You there! With your delightful Canadian city! Tell me of it.
June 11, 2013 8:22 AM   Subscribe

As an addendum of sorts to my very sad AskMe of last week, I have questions about Canadian cities that are not Sherbrooke, Quebec. Ridiculous concerns/criteria inside.

So there is a very strong possiblity of relocating within the next two years to elsewhere. But we would like suggestions as to where to relocate. (To catch up: I'm from the Southern US originally; husband is an Ontario boy with family there.)

Strongest contenders are: Montreal (because it's close and we've spent a lot of time there when we want some culture/music, etc. We have a handful of friends there as well as some relatives), Ottawa (SIL lives there now; some friends, not a bad city, seems to be a strong vegan scene there), and maybe Toronto, but the COL is too high to even think about even though it is a Capital C city and would be the easiest place for Husband to find work in his field.

We've discussed London, Hamilton, Guelph...and that's about it. BC seems off the table because it's very faraway from both of our sets of families (which doesn't bother me as much as it does him).

What we would like in a new home:

*excellent/good/decent public transit
*diversity of places to eat
*access to large airport for overseas visits to other SIL and vacations
*not too far from the US border for cheap flights for me to see my family (important as dad is ill)
*a strong vegan community for social activities/volunteering (more important to me than to husband, tbh)
*affordable. We'd probably rent for the first while but I have gotten used to being a homeowner so...yeah.

Also, we're childfree and planning to stay that way, so no need to worry about school districts and whatnot. We're also fairly active in the sense my husband bikes to work, I run during the warm months. But we don't engage in activities like skiiing, snowboarding, etc.

Tell me of the delightful places you live or would recommend!

(also a big thanks to everyone who sent supportive memails to me last week and in my askme. i really appreciated it)
posted by Kitteh to Grab Bag (26 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
How does this not describe Montreal to a T?
posted by musofire at 9:01 AM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Kingston is very small, walkable. Doesn't have an international airport, but is between Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal if you want to be able to easily day-trip to any of them. You would fly out through Toronto, or drive down I-81 to Syracuse for US domestic flights.

Has a smallish close-knit vegan community (The Sleepless Goat is your place to start); reasonable restaurant scene (lots of Cambodian, lots of places oriented to university students, good brewpubs, and some higher-end options); affordable-ish to buy a place in/near the downtown where everything is within walking distance; flat for running and biking. Can't speak to the public transit, there are buses but I don't know how they compare to what you're used to. Free ferry out to scenic Wolfe Island.

(But basically I think your criteria are better met in Montreal or Ottawa.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:07 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Kitchener-Waterloo area of Ontario is marvellous in terms of almost everything you listed above - and continues to grow/expand in a lot of ways. I moved here as a result of my husband's job - and have settled in very nicely (I've lived in rural Southern Ontario, Hamilton, and Toronto). I'd definitely recommend it.
posted by VioletU at 9:07 AM on June 11, 2013

Having lived in Montreal -- you're describing Montreal.

Living in Hamilton, while I love it, it's a little weak on transit and places to eat. Vegan places should improve soon with a new food co-op starting up. It certainly has everything else you need, through easy access to Toronto or Buffalo.

Hamilton itself is pretty good -- it has a certain reputation which may have been true in the past, but isn't at all accurate now. It really is a great little secret for living well and living cheaply. I've heard it described as Toronto without the pretense, and that description probably isn't far off.

But it's not Montreal. If you can swing Montreal...
posted by Capt. Renault at 9:11 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding that you consider the Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge triangle.
posted by ceribus peribus at 9:14 AM on June 11, 2013

I'll put a plug in for Halifax, but I kind of agree with LobsterMitten that Montreal or Ottawa probably meet your criteria better.

