By Tim Johnson, with files from Yuki Hayashi, Brandie Weikle, Lisa Murphy and Emily Ohanjanians
To come up with the most family-friendly cities in Canada, we crunched some serious statistics and talked with some of the most reputable sources around. We gave every Canadian city or town with 100,000 residents or more a shot at the crown – 40 in all, because we allowed St. John’s, Newfoundland, to squeak in at 99,182 – and ranked them against 16 different measures.
(To see how all 40 cities measured up against all these criteria, click
We then weighted evaluating factors from education to ethnic diversity equally, because while you could argue that access to doctors is more important than museums and galleries, ultimately what makes a city great is up to you and your family.
Surprise! In the end, Québec City took the number-one spot thanks to Québec’s lowest-in-the-nation child-injury hospitalization rates and top-quality childcare funding. This city also ruled the culture category with loads of museums, restaurants and performing arts centres. We like to think of the entire top 10 as winners, however, including: Montréal, Vancouver, Vaughan, Ont., Richmond Hill, Ont., Toronto, Markham, Ont., St. St. John’s, Gatineau, Que., and Calgary. But why take our word for it? We asked families to share what makes their city tops for them, too. And no doubt you’ll have some pointed opinions about why your neighbourhood is best, which we hope you’ll share with us. Let the debate begin!
WHAT WE MEASURED:
OUR EXPERT SOURCES
We ranked Canadian cities and towns with 100,000 residents or more and weeded out a couple that seemed suspiciously like incorporated regions and less like cities. The list of 40 cities in the running included major metropolises like Toronto and Montréal, important regional centres like Halifax and Winnipeg, and bedroom communities like Surrey, B.C. We then corralled reams of statistics into 16 categories and gave each an equal weight – a maximum of 10 points in each category, for a total score of 160 points. (To see the entire rankings, visit canadianfamily.ca/topcities).
We also conducted major research to determine which measures to include. Experts like Dr Jeremy Friedman, head of pediatrics at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, told us that an excellent health care system, for example, should include preventative services like child safety programs and easy access to primary care. So we considered the most recent injury hospitalization rates for children 0 to 19 by province, the number of general and family health practitioners per 100,000 people in each community (both from the Canadian Institute for Health Information) and overall life expectancy in each city, from Statistics Canada. We also considered opportunities to stay fit, looking at the number of fitness and recreational sports centres (including everything from skating rinks to swimming pools to health clubs) in each city per 100,000 in population, using Statistics Canada’s numbers.
Including education was a no-brainer. But how do you evaluate the quality of a city’s educational system? Happily, the Canadian Council on Learning (CCL), a national non-profit organization, did the legwork for us. They scored communities on a variety of indicators – including student literacy, numeracy and problem solving skills, high-school dropout rates and post-secondary achievement – resulting in a measure called The Learning to Know scale.
We also looked at what a city’s residents can expect in terms of childcare, using numbers on childcare funding granted per child by each province, supplied by the Childcare Resource and Research Unit at the University of Toronto. Ranked, too: the number of child and youth services (including friendship and counselling services for young people and youth centres) in each city, again per 100,000, according to Statistics Canada.
We felt that the ability to feel safe and breathe easy were crucial considerations. For the former, we evaluated cities on the basis of number of crimes committed per 100,000 population, according to Statistics Canada. For the latter, we looked at communities’ average number of smoke and haze days per year, based on data collected over the past 30 years by Environment Canada. “Smoke and haze days are a good, conservative measure of how polluted an urban environment is,” says David Phillips, the senior climatologist for Environment Canada.
And while we agree that happiness can’t be bought, economic well-being is important. After all, it’s kind of hard to enjoy all of that clean air when you can’t find a job and pay the mortgage. So we factored in a city’s unemployment rate, as well as its median income – both according to Statistics Canada. We also used housing prices provided by the Canadian Real Estate Association and tied them to income. How long would it take, if you earned the city’s median gross income and could use every last penny, to pay for a home? “It’s an ideal indicator on how relative cost of living can be accounted for in relation to income,” says Jon Copestake, with the internationally renowned Economist Intelligence Unit in London, U.K.
Can you measure cool? We tried by considering elements that are key to kid and adult fun. Restaurants and nightlife are the sine qua non of an evening on the town, so we looked at the number of bars and restaurants in each city. Then we counted the number of theatre companies, dance and musical groups and other performing arts operations, as well as art galleries, museums, botanical gardens and heritage sites, and prorated these numbers per 100,000 population. Last, we decided that diversity is an essential part of a cosmopolitan environment, adding to the warmth, culture and expansiveness of a great city for young and old alike. So we included the percentage of the total population whose mother tongue is neither of Canada’s official languages. Statistics Canada provided the numbers for all of these measures.
TOP TEN CITIES