Calgary's population surge: New arrivals struggle while 110,000 more expected by 2027

So many people have been moving to Calgary recently that some Ukrainian newcomers have spent multiple nights at the airport before finding a place to crash, says one community leader.

Record number of new residents has outstripped housing supply, support programs, agency says

Anna Martyniuk with her two children and husband arrived in Canada in January. They are struggling to find work.
Anna Martyniuk with her husband, Serhii, and two children. They arrived in Calgary on Jan. 31. They fled Ukraine for Poland before settling in Canada. (Joel Dryden/CBC)

So many people have been moving to Calgary recently that some Ukrainian newcomers have spent multiple nights at the airport before finding a place to crash, says one community leader. 

Rent is now up 25 per cent for one-bedroom units newly listed on compared to April last year, and at the same time, the unemployment rate is 6.6 per cent, the highest among major Canadian cities. Food bank use in Alberta increased 34 per cent last year.

People are flocking to Calgary for opportunity but competing with those already here for resources. 

In his role at the Centre for Newcomers, Kelly Ernst sees the challenge.

"I think Calgary's starting to see some of the stretch marks from all of the immigration that is occurring and especially the refugee waves that have occurred in the last couple of years," said Ernst, who is the centre's chief program officer.

Because it's not just Ukrainians. Calgary saw record numbers of Canadians from other provinces move to the city last year, in addition to record numbers of immigrants from around the globe. 

It's not expected to end any time soon.

City estimates have Calgary growing by 62 new residents a day for the next several years, adding 110,000 people by 2027 — more than the population of Red Deer.

"It really is mind stretching when you start thinking about some of these predictions," he said.

It sparks many questions, Ernst says.

Where will the new residents live and work?

Will some of them end up homeless? How long will it take to get their professional credentials recognized? When, if ever, will the wait-lists ease for classes in English as a second language? 

Will all newcomers have to take unskilled, low-wage jobs to survive? And for how long?

Calgary's mayor says the surge is a good news story and is cause for celebration.

"It means that people feel that Calgary offers them opportunity, that it's a place that they can thrive and succeed," said Jyoti Gondek.

But she says there are challenges the city can't handle on its own. 

Anna Martyniuk and her family arrived in Canada in January, 2023.
Anna Martyniuk says Canada needs to move quicker to recognize her overseas credentials to help her find employment. (Joel Dryden/CBC)

Anna Martyniuk arrived in Calgary with her family from Ukraine via Poland in January. She and her husband have been unable to find work. She says she has a PhD and taught at university while her husband, Serhii, is a mechanic. He's been unable to land a job because he doesn't speak English. 

"He's already had more than 20 interviews," she said. "Please, give some chance to some people."

When CBC Calgary asked our text messaging community about their work experience, many people said it's been frustrating to read about the province's "Alberta is Calling" campaign while they've struggled to land a job in their field.

New graduates in fields such as kinesiology, economics and finance said they couldn't understand why entry-level work was difficult to land, and many wondered what the surge of new residents was doing to the labour market for those already living here. 

Bekele Hankebo, founder of EthioCare, says he's been hearing from men in his community struggling to find jobs similar to what they had pre-pandemic. 

"It's really a challenge. They have to pay their mortgage. Minimum wage is not going to help," he said.

Some who recently immigrated from overseas say they've been taken aback by little credit they've been given for work experience in any other country.

To find out more, we took our questions to an introductory carpentry class at Momentum, a non-profit agency that provides career training in east Calgary. A dozen students in the class had all immigrated to Canada as adults. 

"A hundred per cent, I thought I would get work here," said Zere Mariam, who had a degree and four years of experience as a physiotherapist in Eritrea before he came to Canada.

"But to be certified here, I would need two years or four years again," he said.

"You have to work, you have to get a job, you have to get money, renting — everything is not easy," he said. 

"With my family situation … I didn't chase my dream."

Semere Gebremichael also came from Eritrea and is enrolled in the same carpentry class offered by Momentum.

He says he has experience as a carpenter and welder back home but was surprised at how difficult it has been to land a job in Calgary.

"Because I don't have (strong) English, no one wants to hire me," Gebremichael said. "But if they would try me, they could see what I can do."

Housing demand, rising costs

Ernst says getting proper credentials so immigrants can put their skills to use and earn higher salaries is a huge challenge. So is the cost and availability of housing. 

Rents are rising, vacancy rates are low. Newcomers have to come with a first month's rent along with a security deposit to secure a place. Based on the average one-bedroom apartment, the upfront cost would be $3,300.

"So that poses an issue, too, trying to have people who really have no income or very little income to try to get a place to live," said Ernst.

"In the last couple of days, we're seeing people end up homeless on the streets."

Hundreds of people are on their wait-list for housing. Other programs are getting oversubscribed.

Ernst says there's even a wait-list for newcomers to get a language assessment before they are placed on the waiting list for the actual English language class.

In the meantime, Ernst says, many newcomers are forced to take what he calls "survival" jobs, something that might pay the bills for now but doesn't build a career. 

Housing, credentials, language training, employment, the cost of living — these need immediate action, he says. 

"That's the bottom line. So you can't just dump it all on social organizations to try to find the fix," Ernst said.

"It truly does take the whole society to come up with the solutions for these kinds of problems."

Calgary mayor Jyoti Gondek is pictured at Old City Hall.
Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek says the expected population surge is a good news story that reflects the desire of people to want to live and succeed in Calgary. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Rising rent, high unemployment, community agencies struggling — we called the mayor's office to find out if the city is prepared to accommodate those who are already here along with the next wave of newcomers.

Mayor Gondek says there is much work to do to ensure the newcomers have the supports they need.

"We are prepared to do the work that's needed to make sure those 60 people (predicted to arrive daily) will be successful when they come here," said Gondek.

She says that includes working with immigration and settlement agencies, local homebuilders on supply, partnering with senior levels of government to expedite credential recognition and other supports.

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Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.


Bryan Labby

Enterprise reporter

Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.

Files from Joel Dryden, Elise Stolte