Moving to Edmonton in a few months, what do I need to know?
April 25, 2013 11:11 AM   Subscribe

Tell me everything I need to know about moving to Edmonton. Best job placement agencies? How easy is it to get into an entry-level trade position? Best places to rent (cheaply)? And any and all other info Edmonton-based mefites can provide is much appreciated...

Boyfriend and I are planning to move to Edmonton in mid-June.

Neither of us will have jobs when we get there. Boyfriend has a high school diploma, is looking to get into a trade. I have a university degree, federal government experience, and a functional knowledge of French. What can we expect from the job market? Are there placement agencies we should look into? Can he just walk in to a shop off the street and ask for an entry level job?

How easy is it to find decent but inexpensive rentals? Which areas of the city should we avoid? We'd like to rent for July 1, but how difficult will it be to rent w/o employment?

We are both from NWOntario, so we're not worried about the weather or the winter driving, but is there anything else that we should know that is specific to living in Edmonton?
posted by meesha to Travel & Transportation around Edmonton, AB (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Disclaimer: I live in Edmonton and do not like it so my answer is going to be on the bitter side of helpful, if it is, but here goes:

You know about the winter driving, but Edmonton drivers are extremely aggressive. I recommend good insurance with a small deductible, because getting rear-ended has happened every single year for the past six years (typically because you stop at a stop sign/yield sign/pedestrian crosswalk and the person behind you didn't really get that memo).

Bring a car. Get a car. Edmontonians think their transit is amazing - it isn't. It is rather expensive and the coverage can be spotty. I hear parking is expensive, but I ride the bus everywhere, so I have no idea how it compares.

That being said, if you can arrange to live near the university (can be an expensive area, because of the students) or downtown (higher crime), you can get anywhere (as long as it's not an industrial area) on transit during daylight hours, even up to nine or ten at night. Similarly, other LRT stops can generally get you anywhere... but expect to transfer a lot. The Edmonton Transit System has a very good trip planner that has helped me frequently decide that a 45 minute bus ride with two transfers to get from the west end to downtown is not worth the trip.

Stay out of Mill Woods. Use the Edmonton Police's crime map to see what your prospective neighbourhoods are like, but be aware that some neighbourhoods with high petty crime rates are actually showing up better than neighbourhoods like Garneau, which looks awful because of the students and the bars but is probably safe to live in. I prefer central/west/southwest as having access to everything while retaining a low crime rate in some bits.

Edmonton has "bad" neighbourhoods right next to "good" neighbourhoods, so asking a native Edmontonian is literally worth your weight in gold. They will know. Expensive neighbourhoods: Glenora, Laurier Heights, Patricia Heights. Midrange: Lynnwood, Westmount, Garneau, Belgravia, most of the stuff around the U of A until you get out to Queen Alexandra and Bonnie Doon. Cheap neighbourhoods: Anything around downtown - Oliver, Alberta Avenue, that kind of thing. If you move to the north end, nobody will want to visit, because Edmontonians do not like to drive despite having bad transit and incredible urban sprawl. I can't blame them: I have driven the Whitemud every single day for six years and I'm still astonished at how people handle stuff like "lanes" (when it snows, we make up our own!). Check the neighbourhoods on Wikipedia and look for low mobility and low row housing.

The rental situation is pretty awful if, like me, you are picky about not having neighbours that will smash windows every Friday night. "Good" areas of town rent for about $1800/3 bdrm house, or $1200 for a 1 bdrm apt on the top of a high rise. Utilities are not included with detached homes but will typically be partially included with apartments or townhouses. Basement suites rent for about $800-1200 depending on area and legality and niceness. Be very careful about your rental; I have heard that people are getting scammed on rentals in the city. Any major rental corp (Boardwalk, CAPREIT, Midwest) is legit, but "rent from owner" demands more caution. I can recommend the major rental companies as being decent, if somewhat laissez-faire about things like property maintenance. If you like pets, buy a house. Edmontonian landlords hate animals. The big companies will usually allow one, but if you ever decide you don't want to rent with the big companies, you will see NO PETS ALLOWED everywhere.

I moved to Edmonton with no job and had no trouble renting (from a big rental corp.), so that's entirely possible.

If you don't mind the commute, St. Albert is nice (but the major roads regularly turn into traffic clusterfucks due to accidents on a daily basis, so budget in Google's estimated time and add 30 minutes to it). Sherwood Park and Stony Plain are also nice, if boring, but very sprawly - and again, no one will visit.

