Where should I live in Ontario?
May 4, 2004 11:55 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking to relocate to Ontario for the summer with the possibility of staying longer if I'm accepted to one of the schools that I've applied to there. In particular, I've been looking at London, Hamilton, possibly Brantford. My significant other lives in New York (I'm moving from B.C.) so close to the border would be nice if there's a decent supply of job opportunities. What about Niagara Falls or St. Catharines? Too touristy? Are there any places that I should avoid. My budget is tight, but I want someplace safe.. If you're familiar with B.C., I'd like to avoid places similar to East Hastings or Granville at all cost.

Blast! I forgot the Thanks! =)
posted by Raze2k to Grab Bag (21 answers total)
If you're familiar with B.C., I'd like to avoid places similar to East Hastings or Granville at all cost.

Ha! I hear you... That prolly means my current ville, Peterborough, is out; but it's not close to the border anyhoo.

Toronto, of course, has the most job opportunities but the highest cost-of-living; however, I believe a ferry connecting TO and Rochester just opened up...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:01 PM on May 4, 2004

ferry connecting TO and Rochester just opened up...

That silly ferry makes no sense. Especially not for travelling anywhere beyond Rochester or Toronto. It doesn't save you any time after waiting to get on and get off, and it's super expensive.

I like London, but it's far from the border. Hamilton is no fun, no offense to any Hamiltonians. And you have to get used to that slightly sulfuric smell in the air. There are Toronto suburbs that are cheaper and nice (if you like suburbs). Mississauga is quite affordable and has many job opportunities. Ditto Oakville, Oshawa, etc. Kitchener-Waterloo might be an option too. What are some more of your criteria?
posted by loquax at 12:08 PM on May 4, 2004

I went to McMaster in Hamilton. Any of the places you mention are "small towns" compared to Vancouver, rather more like Kelona or Victoria. My favourite places would be either Kitchener-Waterloo or Guelph. Saint Catherines or Hamiltion would be fine places too. Brantford is a bedroom community. Look for the farmers' markets---all of those towns have good ones and southern Ontario is Mennonite country (think Amish, but more friendly).

McMaster (Hamilton), Waterloo (Kitchener-Waterloo) and Western (London) are all excellent schools. Consider also Guelph, especially for the life sciences.

The only place anything like East Hastings in southern Ontario is eastern Hamilton, and even then it's no where near as bad as Hastings and Camby. Fortunately, the university is the other end of town and in a very nice neighbourhood.

Any place in southern Ontario will be a six to eight hour drive to NYC, crossing through the Niagara area.
posted by bonehead at 12:24 PM on May 4, 2004

Any place in southern Ontario will be a six to eight hour drive to NYC

Woah! Bonehead! Slow down! My top speed illegal borderline dangerous record from Toronto to Connecticut, about an hour away from NYC is 9 hours. Add maybe an hour for traffic and stopping (of which there was none on that drive) and I'd say an 11 hour drive to NYC is very respectable. Add an hour or so to that from London or Kitchener and subtract about an hour for Hamilton. Of course, YMMV. And bonehead, you're nuts. Or really cool. I can't decide which.
posted by loquax at 1:18 PM on May 4, 2004

Response by poster: Curious. What do you mean by bedroom community?
And thank you for the responses. I think I'll narrow my search down to Kitchener-Waterloo or Mississauga and the surrounding areas since the rental prices for rooms and shared accomodation seem relatively low. Of those areas, are there any neighbourhoods your would recommend looking into or avoiding?

Do you have any comments regarding their public transportation? [compared to Greater Vancouver if you're familiar with the area] I haven't driven in years nor am I familiar with Ontario at all, so any input on what the transit system is like within the town and between towns would be helpful.

[chuckle] This is beginning to seem like a lengthy request, but I was also wondering what sort of major companies were in those areas that might be worth applying to. I've been browsing the standard job sites and classified ads but, again, any input would be greatly appreciated. :]
posted by Raze2k at 1:33 PM on May 4, 2004

Response by poster: Oh. In regards to employment, I'm looking for entry-level positions as I seem to be low on job experience.

