The180·The 180

What small town Canadians and big city Canadians don't understand about each other

We asked you to tell us what you think city-dwelling Canadians get wrong about rural life, and vice versa.
It's easy for city folk and country folk to make assumptions about each other. But are they ever right?

Are small towns really more friendly than big cities? Are you really more likely to borrow a cup of sugar from a rural neighbour than an urban one? Or more likely to meet someone of a different background if you live in a city and not a small town? 

The 180's senior producer Geoff Turner put out the call for your rural and urban experience, as part of his research for a story about the political differences. It was inspired, in part, by some things Kellie Leitch said in a profile about her in the Alliston Herald, in 2011

That's the newspaper that serves her riding, and the rural community she lives in. 

"I came here because this is like home," she said. "It was like home and the people are like home. They are very grounded and if you ask someone a question they give you a straightforward answer...I know it's fine if I walk next door and ask for a cup of sugar, they are going to give me a cup of sugar. It's the neighbourly thing to do. Living in downtown Toronto as a resident I would never go next door and ask my neighbour for a cup of sugar. It just wouldn't happen."

We received more feedback than we could share on air, or even here, but here are some highlights. 

Having lived in a tiny village/rural community for much of my life, and cities of all sizes the rest of my life, I found it much more isolating to live in the small place, where one was often forced to be guarded in many instances to avoid alienating various neighbours in order that one might have a modicum of community with people with whom one has very little in common except place of residence. Small places are often described as 'tight-knit'. Perhaps some are, but others are the opposite, with people forced to go outside their community, often a long way away, to find people with similar religion, politics, interests, etc.

-Jim W. 

I grew up in a small town in northern Alberta, and like my peers followed the trends of urbanization by moving to Edmonton to study at MacEwan University, step into a white collar career, and trade in the rural life for the city life. Much to the surprise of my friends, after 15+ years living away, I recently bucked the trend and decided to move back to my rural roots. That said, to answer your question "What do city folks fail to understand about rural folks?" One, there is far more diversity up here than people think: diversity in terms of ethnicity, religion, cultures, and political beliefs. Whereas the community I cultivated in Edmonton was based largely on shared interests and political values, in my small town, I'm interacting and developing relationships with people who are - in many ways - quite different than I am. My neighbour, for example, wouldn't share my left leaning politics and thoughts on pipelines. Even so, he regularly volunteers to plough my kilometre long driveway and I love him for that! There is a certain lack of pretension in small towns that allows people to connect as people, not political identities -- that's from my experiences, at least. The other thing for city folk to keep in mind about us "red necks" is there are very few local media outlets available for people to explore alternative views/opinions. Our weekly newspaper is floundering. We don't have a local radio station that engages local dialogue, or inspires a sense of citizenship. And rural voices are very infrequently reflected in provincial/national media, unless it's a story on a controversial natural resource development project, or a tragedy such as high suicide rates amongst youth. It's easy for city folk to dismiss rural residents as "ignorant", but much of that has to do with lack of access to the kind of media that reflects the diverse voices and positive stories that we DO have in our communities. Perhaps the same thing can be said for job markets in small towns. Again, it's easy for urbanites to criticize folks who work in the oil and gas, or natural resource economy -- particularly in northern Alberta -- but there are few alternatives in the kinds of jobs that are available up here. Except if you're a teacher. Apparently Albertan teachers do NOT want to work in small northern communities. And what a shame. How else do we bridge the resource gaps that exist between urban and rural contexts when teachers, doctors, scientists, etc. don't want to live, or work in rural locations? It's so easy for urbanites to write off rural spaces as "conservative, red neck, etc" without examining the political influences -- decisions made exclusively in urban locations -- and the socioeconomic forces that shape our local realities, politics, and identities. Urbanites: take a lesson from the rural simple folk. Put down your politics. And plough your neighbour's driveway. That's how we begin cultivating relationships across perceived differences, including the urban-rural divide.