I'm not familiar with the job situation for your level of experience, but trades are going to want to see a ticket, depending on what he wants to get into. I don't know if the various shops offer on the job apprenticeship... but there's always NAIT.

On the plus side, Edmonton apparently has good food, and there's the Fringe, and tons of sunlight in summertime, and the river valley trails are actually nice (if maybe something you would want to bring a walking buddy with to experience).
posted by Nyx at 11:45 AM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh, I forgot to add this: utility costs are about $100-200/month for power (1200 sq ft, 3 adults) depending on the time of year - we run three computers, a portable AC unit and two space heaters... obviously not all at the time time. Most landlords will not be able to tell you what the potential utility costs will be, unfortunately. Fortunately, most apartments will have at least a couple of them included (water, heat, power).
posted by Nyx at 11:50 AM on April 25, 2013

Multiple points from an Edmontonian who enjoys living here. :-)

Don't use the regular trip planner for ETS: Google maps works a lot better.

I also would add a grain of salt to the crime maps and things like that. Mill Woods has excellent recreational facilities (although it's too suburban for my tastes) and the thing is, if you're not a gang or a the drug trade, crime statistics don't really affect you that much. I find that reporting of that sort of information is really misleading and just creates a perception of fear that's disproportionate to reality.

Downtown and Whyte Ave are the two biggest areas for socializing/congregating/etc, so it's nice to be near to them or somewhere with reliable transit, so you can imbibe without worrying about driving. If you're the type to be driving everywhere, being close to a north/south road is handy. One of the reasons I like living in Cromdale is that if gives me a lot of options: LRT and many bus lines for transit, close to Wayne Gretzky drive (and via that, the Yellowhead and Sherwood Park Fwy) when I'm in my car or motorbike. Access to river valley and multi-use trails when I'm on my pedal bike. If you commute, parking downtown is very expensive, but parking anywhere else not so. Unless you really like driving and value a big yard and things like that, I recommend *against* any of the bedroom communities like St. Albert/Sherwood Park/Stony Plain/etc. Pain in the ass to get there, not as cheap as they should be for rent and real estate and generally very boring, big box stores. Unless you like big box stores and suburbia! If so, you'll love them.

It's difficult to say what you can expect from the job market without knowing the background of your degree and government experience: did you do policy/research? science occupations? IT? Finance? In general, however, the budgets mean that neither federal nor provincial governments are doing too much hiring right now, although you may still want to check out the provincial government's job board. I know a fair number of people who have successfully moved from government (commerce, etc positions) to the private sector, especially Enbridge seems to be hiring a lot.

Similar for your boyfriend, which trade? He could check out Trades Secrets to find out more about the path for various trades, though.

It's been awhile since I've rented, as owning is cheaper month to month if you can afford a down payment.
posted by Kurichina at 12:40 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

How easy is it to find decent but inexpensive rentals?

You can almost always find clean, central basement suites in the $800-$900 range; $700 for a one bedroom if you're lucky. Further out might be cheaper? The place to look for rental ads is Kijiji, there's also a site that scrapes their listings and puts them on a nice map: Padmapper.

Which areas of the city should we avoid?

That's hard to narrow down in a useful way. You'll be much better off if you wait until you're in town to find a rental. Bad neighbourhoods are easy to recognize.

I think Nyx is exaggerating a bit; Mill Woods isn't a scary place to live, and shitty landlords are a common story everywhere in the world.

Don't know much about job searching, sorry.
posted by cdward at 1:08 PM on April 25, 2013

May I ask why Edmonton?
posted by miles1972 at 1:26 PM on April 25, 2013

Flip side: I've found that Google Maps can give very inaccurate transit maps. Bus drivers are often happy to answer questions about their routes, though, so definitely ask. They can at least tell you if you're on the right line. There is also a phone line to call (I've never used it), plus a number to text to get information about bus stops and routes (I do use this), which are apparently both very handy.

Yes, it's universally true that if you're not involved in the drug trade or other forms of organized crime, you will be at lower risk. That being said, some neighbourhoods will have higher rates of crime that can involve other people, and Mill Woods is one of them, as is downtown. Again, being smart reduces this risk, but I'm already assuming you're smart and not a drug mule and would prefer to live in an area that further reduces this risk.

There are definitely bad landlords everywhere, but I mention scammers because I have specifically seen and heard a lot of complaints in Edmonton in the last six months along the lines of "they took my damage deposit and vamoosed". Again, Boardwalk, CAPREIT and Midwest will not do this. Renting from a real estate company is probably also safe, and that gives you a metric ton of rentals to look into.

