2022-03-07T11:47:05-05:00Apr 20, 2020|

Advantages and challenges of settling in a smaller Canadian city

The intended Canadian city or province to settle in is a key decision area for most newcomers. Right from the time of filling out the immigration application to booking the air ticket, many of us go back and forth while finalizing the location. 

Historically, newcomers have chosen to move to large cities. According to Statistics Canada, nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of the immigrants who came in the 1990s lived in just three metropolitan areas: Toronto, Vancouver and Montréal. The trend still holds true after the 2016 census, with over half of all immigrants (61.4 percent) and recent immigrants (56 percent) residing in these three cities. 

Some of the key factors that influence our decision to move to a particular Canadian city or province are things like employment opportunities, presence of family and friends, cost of living, or the educational opportunities that may be available. 

Settling in some of the larger and more popular cities such as Toronto, Vancouver, Montréal and Calgary often means you’re more likely to find meaningful employment and have better access to public transportation and newcomer settlement services. On the flip side, you may have to compromise on things such as affordable housing and cost of living. 

If you’re moving to Canada soon, read our blog on How to find temporary accommodation in Canada for tips on finding a good deal.

Newcomers move to Canada from different parts of the world, and big-city life does not necessarily appeal to everyone. The Government suggests that, even if you have friends and family living in a specific Canadian city, you might want to give some thought to: 

  • What you want your new life to be like 
  • Whether you want to live in a large city 
  • Whether you might be happier in a small town 
  • What kind of schooling do you and your family want 

To help you look beyond the big cities and make informed decisions, in this article, we will list some of the small and mid-sized Canadian cities and provide information on the advantages and challenges of living there.  

Settling in a mid-size or small Canadian city

Many newcomers are unfamiliar with the small-town landscape in Canada. Typically, cities with a population of 100,000 to 1 million are considered medium-sized, while those with less than 100,000 are considered small. To put this in perspective, the population in large cities like Toronto is close to 3 million. Montréal has over 1.7 million residents, making it the second-largest city in Canada, Calgary has 1.2 million, and Vancouver has over 630,000 people living in it.  

List of some mid-sized Canadian cities

  • St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Halifax, Nova Scotia
  • Québec City, Quebec
  • Ottawa, Ontario
  • Oshawa, Ontario
  • Hamilton, Ontario
  • St. Catharines, Ontario
  • Kitchener, Ontario
  • London, Ontario

  • Sudbury, Ontario
  • Mississauga, Ontario
  • Winnipeg, Manitoba
  • Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
  • Regina, Saskatchewan
  • Edmonton, Alberta
  • Victoria, British Columbia
  • Thunder Bay, Ontario
  • Windsor, Ontario

List of some small Canadian cities

  • Sydney, Nova Scotia 
  • Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island 
  • Moncton, New Brunswick
  • Trois-Rivières, Quebec 

  • Brandon, Manitoba 
  • Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan 
  • Red Deer, Alberta 
  • Kelowna, British Columbia


Lately, the Federal government has launched dedicated immigration programs such as the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP), Atlantic Immigration Pilot (AIP) Program, and the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP) to help smaller cities and less popular provinces to attract immigrants to support their economies. 

Advantages of settling in a mid-size or small Canadian city

Living in a small or mid-size city might not be the go-to option for everyone, but there are quite a few advantages to settling there. 

Here are four important ones to consider:

1. Low cost of living and affordable housing

Large cities are known for their high cost of living. No matter where you live, housing cost is a significant portion of monthly expenses for most individuals and families. 

As of April, 2020, it costs upwards of $2,200 per month to rent a one bedroom apartment in downtown Toronto and approximately $2,000 in Vancouver. When compared with mid-sized or smaller cities, you would be paying about $1,100 for a one bedroom apartment in Hamilton, ON, or approximately $1,300 in Whitehorse, YT. 

Small and mid-size cities offer most of the same public and private facilities as well as services found in the larger cities but with a lower cost of living. Arrive’s monthly living expenses calculator is a useful tool to budget for and check how much it would cost you to live in various Canadian cities.

