In the wake of the pandemic, we’ve seen a sharp uptick in interest in smaller Canadian towns. These offer a respite from crowds, traffic, and noise, and they’re more affordable than major centres, where housing prices continue to climb (though smalltown prices are also increasing.) For many people, retiring to a smaller place seems like an ideal fit, combining those modest home prices with a relaxed lifestyle and proximity to nature.
Not only is the market changing, Canadians 50 and older are, too. On a personal level, you may be living in a home that you bought decades ago; meanwhile, your kids have moved out, your values may have changed, and you're different. On top of that 70 is the new 50, as they say; baby boomers have a much younger mindset than preceding generations. You’re looking for a very different kind of retirement from your grandparents.
In our updated list of the best places to retire in 2021, we look through that lens. Traditionally, "best places to retire" lists rely on statistics and figures: real estate prices, property tax rates, crime rates, and climate data, etc. These offer a simple guide, and we observe those below, but they don’t tell the whole story. For one thing, we think you’ll also find assurance in the words of people your own age who’ve moved ahead of you and are actually happy in the places we list. Our true focus, though, is places that will rekindle your love of life. Ideally, you want to move to a place that’s built for the person you are at this stage of your life. Here, we list cities, but we also make recommendations on neighbourhoods that are ideally suited for you.
Below, find some familiar places alongside some of those smaller, lesser known destinations people find increasingly appealing, and consider places that will suit you, in our updated look at the best places to retire in Canada in 2021.
"The jewel of Vancouver Island"
Signature event: Parksville Beachfest includes a sandcastle building event that’s Canada’s only qualification event for the World Championship of Sand Sculpting. It’s been held every summer since 1982.
Fun fact: It’s not named after local spectacular parks such as Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, but in fact the first postmaster, Nelson Parks.
Absolutely, Parksville is the country's number one retirement destination, getting the nod as the representative city for all of Vancouver Island’s spectacular interior east coast. It’s been called “Canada’s retirement capital,” thanks to its having the country’s highest seniors per capita. The entire region is renowned for its mediterranean climate, and Parksville in particular for sandy beaches. You can golf here in January, a claim you won’t hear for many cities in Canada. The Strait of Georgia is home to whale and seal sightings, in addition to other marine wildlife. It’s also a playspace for other water-based activities, including anything from sailing to kayaking. Real estate here is reasonably priced compared to Victoria and Vancouver.
This is a place where you can live your best life. Not only is it a naturally occurring retirement community, it’s also home to some cutting edge developments that deserve your attention. Find a great place to retire in Parksville. Other places nearby, including Nanaimo, Qualicum Beach, Duncan, and of course Victoria (see below), are all just as retirement-friendly in terms of the local climate and the good life you can live right here in (let's just say it) the most beautiful and best country in the world.
"Canada's sunniest city"
Signature event: Calgary Stampede, the world’s largest outdoor event, held annually each July since 1884
Fun fact: The warm wind of Calgary—the chinook—can raise the temperatures from a low of 5 degrees centigrade to highs of 15 degrees centigrade in a matter of hours.
Calgary is listed by The Economist as one of the top 5 most livable cities on earth. It's the jewel of Wild Rose Country, with the highest GDP per Capita in Canada and is ranked among the top cities in quality of life.
Add to this the fact that developers recognize Calgary’s place as a cultural destination, a vibrant metropolis and home to spectacular local scenery. There are major sports teams like the Flames and the Stampeders. There are 600 kilometers of bikable pathways, a provincial park within city boundaries, and no provincial sales tax (PST). Life here is more affordable than other major cities like Toronto and Vancouver. And top of all that, they have dinosaurs in nearby Drumheller. The list of reasons to love Calgary is long.
A number of state-of-the-art retirement living destinations are found in the city. Seniors who live here love life in the community. Take, for example, Leo and Maxine Nugent. Says Leo, "We walk a mile or so every day. We can see the mountains, and we breathe that clean mountain air. Only yesterday we were saying how right we were to come here."
Weather: temperate coastal
Signature attraction: Cypress Provincial Park is home to astonishing hiking and cross-country ski trails. It was also the host to many events from the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Fun fact: The West Vancouver Memorial Library lends more books per capita than any other library in Canada.
All of majestic BC is an international destination for retirement, and this District is perfectly situated to sample all that's best about the province. It's removed from the expensive real estate and bustle of Vancouver proper but all that you love about the city is just across the Lion's Gate Bridge. Of course, Stanley Park, Cypress Provincial Park and a wealth of other mountain scenery beckon from nearby. By law, there is no industry allowed in the city. West Vancouver ranks high on sources like MoneySense, due to statistics like low taxes and low crime, but the real test is, how do people like living here?