[cough] I'm saving myself for world domination.
posted by Raze2k at 1:43 PM on May 4, 2004

Have you thought of Niagra on the Lake? I have friends there, it's a nice small town (with it's share of tourists) but not as tacky as Niagra Falls. It's close to the border and has the excellent Shaw Festival.
posted by btwillig at 1:56 PM on May 4, 2004

Mississauga has a good public transportation system (in terms of buses), and is also full of all sorts of companies, including high tech and low tech. Sorry I don't know anything more specific. A lot of Toronto jobs are moving out there. Keep in mind that it really is a suburb though. It'll take you about an hour to get to downtown Toronto by bus or train, and the city revolves around a giant mall. And the highways. But I'm biased. And it seems like the people out there are only between 12-17 or 35-100.

Niagara-on-the-lake is really nice, but I wouldn't want to live there without a car and lots of money. And good luck finding an entry level job unless you want to be the ice cream guy at that fantastic store with the crazy flavours. Which is sounding pretty good right now.

As for going between towns, greyhound will get you where you want to go, or GO transit, which stretches north to Barrie, West to Burlington or East to Pickering or something, I think. Other than that, you're looking at Via I'm afraid.

Don't know much about Kitchener, but it's kind of a bedroom community too, although less so than some other places (as in, people work elsewhere and live there).
posted by loquax at 2:15 PM on May 4, 2004

Transit times: this was the eighties when we were all so much more innocent and wore too much plaid. We used to do Ottawa to Hamilton in four hours (three and a half one memorable night). Now I'd do it in six, so maybe I misjudge a scosh. I do remember Hamilton to Simsbury in six or seven hours, though.

Niagara-on-the-lake is really pretty (too too) but also really expensive. Niagara Falls is also expensive, but not so pretty, having pretentions of Las Vegas. Saint Catherines (or even Grimsby) is a cheaper alternative to both and less than half and hour away. I've done St. Catherines to N-o-t-L by bike in a couple of lazy hours so I know that that time isn't just some rosy memory.

A bedroom community is one without a downtown. A big suburb essentially. If you're looking for a night out, you drive to the Big City near by. You end up spending a lot of time in the car, or bored if you don't have one. Kitchener-Waterloo has a nice downtown, incidently.
posted by bonehead at 2:21 PM on May 4, 2004

Yeah, sorry, listen to bonehead about Kitchener, I just go for the Oktoberfest.

As for going to NYC, if you don't have a car, add hours and hours to the trip for the train or bus. I've done it a few times and it's been brutal. Union Station in Toronto to Grand Central = 16+ hours. The border crossing is ugly. Also, it's more expensive than I'd think. Rental cars are not that much better, as most companies won't let you drive into the states (Hertz being the exception I think). The bus is just the bus, I guess. Not to discourage you. My girlfriend is currently there too and I'm quite familiar with the trip! It's worth it to say to people that you're jetting to Manhattan for the weekend. Or maybe that's just me.

PS: Three and a half to Ottawa from Hamilton is most definitely cool.
posted by loquax at 2:28 PM on May 4, 2004

Missisauga has good transit? Did a revolution happen in the two years since I left the GTA? The buses run once an hour on Sunday, and that's on Lakeshore, a major route. Similar artery roads in Toronto have much better service.

Raze, I would not reccomend living in Missisauga without a car. If you want to live carless, Toronto is best. It can be expensive, but people forget that cheaper suburbs like Etobicoke, Scarborough, York etc are all officially part of Toronto and served by transit. Actually, I would say rent is comparable to Missisuaga and Brantford. For cheap and safe, co-op housing is a really good option. And there are always good finds downtown. (I have friends renting a three bedroom for $1200 in a great part of downtown - split three ways that's really good).

But I have to say that I have walked alone at night through some of the worst neighbourhoods in Toronto, and we have nothing like East Hastings street. Never really knew why, there just isn't anything to compare to that concentration of poverty and crime. (It was visiting in Vancouver for one week that I saw my first drug bust. And was solicited for drugs. And offered drugs. On the same afternoon. I guess I looked shady).

