Ontario wins big in ranking of best place to live in Canada

It's near Hamilton and Niagara, it has natural areas, and a highway runs through it so people can zip to Toronto. And that's part of what earned Burlington, Ont., the No. 1 spot in Maclean's magazine's inaugural "best communities in Canada" list.

The best weather? Summerland, BC. The best place to retire is...Toronto

Burlington, Ont., has topped a Maclean's magazine ranking of the best places to live in Canada. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

It's near Hamilton and Niagara, it has natural areas, and a highway runs through it so people can zip to Toronto. And those are all part of what earned Burlington, Ont., the No. 1 spot in Maclean's magazine's inaugural "best communities in Canada" list.

The magazine came out with its first-ever ranking this month. Editor Claire Brownell ranked 415 communities on factors such as hospital wait times, access to a doctor, crime and taxes. She ranked them in terms of best place to retire (Toronto?), best weather (the aptly named Summerland, B.C.), most affordable homes (Salmon Arm, B.C., near Kamloops) and best place to raise a family (also Burlington).

Here are the top 10:

  • Burlington, Ont.
  • Grimsby, Ont. 
  • Ottawa, Ont.
  • Oakville, Ont.
  • New Tecumseth, Ont.
  • Salmon Arm, BC.
  • Brant, Ont.
  • Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.
  • Russell, Ont.
  • Tecumseh, Ont.

CBC News asked Brownell about the rankings. Here's what she had to say.

What information did you use to figure out which communities in Canada are the best?

We know there are lots of intangible factors that go into deciding where you want to live. Where your friends and family live, does it have a view of the water, that sort of thing. But there are also lots of things that you can measure, and we tried to think about as many of those things as we could.

We gathered data in 10 different categories. We gathered data on employment rates and incomes, housing affordability, the weather and crime. We even looked at the percentage of artists in various communities. We assigned each category a weight based on what would we thought would be the most important to the average person. Then we compiled the list that you see.

Why is Burlington No. 1?

Burlington did really well across a broad range of categories, which is what you need to get ot the top of the list. So in six of the 10 categories, it was in the top 25 per cent.

Burlington has benefited from its hybrid location. It's part of the GTA with lots of people commuting to Toronto. It's also part of the Hamilton-Niagara economic region, so it benefited from the strong labour statistics there. That area is doing really well. People, I think, are cashing in their expensive homes in Toronto and the GTA and are moving farther west to Hamilton and Niagara. That's reflected in job numbers and population growth, and that's why it's doing well.

Why are 19 of the 25 in southern Ontario?

I feel a bit bad about this because I know the rest of Canada thinks we think we're the centre of the universe, and this isn't really helping that impression.

There are a lot of advantages to living here. That's reflected in the rankings. Toronto really is the engine of the country, and that benefits the entire southern Ontario region. There are strong labour statistics here. Incomes are high. If weather is important to you, basically the two best picks in Canada are either somewhere in BC or in southern Ontario.

Ontario small towns also have the lowest crimes in the country, and Ontario has the lowest health care wait times. So all those factors combine to give southern Ontario towns and cities an advantage.

Why did you make the list?

The idea is both to give people something we hope will be a helpful tool if they're looking for somewhere they'd like to live. And maybe give people some ideas for communities they may not have thought of before.

There are certainly some that made it to the top that I hadn't necessarily really thought of or considered. And also just for it to be a starting point in the conversation about what makes a community a good place to live. What's important and what's less important.

What should communities take away from it?

It would be great if local town councils and people who live in these communities looked at the numbers and the methodology and thought about why they placed where they did, and maybe thought about what could be better in their community. If they didn't do so well, it could be because of high crime, for example. If there are chronically high unemployment rates, what could be done about it. That would be great if people had that as a takeaway.

What kind of things are you hearing from people about it?

Anybody who lives in or works for a city or a town that's near the top of the list is really really happy, sending out press releases or tweets or making Facebook posts.

People from regions who did less well in the rankings, like Atlantic Canada, for example, are a little less thrilled and are maybe are quibbling with the methodology and wondering if there's things I could have included that would have changed the order, and certainly that's true.

But again, it's meant to be a starting point in the conversation. We're not trying to say definitively that Burlington is the best possible place in Canada and everyone should move there.


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