I'm reminded also: being a cyclist in this city must suck. There are virtually no bike lanes and Edmonton drivers seem to really loathe people on bicycles; on the plus side, ETS buses have racks for your bike. No bikes on the LRT on peak hours though.

Whyte Ave is great if you like drinking and hipster stores, which make up the majority of the retail locations - aside from that, tons of restaurants, so if you're a foodie, you'll probably love it (similar for downtown). I enjoy it because of the used bookstore and the comic book store, but I have the feeling I'm not the target market.

A coworker of mine (native Edmontonian) says nowhere near 97 St or 118 Ave, and I trust their advice pretty solidly. If you want to live downtown, try to live near the river valley but not on the slope (it's inconvenient). Grandin is good and has great LRT access and is central. I'm more partial to the university area (this includes Whyte) - of all the places I've experienced in Edmonton, it has the happiest vibe, IMO. Unfortunately, getting to big box stores... oh, the evil... is difficult.

We discussed this in the office and concluded you should try to live in a neighbourhood that starts with G - Garneau, Glenora, Grandin, Grovenor. ;)
posted by Nyx at 1:53 PM on April 25, 2013

A coworker of mine (native Edmontonian) says nowhere near 97 St or 118 Ave

This is what I mean when I say it's tough to narrow down usefully:

97 St south of the river is a great neighbourhood. 118 Ave stretches the entire way across the city. You don't want to live on 118 & 69, but 118 & 127 is fine.
posted by cdward at 2:08 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! Great to get perspective from people living there :)

miles1972: I want to live in a city, Boyfriend wants green space, so Edmonton seems like the best option where the job market is fairly decent...
posted by meesha at 3:35 PM on April 25, 2013

Calgary might be an option, then. It's closer to the mountains and my impression is that the job market is similar.
posted by cdward at 3:40 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

As for jobs for your boyfriend: there are a few placement agencies downtown that have industrial sides for the interim, you just walk in and see who's looking for people, and there are always companies looking for tradespeople. I second the motion to have your boyfriend check out trade secrets, just to get the skinny on how to become an apprentice. But basically yeah, you ask around at shops or on job boards and the like until you find someone willing to take on an apprentice, then you apply.

Again depending on the trade your boyfriend may end up looking for work in Nisku, which is a large industrial park south of the city, or in one of the other industrial parks ringing the city. This may influence where you end up looking for places to stay, since Edmonton has a sprawl problem and you don't want a hellacious commute.

Another thing worth noting is that while there are offices downtown there are many more offices in the office parks and industrial parks, so fixing your sites on downtown as a place to live may not translate into a very good commute. Edmonton transit works OK if you are going from major center to major center (e.g. to the UofA or to downtown) but the service to business parks is pretty atrocious.

IMHO there aren't that many truly bad neighborhoods in Edmonton, and they are really obvious and easy to avoid. There are a lot of condos to rent, and in my experience the condo owners can be convinced to be more flexible about things like pets than managed apartment buildings. I've only had a landlord ask for proof of employment once, I get impression it is relatively rare. As long as you can pay someone will rent to you.

Just to give a bump to my neighborhood: I like living in Oliver. Everything is pretty conveniently nearby. I live next to the river valley and all my essentials are within walking distance.

You'll be coming at the best time to see Edmonton too. In the winter this place can look like a siberian gulag (lots of big cement buildings) but it is awesome in the summer, especially down in the river valley.
posted by selenized at 4:23 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Former Edmontonian here :-) I have been living in Calgary for 20 years though...and everyone's comparison/view of a city is so relative and objective, but Edmonton is a great city. It's a much more friendly city than Calgary (Calgarians are more aloof, IMHO).

I think the transit is good there - the underground part is mostly in downtown, which is great in winter. They had platforms for five car trains way back when they built the LRT, something that Calgary is just catching up on. But I'm not here to throw my hat in the battle of Alberta :-)

The Edmonton Economic Development Corporation has a great website that contains lots of info:

This website might help your boyfriend:

There are placement agencies that specialize in trades - a Google search will reveal them. Diversified Staffing and Manpower come to mind.