*excellent/good/decent public transit - decent, depending on where you live (probably better than Ottawa)
*diversity of places to eat - definitely! vegan choices have been getting better (Wooden Monkey is on my list to try on my visit this month)
*access to large airport for overseas visits to other SIL and vacations - yep, but with connecting flights in Toronto (like Montreal and Ottawa) unless you're going to Boston
*not too far from the US border for cheap flights for me to see my family (important as dad is ill) - about 6 hours to the border but that's northern Maine
*a strong vegan community for social activities/volunteering (more important to me than to husband, tbh) - don't know, sorry
*affordable. We'd probably rent for the first while but I have gotten used to being a homeowner so...yeah. - again, depending on where you live rent is pretty good, near the universities it's pretty expensive rent (for crappy places); otherwise it's a pretty affordable city

I find the social life in Halifax miles better than in Ottawa. People seem to be out more and up later. There's more music (Ottawa bars used to bring in Nova Scotian bands) and more of a local flavour.
posted by hydrobatidae at 9:18 AM on June 11, 2013

Both Toronto and Montreal match all of your criteria, to a T. I lived in TO for 10 years, and have spent many a summer in Montreal, and love both cities very, very much.
I'd personally give a slight edge to Toronto because I lived there so long and within such an amazing community that I'm more than a little bias....also, my spoken French is embarrassing at best, which made Montreal a better place to visit than to live for me. While you can easily live and thrive in Montreal as an Anglophone, it does help (especially when it comes to forming a community) to have a functional grasp of spoken (rather than just reading) French. I don't think you would find yourself nearly as isolated as you feel in Sherbrooke on the language front, but it's not an issue that would disappear entirely if you move to Montreal. Of course, you'd also have ample opportunities to practice your French in Montreal (which, from your last question, it seems like you were missing out on in Sherbrooke). Montreal is awesome and gorgeous and the most artistically vibrant city in Canada (and I say that as an artist who lived and worked in TO for a decde). Montreal is really, really great.

Toronto is also great, though I think I may be officially required to forfeit my Canadian citizenship for admitting that. It offers everything any typical large city offers, is incredibly safe, and has a huge, welcoming, diverse vegan community. It is possible to live in Toronto affordably if you're willing to rent/buy outside of the prime downtown areas (I rented and lived comfortably in Parkdale on a very tight budget, and have several not-at-all-wealthy friends who were able to buy in the Dufferin/Little Portugal area), so while TO will definitely be pricier than other places in Southern Ontario, it may not be as out of reach as it is perceived to be. Don't rule it out! Despite the offensive crack-smoking mayor, Toronto is wonderful (so long as you avoid the suburbs at all costs).

Ottawa is, in my experience (which is admitedly limited to a few weeks here and there while I was based in Toronto), a stereotypical company town, only the company in question is the Federal Government. I found it a little dull, and a little insular, and (in some ways) more linguistically stringent than Montreal (being anal about official bilingualism is a bigger deal there, it seemed to me) ....but again, my Ottawa knowledge is as a visitor, not a resident.
posted by Dorinda at 9:29 AM on June 11, 2013

Definitely Ottawa or Montreal. Both places meet all your criteria, although the public transit is excellent-to-mediocre depending where you live and where you're commuting to (like Toronto). Montreal probably has more diversity of food and is definitely more affordable, so I'd go with that over Ottawa since you're already in QC. Ottawa has a pretty good bike infrastructure relative to similar-sized cities, not sure about Montreal's. Ottawa's right next to Gatineau Park which is good for biking/hiking/etc, and is a really lovely city with a lot of greenery around, if that kind of thing is important to you.

The only caveat is that Ottawa has a much less exciting nightlife than Montreal and Toronto, although you don't mention that so I'm not sure how important it is to you (and of course we are very close to Montreal/Toronto if you only need that kind of thing occasionally).
posted by randomnity at 9:37 AM on June 11, 2013

Ottawa is smaller, and more anglo than Montreal (or Atlanta). Including Gatineau, it has options for entirely anglo, franco or mixed-language living, work and school. It's advantages include a slower pace, less of a big-city vibe than Montreal, though those are disadvantages to many too.

Transit in Ottawa is a work in process. The bus system is functional, particularly in the city core, but there is essentially no rapid transit, not for the next few years, at least. On the other hand, it's a very bike-friendly city, much more so than Montreal (or most other Canadian cities, save perhaps in BC).

