are incredibly walkable. It's a city of about a million, but feels much smaller. And it's nicely placed in between Toronto and Montreal. When people ask me what it's like I say, "It's incredibly pleasant and liveable."
posted by fso at 7:28 AM on July 10, 2011

Definitely if temperature and walkability are a concern, victoria is your place. so warm it hardly ever snows, less rainy than other places up-island like nanaimo, qualicum, etc. lots of gardening, older folks who are active, easy trips to seattle and vancouver, gorgeous, on the island. this place gets expensive, though. i can't think of a place you could get for $250,000 that would be in a good walking area. possible, though.
posted by andreapandrea at 8:20 AM on July 10, 2011

If she's feeling disconnected in Victoria, Halifax is going to have the same problem. It's a great city in all the other ways she want though, and it's a bargain compared to Victoria.

Plant hardiness zones are a decent way to assess overall climate of a place.

I'd have a long look at Kingston. It's got the same architectural style as Perth, but it's in the St. Lawrence weather system and moderated by the lake effect from Lake Ontario. Ottawa (or Montreal) is consistently 5+C colder than Kingston. It's zone 5-6, while Ottawa is 4-5. It's one of the prettiest cities in Canada, IMO.

Halifax and Southern Ontario are warmer (zone 6), while Victoria is quite a bit milder (zone 8).

The only other place with moderate climate that hasn't vet been mentioned is the Okanogan Valley. Would she like Kamloops or Vernon? They're nice places to live, but not walkable the way Victoria or Waterloo or Halifax or Kingston are.
posted by bonehead at 8:45 AM on July 10, 2011

Nanaimo, Parksville or Qualicum.

None of these towns have much going on downtown. Nanaimo's old town core has been restored, of course, but it's effectively dead thanks to meth addicts and crack zombies.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:58 AM on July 10, 2011

I've lived in Halifax, Kingston, and Ottawa. I'd recommend Halifax over Kingston in a heartbeat. I feel like Kingston is a scaled-down version of Halifax in terms of downtown density and cultural happenings. Both are university cities, but I always had the impression that more non-students populated the downtown Halifax core (which, even as a student, I preferred).

Winters were similar in both cities. If walkability is a concern, Kingston doesn't seem to give a damn about clearing sidewalks of snow while Halifax has some fairly stringent bylaws that make the city walkable in the winter (or, at least, it used to). Summer is cooler in Halifax, but it also isn't as humid.

I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa now. It's lovely and meets a lot of the dense, walkable, liberal criteria. It is not particularly affordable unless you're renting, unfortunately.
posted by flying kumquat at 2:45 PM on July 10, 2011

Windsor is not pretty. It is basically the opposite of pretty. (I'm from there, I love the place, but pretty... no.)
posted by number9dream at 4:04 PM on July 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

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