Shirley sold her home in Vancouver in 2020 and moved into independent living here; she and her daughter, Helen, exclaim how life is better now. "It's a much healthier environment than she had," says Helen. "She's made lots of new friends there. Why live in a condo when [her home now] is like a stationary cruise ship."
The thing we really love about West Vancouver? It's on the edge of both Greater Vancouver and that spectacular country just north of the city. How great is that? Check out a full list of places to retire in West Vancouver, including places in the similarly highly rated North Vancouver.
Signature attraction: An estimated 13 million people visit the Falls, annually.
Fun fact: An additional 8 million visit the American side, annually, totalling more than 20 million.
Of course, we have to include Niagara Falls! It’s world class, right? The city itself is lovely, rife with parkland, and so many different views of the spectacular waterfalls. There’s a casino and innumerable museums and attractions. Your grandkids will love visiting you here. What nature lover doesn’t want to live near this bona fide wonder of the world, along with the spectacular Niagara Gorge. You’re also situated near not one but two of the Great Lakes, each exactly a half hour away. (One way to to beautiful Crystal Beach, on Erie, the other to the wine country of Niagara-on-the-Lake). There’s also cross-border shopping, and it’s just 90 minutes to downtown Toronto.
Find a complete list of all the best Niagara Falls retirement communities.
Population: 14,798 (2020)
Signature attraction: Canmore Nordic Centre Provincial Park includes waterfalls and two signature turquoise lakes.
If you ever drive westward from Calgary on the Trans-Canada Highway, your first stop in the Rockies will likely be Canmore. You might never want to leave. The majesty of the local scenery is, of course, breathtaking, with its views of The Three Sisters (below) and Ha Ling Peak, but local artisanry, shopping, and architecture might also catch your eye. Canmore was ranked in the top ten in MoneySense’s last yearly rankings of Canada’s best places to live, noted for its arts scene and a robust local economy. Local activities include hiking in the Kananaskis Valley, cross country skiing, fishing, climbing, and ... just taking in the beauty. There are also six local golf courses to choose from.
Suffice it to say that there’s a lot to enjoy about life in Canmore, but for all of the above, it’s the good people you might enjoy the most. Amelia is one retiree who moved here from further north and finds the life here "a lot better. You socialize here [so much]. It's so healthy!" Find a wonderful place to retire in Canmore.
Signature event: The Annual Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival has run every year since 1976, including virtual events in 2020 and 2021.
Fun fact: When Guglielmi Marconi wanted to test his transatlantic wireless transmission, he eventually chose St. John’s over Cape Cod because, in all North America, it was the point closest to England.
St. John’s joins the list in 2021, as an exemplary east coast destination offering affordable real estate (and rentals), spectacular summer weather, and the beautiful, rugged scenery of Atlantic Canada. Like other Atlantic Canada cities it also boasts that friendly “down east vibe,” as well as low crime. As a maritime mecca, St. John’s is also home to a thriving arts and culture scene, ideal especially for musicians and painters.
The slower pace of life here is especially amenable to seniors, while the area’s high unemployment rate is less meaningful for those who've left the working world behind. For those with a love for the natural beauty of the rugged landscape, it makes an ideal destination. Find great places to retire in St. John's, NL.
"Heart of the nation’s capital region"
Population: 994,837 (2017)
Signature event: Canadian Tulip Festival, held annually each spring since 1952
Fun fact: The Rideau Canal is the best preserved example of a slackwater canal built in North America. It remains operational along its original line with a majority of the structures from the early nineteenth century still intact.
The nation’s capital is a destination for many retirees, with its wonderful mix of local conveniences and attractions. Parkland and greenspace line the two rivers that flow through the city. Museums and galleries are found throughout, including the Museum of Nature, the National Gallery of Canada, and others. Ottawa was ranked as the #1 best place to live by MoneySense in 2016 (and #2 in 2017). Our national capital is especially noted for healthy real estate values, an array of cultural activities, and easy access to health care.
Ted and Marilyn are one couple who love retirement living in Ottawa. "Everybody we meet here is as happy as we are. Everybody gets along," says Ted. Marilyn chimes in, "We’ve made lots of new friends."