My wife and I are very interested in the local food scene. There are several dozen very good restaurants in town now, and the local scene is active. The city has done a lot to promote local and slow food movements by running farmer's markets several days a week in locations all over the city and by promoting several food festivals in the year, from the glitzy to the organic.

YOW is mostly a regional airport (ie hops through Toronto, Montreal, NY or Chicago are frequent), but there are increasingly available direct flights to the US and Europe. I really appreciate being able to pre-clear US customs in Ottawa for US-bound flights. It's much, much more comfortable and quicker than TO or Montreal.

Options for local US airports are limited. Watertown and Potsdam are within driving distance but both are small airports. Options are similar for Montreal. However, if you're flying to Maine, there are direct flight options are often on sale.

I don't know a lot about the Ottawa vegan scene, other than to say that they do seem to be thriving. For volunteering, there are many options. The Ottawa Food Bank, for instance, is always looking for people.

Housing is likely not much cheaper than Montreal, and is almost certainly quite a bit more than Sherbrooke. It's a bargain compared to Toronto prices however.

Culturally, Ottawa and Montreal are quite similar, though many complain that Ottawans are more reserved. Certainly the bars and clubs are smaller and fewer, though the traditional and festival scenes are quite strong---Ottawa has large Blues and Chamber music festivals in the summer. Ottawa, like Washington DC, has an overabundance of museums and galleries. The outdoors/wilderness culture seems to be more entrenched in Ottawa/Gatineau to me as well.

Choosing between Montreal and Ottawa would be mostly one of what size you prefer, a big- or medium-city experience.
posted by bonehead at 9:49 AM on June 11, 2013

Current anglo Montreal resident here.

*excellent/good/decent public transit
I would say the public transit is good-excellent depending on exactly where you live.

*diversity of places to eat
Absolutely, including vegan/vegan-friendly options.

*access to large airport for overseas visits to other SIL and vacations

*not too far from the US border for cheap flights for me to see my family (important as dad is ill)
We've flown in & out of Burlington a number of times. About a 1.5 hour trip and way cheaper (JetBlue!).

*a strong vegan community for social activities/volunteering (more important to me than to husband, tbh)
From what I understand from my neighbor, yes.

*affordable. We'd probably rent for the first while but I have gotten used to being a homeowner so...yeah.
This all depends on what you consider "affordable." Compared to other cosmopolitan North American cities, I'd say its very affordable. Compared to Sherbrooke, not so much. There is a pretty wide range of options depending on your comfort with different neighborhoods.
posted by googly at 10:03 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

A friend is from London -- and still has family there -- and does not speak very highly of it. I can't personally say if it's true but they spoke of a cleared-out downtown and mentioned it was not very safe in some parts. Not sure how much of that is true, but I mention it as I just had this conversation in the last month. I do know -- having been there -- it is not very culturally diverse at all -- and if that's important to's important to note.

Others have covered Toronto and Montreal -- both wonderful cities in their own ways. I will echo Dorinda that is very possible to deal with the expense of Toronto.

And finally, I really like Hamilton. Many people are moving there from Toronto (an hour away)...part of the reason? -- cheap cute homes and with the new people coming in galleries, cafes and bistros are springing up. It's a city in transition, but I think it has many good qualities. It's also close to Toronto (and the airport), very close to the border...perhaps a place to consider. A few of my friends have moved there (for the real estate reason) and they love it.
posted by Lescha at 10:14 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

If cost of living is the only thing keeping you from Toronto...well, it's really not that bad, and mostly confined to housing. If your husband can get a better job in the Toronto area than elsewhere, then it's pretty much a wash - salaries tend to be higher here than in other Canadian cities.

I think you'd love it in Toronto - great public transit (despite all the TTC-hate, it's actually really good compared to other Canadian cities), tons of restaurants, big vegan scene, easy access to airports & the U.S.
posted by barnoley at 10:53 AM on June 11, 2013

Ottawa is great, but if you move here, you should stay central. If you are in a suburb, it will be that much harder to engage in the arts and cultural scene (see I feel like Ottawa is a nice comprimise, you will get a chance to hear and use French if you are interested. If you decide on Ottawa, memail me for an orientation!

