With Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto all ranked in the top 10 of the Global Liveability Index 2023, we spoke to residents in each city to uncover the secrets behind their exceptional quality of life. While European and Scandinavian destinations often dominate global indexes for health and child-rearing, Canada has been steadily rising as a formidable contender. This is evident in the latest Liveable Cities Index by the Economist Intelligence Unit, which highlighted three Canadian cities in the top 10 – more than any other country.
The top three Canadian cities on the list are Vancouver (ranked 5th), Calgary (tied 7th with Geneva), and Toronto (ranked 9th), each boasting outstanding healthcare and education. These factors are highly valued by Canadians, who commend the positive governmental policies that enhance their quality of life.
“Canada’s progressive politics and universal healthcare make it an exceptional place to live,” shared Samantha Falk, a resident of Vancouver. “The peace of mind that comes from not having to worry about affording healthcare or risking bankruptcy due to medical expenses is priceless.”
This care and consideration extend beyond politics and permeate the community, creating a sense of togetherness that enhances liveability both at work and at home. “From lending a helping hand in schools to supporting seniors and uplifting business owners, Canadians are renowned for their friendly and supportive nature,” explained Jane Stoller, a Vancouver resident and the founder of Organized Jane, a life and business organizing service. “This camaraderie fosters a positive environment where individuals can thrive and find fulfillment in their personal and professional lives.”
Canadians love the strong connection that the nation has to the outdoors (Credit: Orchidpoet/Getty Images)
Canada’s investment in public transportation and transit systems not only simplifies navigating its big cities, but also promotes a car-free lifestyle. Take the example of Falk, a resident who didn’t obtain her driver’s license until the age of 24, while her friend is getting his at 53, simply because owning a car has never been a necessity for them.However, what truly captivates residents is Canada’s deep connection to the outdoors. Falk highlights that all three of the most liveable cities, along with many others in the country, are in close proximity to nature and have seamlessly integrated it into their urban planning. Toronto boasts a ravine system and beaches, Montreal showcases Mont Royal and tree-lined streets, and Vancouver proudly boasts Stanley Park, one of the world’s finest urban havens. Even beyond the city limits, a reverence for nature remains a defining feature, reflecting the significance of the wilderness to Canadian residents. As Falk aptly puts it, “We are outdoor people!”
Spread across the world’s second-largest country by landmass, each of these three Canadian cities possesses its own distinct appeal. To uncover what keeps residents devoted to and enamored with their respective cities, we engaged in conversations with locals from each place.
Vancouver’s Stanley Park is a green oasis and one of the greatest urban parks in the world (Credit: Laughingmango/Getty Images)
Located on Canada’s picturesque west coast, Vancouver has earned the title of the country’s most liveable city. With its exceptional scores in the culture and environment subindex, Vancouver is second only to Auckland in the top 10. This sentiment is shared by its residents, who are captivated by the city’s natural beauty. Vancouver’s breathtaking combination of mountains and ocean is simply irresistible. Even after living here for two decades, Falk, owner of her own communications firm, is still awestruck by the city’s charm. She advises that to truly experience Vancouver and feel at home, one must embrace the outdoors – rain or shine. Stanley Park, an expansive 405-hectare public park in the heart of the city, offers an easy escape with its coastal rainforest and ancient trees, including the renowned Hollow Tree, a 700-800-year-old red cedar stump.
For the more adventurous souls, Falk suggests hiking the challenging 2.9km Grouse Grind trail up the face of Grouse Mountain. While the trail may push your limits, the reward at the summit is well worth it. Treat yourself to a coffee or a glass of wine at the mountain-top restaurant and soak in the magnificent view before taking the gondola back down.
If a more relaxed adventure is your style, Vancouver’s food scene is unparalleled. From upscale restaurants to trendy food trucks and vibrant farmers’ markets, the city offers a never-ending array of delectable treats. Sushi enthusiasts, in particular, will find themselves in culinary heaven, as Vancouver boasts the best and most affordable selection of sushi restaurants outside of Japan.