Kitchener-Waterloo is doable because it is so small, and yes, it has a lovely downtown. It has a lot of university aged people, at least over on the Waterloo side.

I would also second loquax on the long trip the NYC, one that I make semi-regularly. Driving it's 8-10 hours at least; Greyhound takes 10, but is very often late (at least you won't be missing connections like I do). The bad part about Greyhound is that you either leave early in the morning or take the red eye if you don't want to tour a lot of small towns in upstate NY. It also costs at least $150 CND roundtrip, maybe more. Renting a car would be worth it, if you know how to drive and are old enough.
posted by jb at 4:58 PM on May 4, 2004

If you're only committing for the summer just go to Toronto. More to do, greater variety of employment opportunities, can live without a car, and if shared accomodation is okay that's a more common way of living there than in smaller cities. Could always take day trips on the GO to Hamilton or towards Guelph to inspect other places for a longer term stay.

While living in Toronto through last winter I was inspecting the costs of other cities and concluded that I could possibly rent an acceptable one bedroom apartment in London for the cost of a room in Toronto. Prices seemed to increase as you approach Toronto (Kitchener-Guelph accomodation costs seem higher than London). But London - while it has nicer old areas and a good university - tends to sprawl, and all its new developments are surrounded by ugly walls. Might go there anyway, but I'm still searching myself for a affordable location in Ontario where I might like living.
posted by TimTypeZed at 5:35 PM on May 4, 2004

It should be pointed out that Kitchener and Waterloo, although generally referred to with a hyphen, are very different cities... Kitchener is larger, but the downtown is sort of barren and a little creepy (but not actually all that dangerous) at night, and Waterloo is wealthier, a more interesting downtown but a little on the bland side culturally. For occupation, Kitchener may count as a 'bedroom' community, but Waterloo is home to quite a few high-tech companies including Inscriber, Mitra, Open Text, and Research in Motion to name a few. I live in the area, but if I were going somewhere for the summer it would be Toronto - if your only criteria is "not as bad as East Hastings", you should feel safe anywhere. And if you're by yourself, Toronto has more cultural options and areas for exploration than the smaller cities in Southern Ontario.
posted by Gortuk at 6:13 PM on May 4, 2004

Response by poster: Toronto might be a nice option since I'd likely resort to flying out to NY on some low-cost airline rather than attempting to go by bus or car. My main concern with moving is securing employment as quickly as possible since funds will be limited to begin with and I'm hoping to have some funds saved by the end of summer [or at least pay the credit card off]

Would you say that locating shared accomodation or a room in Toronto for about $400 would be a moderately easy task or would I be looking at more?

Thanks again for the input :]
posted by Raze2k at 6:17 PM on May 4, 2004

Kingston is lovely in the summer, I highly recommend it. You can get very cheap housing too, probably sublet a room in a house for $300/month. Email me if you want info!
posted by krunk at 6:33 PM on May 4, 2004

One of the advantages of Waterloo (and to a lesser degree, Kitchener) through the summer is that available housing skyrockets as there's a great big swath of students either looking to sublet, or landlords looking to fill some rooms.

For public transportation, the main strip (King Street) is well serviced and close to the universities, and terminates at each end with a mall.

The area around the Universities is home to some of the best restaurants, which are generally fairly cheap and there's a pretty diverse selection of cuisines. The majority of the tech companies are also close to the universities.

I don't know for certain what entry level employment is like over the summer, but it's likely there are a a number of retail and service jobs made available by students, and being a summer-only employee is likely to be a bonus as many places hold positions for returning students.

I drove to New York on a Friday at the beginning of April. I left at 11am and was crossing the George Washington Bridge at 9pm, with a number of rest stops. The border crossing (I crossed at Fort Eriie) is where your biggest hold up will be, depending on time of day. I was lucky and made it through in less than 30 minutes. In Canada I was driving between 110 and 120km/h, and in the States I cruise controlled at the speed limit.