-Trina Moyles

I recently moved to a unique rural/urban circumstance on Protection Island in Nanaimo. We rented for a few months just to see if the relative remoteness (only an hourly 10-minute passenger ferry to link us to downtown) was going to be a pain in the butt. The answer is: Sometimes, but the community nature of this island makes it well worth it. I have lived in Surrey, Toronto, Saskatoon and Edmonton. I was also fortunate enough to work for Country Canada on CBC and so had significant access to small town Canada. In that context, here's my take on community - rural versus urban: When you can either wait for the ferry or FB your neighbours when you need the proverbial cup of sugar - you put the call out online (or knock on a door). And on this island, that request is regularly met, usually multiple times. There is a decades-long history of paying it forward here, and it's been delightful to join in and do our part. There are some philosophical commonalities for the folks who live here - no driving into your garage and emptying the groceries from the trunk, you think long and hard about buying anything that can't easily be carried on to the ferry - so there's immediate common ground. There's also the "moat" and the eclectic social mosaic and very green tree-covered landscape, navigated mostly with golf carts on gravel roads. We are a neighbourhood of Nanaimo, but a unique one. I have little doubt that community can also be created in a city. It's a lot harder, though, because the community is less well-defined by geography and because the sense of belonging here is actively encouraged on a daily basis. It feels like stepping back in time socially (but we didn't have a gay pride parade in the neighbourhood where I grew up) and after two years here, I cannot imagine living anywhere else.  Oh, and here's one of the many natural wonders what lives just off our front porch.

-Jim MacQuarrie 

I moved to my husband's birth community of Inverness, N.S. last year and cannot get over how friendly it is. It is the kind of place where when people say hi how are you...They actually wait for the answer and care to know it. I was in Dartmouth, N.S. last week (where my husband and I lived for over 25 years) for a visit. I went out for a walk in a neighbourhood and decided to try an experiment. I said hi to 6 different people. Not only did I not get a response, attempts at eye contact was a failure as well...I think part of community overall requires shared community spaces...Shopping, post office, walking trails, etc...

-Laura Cormier

I grew up in a small town on Vancouver Island and when we were young parents, my wife and I moved to a small island village and lived there for eight years. I have lived in Vancouver for 30 years now. I also travel a lot to small towns throughout the B.C. interior and correspond with many people across the province via the Internet.
I find that small town, and particularly rural people have a very arrogant superior attitude to city dwellers.
What I notice the most is that many people who live outside the city have a concept that everybody in a city has the same personality. Across the interior of B.C. there seems to be a prevailing attitude that everyone in Vancouver is a latte-sucking, Birkenstock-wearing yoga-mat dwelling vegetarian NDP voter who doesn't appreciate the fact that the real economic engine of the province is in small town B.C. where the real work is done.
In addition, there is a feeling in small towns that in the city there is no sense of community, nobody talks to each other, you take your life in your hands walking to the grocery store and the city is a nest of career criminal drug addicts.
I have a relative who lives on a property near Princeton, B.C.  His workshop was broken into when he was not home and he said he is certain it was a gang of druggies from Vancouver that came up to specifically steal from him.  He never considered that maybe it was someone local who knew when he was away from home.
As far as community goes; what I have determined is that in small towns there are a limited number of people around you, so you have to befriend the least objectionable. In the city you have the choice to befriend who you want and ignore the rest.

-Joseph Gauthier

I grew up in a town of 5000 people, and now live in Toronto and have for the past several years. In between, I've lived in several small cities. Needless to say, there are a lot of factors at play aside from simply population. And the definition of a "small town" is subjective as well; I have friends from Toronto who refer to Kingston as a small town, but from my perspective it was very much a city. 

While small town living has its romance, my opinion is that rural life creates an intense proximity between people's lives, for better or worse. For every time someone's cake is saved by a generous neighbour lending sugar, another neighbour may be telling their children not to play next door because the car parked in the adjacent driveway wasn't union-made. 