You seem to understand Toronto/Montreal. Toronto will be easiest to find a job but housing is expensive (unless you want a monster commute from the GTA). Montreal is the most fun, with people being spontaneous about being social and a million things to do and eat. Montreal can be difficult for anglo's to feel settled. Many of my friends only last a few years there. It's a combination of language politics and difficultly finding work without good french. The job prospects depend on your industry, sometimes language isn't a big deal.
posted by Gor-ella at 10:58 AM on June 11, 2013

I have thought about the ease of finding a part-time job wherever we move. I still very much want to open a vegan bakery or catering service.

To me, the blackest mark against staying in Quebec is just being tired of the language politics.
posted by Kitteh at 11:23 AM on June 11, 2013

A friend is from London -- and still has family there -- and does not speak very highly of it.

FWIW, I very much did not enjoy my time there. Perhaps things have changed, but I found it absolute Boresville, and hours away from anything else interesting. It's great for undergrad partying, but beyond that...

(Full disclosure, I moved there from Montreal, so it was pretty much bound to disappoint regardless. Even so...)

Guelph should be big for the cultural/vegan side you're after. Maybe Cambridge, too, which is exceptionally pretty, but I couldn't speak to it directly.
posted by Capt. Renault at 11:34 AM on June 11, 2013

To me, the blackest mark against staying in Quebec is just being tired of the language politics.

In day to day life, it doesn't have any real impact. Most people here are bilingual and will talk in either language without rancour. It's in the news more than anything else. But if you're planning to open a business here, you'll need to be quite fluent in French for business concerns -- the government doesn't talk to businesses in English. Your writing skills can be barely literate, you just want to be able to speak/read/hear.
posted by jeather at 12:20 PM on June 11, 2013

This is second-hand, but I know some people who recently made the buzzworthy exodus from Toronto to Hamilton for financial reasons. They put a brave face on it for a year, but are now talking about renting out the place they bought and living in Montreal instead. Apparently the Hammer is a bit too short on nightlife and cultural goings-on.
posted by Beardman at 1:02 PM on June 11, 2013

I lived in Kitchener / Waterloo for a year and I wouldn't call its public transit "good". The suburban sprawl makes getting around painful unless you drive like everyone else.
posted by anthill at 1:03 PM on June 11, 2013

I have to take umbrage with the "London hate" as it were going on here. Comparing a city the size of London to Toronto or Montreal, of course its going to come up short. It has gotten better in the last few years with regards to cultural activities and diversity. The crime is no worse here than any other comparable city. I lived in the "bad" parts of the city and used to walk home alone @ night w/ no issues. Its a good place if you have or are planning a family but since you aren't, then that really isn't applicable.

Now as for your questions:
*excellent/good/decent public transit - London Transit is decent but not great

*diversity of places to eat - I can think of 2 veg/vegan restaurants and at least 2 vegan bakeries of the top of my head, along with a number of different restaurants

*access to large airport for overseas visits to other SIL and vacations - both Toronto and Detroit airports are only 2 hours drive away in either direction, there are shuttle services from here to the airports if you want to leave your vehicle @ home

*not too far from the US border for cheap flights for me to see my family (important as dad is ill) - see above

*a strong vegan community for social activities/volunteering (more important to me than to husband, tbh) - I can't answer this specifically but there are a lot of volunteering opportunities in the community

*affordable. We'd probably rent for the first while but I have gotten used to being a homeowner so...yeah. - Rent can be reasonable depending on where you live, I have a nice fairly new apt downtown and pay a decent price for it

The downside is that right now, London has an unemployment rate of approx 9.8%, the highest or second highest in Canada for cities this size and its been that way for awhile. So finding a job for yourself might be difficult.

There are lots of walking/bicycle paths in the warm weather and plenty of parks. As well both UWO and Fanshawe have a variety of great programmes if you want to go back to school.