Night life wise, there are a number of pubs and bar and grill type places within easy reach of the university. There's a number of night club, most were pretty cookie cutter a few years back when I went regularly, and almost all had cheap and abundant beer.

Uptown Waterloo (the moniker "downtown" technically refers to Kitchener's city center, which is just up the street from Uptown) has a lot of really great (and slightly pricier, where pricier means $10-15 for entrees) eateries, more bars and pubs (irish and british style, diner style, brewery pubs, all sorts of stuff) coffee shops, lots of small stores.

Uptown is in a little bit better shape than Downtown, but there's huge investments being poured into the downtown area lately. Most of the clubs are downtown. I don't know what the live music scene is like these days (I'm old and out of touch) but when I was clueful it was quite good and aside from the fact that a few of my favorite old haunts have since closed, I've little reason to expect that to have changed.

There are a couple of museums and small galleries in the two cities, a children's museum I keep meaning to go to to play with things has recently opened up, and there are a number of small theatres and one (that I know of, perhaps more) art movie house that has very cheap movies. The surrounding areas are long-time Mennonite country, and there are a number of over priced tourist-oriented burbs exploiting the funny people with the buggies and the horses, but there are also a lot of small farms that will sell you thinkgs and a couple of really good farmer's markets.

I wouldn't say there's a thriving night life, it's generally a pretty quiet area and most of the land is taken up with reasonably typical suburban sleeper type areas.

It's about an hour's drive to London, Hamilton or Brantford, 1.5 typically (it varies with traffic and time of day) to downtown Toronto, 2 to Niagara, 6-7 to Ottawa (toronto traffic affects it a lot).

If you're at all close to the border, it's definitely worth looking into flying to NYC from Buffalo. Flights are generally in the $60 US range, and sometimes twice that from Toronto.
posted by cCranium at 7:04 PM on May 4, 2004

For housing prices (and lots more, natch) in Toronto, there's a Craigslist site. It looks like most of what you'll get for $400 is on the north part of the city, but if you're close to a subway it's a cheap and easy trip (maybe about 30 minutes? It's been a while for me, so a local will know better) downtown.
posted by cCranium at 7:07 PM on May 4, 2004

I grew up in Brantford, and would give it a strong recommendation to avoid. The 'bedroom community' tag describes it well, and it's all call centres and Tim Horton's. It's a hole.
posted by danwalker at 7:15 PM on May 4, 2004

Toronto is probably your best bet, in terms of finding a job and enjoying a relatively decent quality of life. For rental classified ads, this is a good resource.

Hamilton, as long as you're living in Westdale (i.e., by McMaster) is okay. Grimsby, which someone mentioned earlier, is pretty... but I'm not sure what one would do for work there.

Avoid Niagara Falls and Niagara on the Lake. They're vile.
posted by stonerose at 7:26 PM on May 4, 2004

Kitchener-Waterloo isn't a bad place for students. However, some notes for people who like to stay up at night:

- Night life, apart from clubs, is absolutely zero (if you know of any let me know... I'm bored). The only restaurants I know of open 24 hours, for example, are both McDonald's drive thrus. Rarely will you find a movie starting after 10:00...

- Bus service tends to be dead all night. Well, they run occasionally to the main parts of town, but not often enough to make a night job convenient, for example.

- Be prepared to spend a bit of time with a map. Our main streets aren't exactly straight (two of the main ones actually meet three times). It's actually not that bad, though.

- If you smoke you might as well give it up right now. KW is an avowedly anti-smoking town, to the point that you can't smoke in a separate room in a donut shop and to the point of crushing business' that doesn't want to comply.

If I come up with anything else, I'll let you know.
posted by shepd at 11:33 PM on May 4, 2004

You mentioned you might want to fly to NY. The TO airport, Pearson, is on the west-end of TO and is just about as easy to get to from downtown Hamilton as it is from downtown Toronto. Guelph, KW, Oakville, etc... (anything in or near the golden horseshoe) are all an easy trip to the airport, well served by transit (bus or GO train). I wouldn't really put too much weight on distance to Pearson when making your decision.
posted by bonehead at 8:10 AM on May 5, 2004

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