And it goes without saying that cities can at once be unfriendly and entirely welcoming. However, my opinion is that the beneficial sides of rural living exist within smaller neighbourhoods in a city. I know and love my neighbours in Toronto, and see familiar faces daily at the coffee shop and subway. Toronto for me is a giant collection of small towns. 

-Justin Bell

I lived in a small prairie town for the first 18 years of my life then moved to the city. The common cliché about small towns is that everyone knows everyone else's business, which is true but that's not always a bad thing.

In small towns or cities, people form communities based on common characteristics from ethnicity to sports. In small towns it's much easier to cross paths with other communities as there are fewer of them operating in a more limited space, where in the city you can make the choice to interact with others, or not.

In small towns, although you might not have much connection to say, the Shriners or the local curling league, you see them in the community, you can talk with them if you like, you might even be able to join up if you want and they probably know all about you and your posse as well.

I choose to live in the city because there are so many more communities to choose from. I live in the Calgary inner city and my primary community is the arts and theatre people. It's very much like living in a small town in that we all show up at the same events and frequently see each other in the streets. I know there are many other communities in full operation all around me that I could discover if I wanted, but in the city I'm just another guy out sweeping my sidewalk unless I choose to make more of it.

-Gord Ferguson

I was born and raised in Toronto with visits to my grandparents' farm, attended university near Victoria and Kingston, lived in or near cities in the USA, UK, Germany, Italy and New Zealand, and visited many more other large cities.  Now I live retired on a former hay farm and participate in rural organizations; so I identify with both communities. 

The Ontario government wants me to prepare a managed forest plan and have it audited every ten years to enjoy the same agricultural property tax rate as other farmers; now it wants to raise my forest's property assessment by 90.2%, though it's worthless until the trees mature and then the trees are taxed by the federal government.  The Places to Grow Act, Greenbelt Act, Municipal Act and Endangered Species Act all restrict farmers but not city dwellers. 

The biggest difference between urban and rural is that we rural dwellers tend to take care of ourselves, whereas Torontonians (for example) not only want us other Ontarians to pay for their subways but also want to decide how we farmers are allowed to live.  In short, rurals are independent-minded and leave others alone, but urban dwellers are not and the Queen's Park they elect is highly intrusive in the rural community. 

-Charles Hooker, East Garafraxa, Ontario 

I like to say that the size of the city has very little to do with whether you can borrow a cup of sugar from your neighbour.

I can honestly say that I live in a wonderful community in Calgary where I can always borrow a cup of sugar from any of my neighbours ( and have done so on numerous occasions and my neighbours have come to me too).

I repeatedly have neighbours over for dinners or drinks.  I can call my neighbours with no notice and ask them to let out my dog or shovel my driveway and it will get done.

I think whether or not you feel connected to a community has less to do with the size of the community but rather your own effort to reach out to your neighbours.

If you reach out, others will respond and reach out to you.

-Wendy Harinck

What got me thinking about what is best ( there is no real best just simply a difference ) was how people in Canada viewed the seal hunt. I don't know but you can pretty well profile a person who is against the seal hunt as a white person from the city. Basically my view is based on the observation that people in big cities have nothing in common with Mother nature. They have their dogs and cats, zoos and aquariums, may go for a hike in the country on the weekend 
(after driving for hours sometimes). All to say that when they talk about being part of nature they are usually deluding themselves. They simply are not connected to the real thing. 

As you know, in rural Newfoundland and in rural Canada, the killing of a wild animal is all part of living. Its no big deal. But say to a city person that you killed a moose last week you're liable to be hung out to dry. 

I've always found myself betwixt and between because I'm a white fella from the suburbs in St. John's. I was shocked when I saw my first snared rabbit. But I noticed that all around me everyone took it all in stride. I've come to also take it all in stride though I'm not a hunter.  I shot a caribou once. It was no big deal its just that I'd just as soon buy caribou at Bidgoods. 

-Bill Coultas, St. John's 


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?