If you have any other questions, please fell free to memail me.
posted by googlebombed at 1:26 PM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you come to Montreal neighbourhood will influence things greatly. You might like NDG/Monkland Village area (between Westmount and Montreal West) as it skews anglo and is fairly central. It's very neighborhoody, lots of restaurants and cafes, farmer's baskets being dropped off and so on. There's a good bike path. Prices are low compared to other major cities in Canada (TO, Vancouver, Calgary) but I'm not sure what affordable means to you. You say you have friends in MTL so I'm sure they are giving you advice as well?

There's a map on this page that breaks down the island by language learned first from census data. The western suburbs are very anglo but transit is terrible, of course.

I've been living in Montreal for the last 14ish years, learned French after I moved here. The language politics are a PITA but I remind myself that they keep the housing costs down. I love living here, though I could do with a shorter winter.
posted by Cuke at 1:55 PM on June 11, 2013

Kitchener/Waterloo/Cambridge and Guelph are all great--though it depends, in each case, on specifically where you live and whether you're happy living in a smaller city; for bigger cities I really like Toronto and Montreal. My impression is that Montreal might fit your criteria best. I would prefer not to live in Ottawa (it seemed boring), London (culturally quite unattractive), and Hamilton (not as bad as London, but also doesn't feel right to me).
posted by Edna Million at 3:01 PM on June 11, 2013

re: Language politics, they can be hard to avoid in Ottawa, especially if you go for low-cost housing on the Quebec side. It's not so long ago that Anglo-French street fights were commonplace.

I second the fact that Ottawa is a company-town; moreover, the company isn't doing very well at the moment, so things are a bit more depressing than they were a few years ago. It also means that a fair portion of the population is made of transplants who yearn to go back to Toronto, Montreal or Sherbrooke, and are not really looking to set roots here.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:44 PM on June 11, 2013

All right: in terms of Toronto, where are good areas to look for residence? I'm guessing a 45 minute commute via public transit would not be that problematic for either of us if we were employed.
posted by Kitteh at 5:28 AM on June 12, 2013

I wrote a lengthy answer last night and the motherless iPhone deleted it. I have lived most of my adult life in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Hamilton, am a non-driver (and thus Transit Guy), travel a lot for work (making me double as Airport Guy), and am vegetarian and occasionally vegan and have eaten many many meals in my life in some awesome restaurants. I weighed up a bunch of pros and cons for each city but I see that psychically you picked up on my recommendation of Toronto anyway. Well done!

Anyway, where to look for a place with a top commute of 45 minutes is hard to gauge when you don't yet know what you would be commuting to. Based on the kind of things you seem to be factoring in, it sounds like you would be happier in the old City of Toronto than in the suburbs, which are pretty low-density and tend to assume that you have a car. The Annex (just west of the University of Toronto and thus just northwest of downtown) would be the place I would start. Really, I would start with a subway map and work from there.

Another benefit to being downtown: Toronto has two airports, and while Pearson tends to be a pain to get to and from, if you are downtown, you can walk to the island airport -- it is a 58-second ferry ride from the mainland and the pedestrian tunnel will be complete soon -- and the nice people at Porter Airlines will fly you all over eastern North America. Air Canada also flies out of the same airport.

Also, if 45 minutes is your benchmark, keep Hamilton in mind: it is 70 km down the road -- 45 minutes to an hour by GO bus or train -- and notably more affordable. As others have pointed out above, it has kind of a lunchbucket reputation which it totally deserves if you are moving to 1973. These days it has a lot more going on than when I grew up there.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:54 AM on June 12, 2013

I hadn't really considered if we would keep our car or not. I want public transit options because I like public transit. (As well up my bike-riding usage.)
posted by Kitteh at 8:18 AM on June 12, 2013

Re: Toronto neighbourhoods, I agree that the Annex would be ideal; however, it can be pricey. It would help to know your budget. For a little bit cheaper, you may want to consider Bloorcourt/Bloordale or the Junction (though the Junction would require a bus ride to the subway). The St. Clair & Bathurst area is also significantly cheaper than the Annex, but does not have the diversity of shops and restaurants that the Annex does.
posted by barnoley at 10:31 AM on June 12, 2013

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