Hope that helps, and thanks for posting! A lot of people just assume one can move to Alberta and find a job like that, but it's not always the case. I don't want to dampen your optimism, but it's so weird to read in the news that there are lots of jobs available, when I know so many talented people that can't find a job. I wish you a lot of luck! If the Internet had been accessible to my family in 1994, we would have made a lot of better decisions before moving here.
posted by Calzephyr at 5:43 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Posting for a friend, who lives with his wife in Edmonton (she's been there since 2010, him since 2011; young professional/grad school):

"1) edmonton is the least bicycle friendly place I've seen after riding in BC, Ontario, New Brunswick and PEI.
2) say goodbye to your car's windshield, it will get demolished from all the gravel they put on the roads in the winter.
3) landlord/tenant interactions here are very aggressive, especially by the big property managers.
4) renting is done on a shorter time frame here compared to ontario - people only start looking for apartments a month or less before they move.
5) in most industries there is a lot of work to be had out here, and for good wages, it's just that the cost of living in edmonton is fairly high.
6) the light rail is unreliable in bad weather, but it's still the best bet for getting into the business core of the city. public transit is otherwise not a viable alternative unless you have tons of time.
7) it's a big city, you'll be able to find things to do."
posted by Lemurrhea at 11:48 AM on April 26, 2013

I wrote my opinion of Edmonton in this thread, and continue to look for ways to be happier with this city. Try to avoid basement apartments--it's a long, dark winter, and you'll want all the light you can get.
posted by Edna Million at 8:58 PM on April 26, 2013

I have a random comment that has nothing to do with getting a job or a place to live but I still think constitutes something you need to know. Edmonton can sometimes have an insular, small-towny feel. There is always some cool thing going on in the city, but you will never hear of it unless you already know people.

I didn't notice this that much when I moved here, almost 12 years ago, because virtually all my friends from Cold Lake (where I was coming from) moved here at the same time. Basically my entire social network transplanted to the nearest big city and continued on. But for people not from around here or the nearby communities I've heard it can be really hard to meet people. Not that people are mean, but kind of that small town thing where you have to know people to know about the things where you would meet people.

Events are often not advertised well here, way too much of the stuff I go to I only know about because I heard of it from a friend.
posted by selenized at 9:38 PM on April 26, 2013

I'm willing to bet Lemurrhea's friend lives in a suburban or outer ring neighbourhood. Anyone living south of 118 ave and north of say Argyll, west of 75th street and east of the university will have a completely different experience. It really pays to check out the neighbourhood you're going to in advance and see what kind of vibe it has.
posted by Kurichina at 12:32 PM on April 28, 2013

You don't want to live on 118 & 69.

Except that maybe you do. Affordable housing and reputation that is far worse than the reality. I live literally three blocks from this intersection and it's a perfectly fine neighbourhood for many of the same reasons that Kurchina gives about Cromdale (which is arguably a rougher neighbourhood) -- good access to transit and freeways, meaning that it is convenient whether you're driving or taking the bus/LRT; affordable housing prices (especially if you're eventually looking to buy); a public library; an amazing butcher shop...

Anyway, I'm probably getting too bogged down with supporting my neighbourhood.

Some general information about Edmonton:
  • Transit is excellent if you're along the LRT corridor, downtown, or the university/Whyte Ave. The west end has decent transit too, since about half of the buses in the city seem to hit West Edmonton Mall at some point during their route. For most other parts of the city, transit is sub-par.
  • Housing is generally expensive; finding cheap rent might be tough, depending on your definition of cheap.
  • Transit SUCKS in the winter; despite being a winter city, the transit system (and everyone else) always seems completely unprepared for a large snow fall and ends up being 30 - 90 minutes behind schedule on the day of a snowstorm.
  • There are a lot of great festivals in the summer, and the arts community is fantastic.
  • People can be kind of cliquey; there is always something happening in Edmonton, but as selenized mentioned, things aren't well advertised and if you don't know the right people you'd think that the only thing to do around here is to go to a movie or hang out at the mall.
  • Depending where you end up working, living on the north side might make sense; rents tend to be cheaper and there's a lot of newer development in the Griesbach and Namao areas. If you'll be working on the north side, consider these neighbourhoods as options (Griesbach itself is fairly expensive, but the neighbourhoods on its borders are more affordable).
  • We've started to get a lot of really good local restaurants and bars; we're starting to mature as a city and the big chains aren't the only places to go for a decent meal. You can get some really great food, and not all of it is expensive; a lot of ethnic restaurants in Chinatown, 107 Avenue (near the downtown MacEwan campus) and 118 Avenue (in the Alberta Avenue neighbourhood) have excellent food at low prices.
That's all I can think of right now. I know I'm late to respond to this, but hopefully my comments help.
posted by asnider at 1:25 PM on May 2, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks again everyone for taking the time to answer! Some great information here that we will definitely be using.
posted by meesha at 9:31 PM on May 3, 2013

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