Smaller communities on the outskirts of Ottawa are also worth your consideration. Stittsville and Kanata offer fast-rising real estate values while still retaining small town charm. Further out, towns like Carleton Place and Manotick feature the best of country living with proximity to the capital region.
Population: 383,360 (Greater Victoria)
Signature event: Feast, Food, and Film Festival, held annually each June
Fun fact: National Geographic Magazine recognizes Vancouver Island as one of the best cold-water diving destinations in the world, and the renowned Jacques Cousteau Society rates the area as second only to the Red Sea for diversity of marine life and water clarity.
Victoria is often ranked highly as a retirement destination for its low property tax rates and the high number of doctors per capita. Money and health care are important, certainly, but the climate here is second to none in the country. Healthy sea air and moderate temperatures make life here better than many other colder, drier climes. And of course, let’s not forget the scenery! Nearby towns like Saanich and others further up the coast are also all retirement destinations.
Is life really that great here on the Island? Maxine says, "I never dreamt that at 84, I would be on a new adventure like this. I am still young and healthy enough to enjoy it here!" Find our complete list of Victoria retirement living destinations.
Population: 24,735 (2016)
Signature attraction: Sandbanks Provincial Park has one of the best sandy beaches in the province, and is home to the world's largest bay-mouth barrier dune formation. Its over 1,500 hectares of fun-in-the-sun, birdwatching, swimming, fishing, and any other beach activity you enjoy.
Fun fact: The Picton Gazette is Canada's oldest weekly newspaper.
Surrounded by the Great Lakes, Ontario's hundreds of miles of shoreline are rich with "great places to live and retire." Picton is our pick, the jewel of Prince Edward County, a destination for people from throughout Eastern Ontario and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). The town itself offers several beautiful vistas of Lake Ontario, with a 15 minute drive to Sandbanks and its complementary beaches that stretch for miles. That setting and its moderated climate make the area a haven for artists, vintners, and (of course) retirees. The quality and variety of local restaurants alone has led to its being dubbed the "gastronomic capital of Ontario." It's also been cited as a great place to live by MoneySense, noted for its local arts scene and easy access to health care.
Life here is ideal for retirees, built with people 50 and older in mind. Cherry, resident at a superb local retirement community, praises the "laid back lifestyle here. It's easy to make friends when everyone is so friendly." Fran, another resident of the same place says, “Everybody looks after everybody else here.” If that kind of lifestyle sounds appealing, learn more about 55 plus lifestyle here. There are also great retirement communities in nearby Trenton.
Lifestyle: cool and breezy
Signature attraction: Wanuskewin Heritage Park is a National Historic Site, with archaeological finds representing nearly 6,000 years of history of the Northern Plains peoples. It’s currently vying for designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. New artifacts are added to the collection daily, as archaeology at the site is ongoing.
We’d be remiss if we neglected the prairies, and their “Paris” gets our vote as a worthy representative. It gets that nickname (popularized in The Tragically Hip’s “Wheat Kings”) for its eight bridges, but we think there’s also a cultural analogue. As one of the region’s most populous cities, it’s home to several excellent cultural attractions including the rRemai mModern Museum, opened in 2017, featuring 11 galleries, including a collection of Picasso linocut prints. There’s also the Western Development Museum, with over 75,000 artifacts. In summer, the city comes to life with numerous festivals, notably the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival, with the main stage at the iconic Delta Bessborough Hotel. At its height, the Festival attracts more than 80,000 fans over 10 days of music that includes blues, funk, pop, and other genres. Saskatoon is just a great place, ranked 60th on Moneysense's best places to live in 2018, thanks to its strong economy, low taxes and affordable living.
For all that, the main attraction might be the city’s welcoming, friendly people. There are lots of beautiful riverside paths (jogger- and biker-friendly!) through the Meewasin Valley, many modern shopping centres, and great restaurants throughout the city. Find great Saskatoon retirement destinations.
Sources and further resources
Moneysense's Best places to retire in 2017
Moneysense's Best places to live in 2018. (Ed. note: the last year they provided this survey.)
The Economist tracks the world's most liveable cities. E.g. economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2015/08/daily-chart-5.
"Moving to a small town can fund your retirement. But it's not for everyone." Globeandmail.com.
"Packing it in and moving to small town may be your only retirement strategy left." Garry Marr. The Financial Post.
*Since we are looking at spectacular national destinations, this list does not necessarily match up with our regional and provincial lists. These places are most suitable to and welcoming for people moving from out of the province or out of the country. This list also contains a variety of cities, in terms of size, appeal, ethos, etc.
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