Beyond its natural and gastronomic wonders, Vancouver nurtures an entrepreneurial and collaborative spirit, creating a welcoming sense of community. Stoller highlights the city’s open-mindedness, diversity, and passion for arts, technology, and environmentally-friendly initiatives. Vancouver’s small geographical footprint promotes an organized and creative atmosphere, with an emphasis on supporting local businesses and fostering a thriving community.
Vancouver seamlessly blends natural splendor, outdoor adventures, a vibrant food scene, and a welcoming community spirit. It’s no wonder why this city is regarded as one of the world’s most liveable destinations.
Situated near the majestic Rocky Mountains in the western province of Alberta, Calgary stands out among its Canadian counterparts with its perfect stability index score. This measure reflects the city’s low levels of civil unrest and government corruption. Described by residents as a place with a welcoming small-town vibe and abundant big-city amenities, Calgary also boasts a lower cost of living compared to similar Canadian cities.” Despite its size, Calgary maintains a unique charm characterized by friendly locals, a community-oriented mindset, and vibrant neighborhood farmers’ markets,” shared Lora Pope, a resident and travel blogger. “But don’t be fooled – it also offers trendy eateries, cultural festivals, and a thriving nightlife scene.” The city prides itself on its diversity, being the third-most diverse in Canada, with over 240 ethnic origins and 165 languages.
Calgary is renowned for its lucrative oil and gas industry, as well as its bustling white-collar business community. “Calgarians have both the means and the inclination to enjoy their wealth,” explained Jessie P Cayabo, a communications professional who relocated from Edmonton. During the summer months, the downtown area and its surroundings come alive, attracting crowds to its walkable streets. When hockey season arrives, suits and ties are traded for Calgary Flames jerseys. The city’s annual Calgary Stampede, a 10-day party and rodeo starting on the first Friday of July, draws people from all over the globe, immersing them in a festive atmosphere where western gear is the attire of choice.
“People in Calgary love to go out. Patios are always bustling, and restaurants are buzzing with activity,” added Shannon Hughes, owner of Captivate Benefits advisory firm. To truly appreciate the city’s stunning mountain views, Hughes recommends securing a spot at Major Tom restaurant at sunset.
Calgary’s proximity to nature enhances its residents’ quality of life, much like the rest of Canada. The city boasts North America’s most extensive paved pathway and bikeway network, covering over 1,000 kilometers and catering to walkers and cyclists alike. “Exploring these paths on my bike has allowed me to uncover hidden gems, enjoy breathtaking views, and satisfy my daily yearning for the outdoors,” shared Pope.
Even in winter, Calgary offers an array of activities, including skiing, skating, tubing, snowshoeing, and even ice biking. The city’s infrastructure from hosting the 1988 Winter Olympics continues to support these winter pursuits. While winters can be long and cold, expats coming from warmer climates can make the most of the season by investing in quality winter gear.
Discover the vibrant city of Toronto, Canada’s most populous city, where big-city vibes meet a connection to nature through its 1,500 parks. With an unmatched stability sub-ranking, Toronto offers a sense of safety that allows residents to comfortably navigate the city by foot, public transport, or bicycle. Life in Toronto is made easier by its human-centered infrastructure, with residents raving about the PATH, an underground pedestrian walkway that makes braving the Canadian winter more bearable. From commuting to dining, shopping, and even doctor appointments, everything is conveniently accessible without needing a winter coat, according to resident Hoang Anh Le, who blogs at Luxury under Budget.
Integrated transit options, with most being within four minutes, make a world of difference for residents like Kyra Marskell, especially for those transitioning from car-dependent suburbs. Additionally, rental bikes scattered throughout the city provide a green-friendly commuting option that residents enjoy.
Toronto is renowned for its diversity, with over 51% of its residents born outside of Canada. This multicultural richness fosters a community that celebrates various festivals, offers cuisines at every price point, and embraces the sharing of new ideas and ways of living.
An entrepreneurial spirit thrives in Toronto, attracting big businesses like Uber, Google, and Facebook, as well as a flourishing start-up scene. As North America’s third-largest tech hub, the city offers exposure to people from different cultures and backgrounds, creating a unique blend of international work life experience without ever leaving the city.
Experience the allure of Toronto through its diverse community, vibrant tech scene, and abundance of outdoor spaces. Discover what it’s like to reside in this captivating destination with BBC Travel’s “Living In” series.