2. Better quality of life

Smaller cities have less traffic, which means shorter commute times. They also offer the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful Canadian outdoors with easy access to activities like hiking or skiing. Overall, there’s better scope to find work-life balance in these towns. Small cities offer wide-open spaces and plenty of fresh air. Whether or not you can find public and private facilities in these areas depends on your proximity to the nearest large town. 

3. Lower unemployment rate and lesser job competition

Finding a job is one of the top priorities for most newcomers. Comparatively, while employment prospects have always been better in large cities, it’s important to recognize that smaller towns also offer good job opportunities. Many mid-size and small cities have an ageing population that is retiring soon and need to fill those vacancies. This means, in comparison to large cities like Toronto, smaller towns have a low unemployment rate. 

Consider this:
Average unemployment rate in Canada in 2019, by city type

City Average Unemployment Rate, 2019 City Type
Vancouver, B.C. 4.6% Large
Montréal, QC 5.7% Large
Toronto, ON 6% Large
Calgary, AB 7.1% Large
Victoria, B.C. 3.4% Mid-size
Hamilton, ON 4.4% Mid-size
Whitehorse, YT 3.5% Small
Yellowknife, NWT 4.1% Small

Source: Statistics Canada – Labour force characteristics and regional unemployment rates

The job market in smaller and mid-size cities is also less competitive in comparison to big cities. Thus, as a newcomer, you may be able to find employment faster than you would in a large city like Toronto or Vancouver. Newer immigration programs like PNP, AIP, and RNIP are designed to attract newcomers with specific skill-sets that will be valuable to regional communities, which improves the prospects of being able to find employment in your field. 

Challenges of settling in a mid-size or small Canadian city

According to a report by the Public Policy Forum, published in July 2019, one of the problems small centres and rural areas have at the outset is with the terms “small centre” and “rural” — they are perceived to have negative implications. This is reinforced by the association between community size, economic growth and social vibrancy. Deciding where to live is influenced by the size of a community and by the proximity to a major city. 

3 challenges that you might experience while settling in smaller towns

1. Less diversity in newcomer population

Newcomers may be the minority population in smaller and mid-sized towns, leading to less diversity. As a newcomer, this may cause you to feel isolated in the first few months as you transition into Canadian life. Less diversity may also lead to difficulty in finding cultural food and groceries. 

According to the 2016 census data, 51.5 percent (over half) of the population in Toronto was composed of visible minorities (South Asian, Chinese, Black, Filipino, Latin American, Arab, Southeast Asian, West Asian, Korean, Japanese, etc.) making it one of the most diverse cities in Canada and the world. In comparison, Victoria, B.C., has a visible minority population of just 14.1 percent

2. Limited access to public transportation

Large cities are usually well-connected and accessible. With infrequent buses, long distances between stops and home, and inconvenient bus routes, one of the challenges of living in smaller cities is minimal options for public transportation. To get around, you may have to buy or rent a car. 

The Government is taking active efforts to address this problem. In Morris, Manitoba, a manufacturing firm provides English classes, a bus service to take workers to and from Winnipeg, and a welding school for job training. While the workers pay for some of this, most of the funding comes from the company. With a major focus on immigration through the Atlantic Immigration Pilot program, employers in the Atlantic provinces are taking a more active role in settlement services, including helping to provide housing and transportation. 

3. Finding meaningful career and education opportunities

Studies have shown that newcomers, particularly high-skilled immigrants, are drawn to work that is fulfilling and aligns with their prior skills, education, and experience. While there may be jobs available in smaller and mid-size cities, many of the opportunities may be low-skilled positions and it could be challenging to find meaningful employment. Lesser population and lack of many social events also limits the scope to network and build relations, creating a challenging environment for employment.   

The Canadian government’s job bank website offers deeper analysis and trends on each occupation and also allows you to refine results by province, city or postal code.

Popular universities and colleges that attract international students are usually located in bigger cities. For those considering educational opportunities, it might influence the decision to move to a small town. 

You can use the following Arrive resources to prepare for your job search, even before you arrive in Canada

Arrive is with you every step of the way.

Almost all Canadian provinces and cities have their dedicated websites. To further your research and get more relevant information on the climate, culture as well as the job market specific to your profession, you can look for specific city websites. 

Canada is a large country with so many cities to choose from. Depending on your skillset, adaptability and desired lifestyle, you can choose one that best suits your preferences.