British Columbia is brimming with picturesque, peaceful escapes from the noise, traffic, pollution and other vexing aspects of city life. Whether you're looking for a weekend respite from the city's commotion, or visiting from out of province and dreaming of settling here, here’s a look at BC's best small towns (population under 45,000). We look at what makes each place special, outline some interesting facts about each spot, and provide some personal thoughts and impressions that people have shared with us.
Take a closer look at the variety of options... seclusion, peace, and some spectacular scenery await!
Population: 12,514 (2016)
Signature event: Parksville BeachFest
Fun fact: It’s not named after local spectacular parks such as Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, but in fact the first postmaster, Nelson Parks.
Often referred to as "Canada's retirement destination," Parksville's low cost real estate and ideal climate has resulted in an influx of retirees to the area over the past several years. You can bet that all those people are on to something. Parksville Beach is an ideal place to spend serious amounts of time, due to its near-perfection. The beach faces onto the Strait of Georgia, with a perfectly semi-circular cove protected from just about any form of bad weather. At low tide, the beach stretches for miles. Parksville Beachfest takes full advantage of this vast expanse of sheltered sand, with a sand castle building contest that's an official qualification event for the Sand Sculpting World Championship.
We'd be remiss if we implied that's all there is to Parksville. You'll also find a regional campus of Vancouver Island University here. Paradise Fun Park is also an ideally fun destination for young families. Elsewhere, we note that you can go golfing in January, if you live there, so there's no need to think of it as a summer destination only. Check out this idyllic town for yourself, sometime soon.
Find a great place to retire in Parksville.
Not far from Parksville, Qualicum Beach has a very similar appeal. It’s a wonderful place to retire with a similarly high population of seniors. Find a spectacular retirement location in Qualicum Beach.
Population: 32,655 (2016)
Signature attraction: The West Kelowna wine trail takes you through a dozen world-renowned wineries.
Deep in the interior of the province, West Kelowna is home to all the rugged beauty you might expect... but it's also chock full of cool. We're talking Hollywood cool... it's often a location for movie shoots thanks to its combination of spectacular scenery with urban convenience (thanks in part to its proximity to Kelowna). You might walk into a local café and run into one of your favourite actors. That kind of cool.
But if that's not your thing, know that West Kelowna is an idealized small town. It offers 1400 local businesses, including several shopping malls, local wineries, and a yacht club, fronted on Lake Okanagan. Of course you'll also find lovely hiking trails, with sightings of local wildlife, in a safe milieu. Within the bounds of this population 32,000 town, there are also more than 125 parks and trails. There's good reason why this town is ranked 65th on Moneysense's list of best places to live in Canada1. Local businesses participate happily in charity ventures, and it fosters a lifestyle where people look out for each other in good times and bad. As one resident puts it, "this is a community where you know you can rely on other people. You can't count on that attitude everywhere, nowadays."
Local senior, Mary Lou, tells us that in her home here, "I know I am safe." What's more, "my family knows I am safe and happy here." Beauty, vitality, safety and happiness… not much more you can ask for in life, we think.
Learn more about great places to live near West Kelowna.
Population: 4,944 (2016)
Signature attraction: "The City of Totems" is home to 80 totem poles.
Vancouver Island is Canada's retirement destination—perhaps even the world's. We could populate this list entirely with small towns here. Duncan is one of many hidden gems on the island, notable as the smallest city by area in the nation. Just a few things that make this place appealing are the low real estate costs2 (much lower than that of Vancouver and the mainland), spectacular scenery, peace, wildlife sightings, proximity to the ocean, and a wealth of activities targeted at people who love life and have slowed down just a very little.
That's all great, for sure, but if you are thinking of moving forward with your next place to live, you want to know what people think of living here in Duncan. Thelma is one person who has settled here and she puts it simply: "I love it here... I have no regrets at all for moving here. Everyone is really nice and treats you really good. I certainly say you should move in here."
Population: 43,000 (2016)
Signature event: Penticton Peach Festival
Fun fact: Penticton comes from the Salish word snpintktn, meaning "place to stay forever."
Penticton offers appealing small town attractions, from local wineries to scores of wonderful churches, to the small-town friendliness that especially blossoms during the summer months. But then there are the many other things that make Penticton (the hub of Okanagan tourism) great. The Lakeshore is rife with beautiful buildings that light up the waterfront at night. The marina faces onto Okanagan Lake and expectedly majestic BC scenery, comprised of water and mountains. Natural attractions not far from the city include Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park and Okanagan Mountain Park.
Sure, Penticton is well-ranked on statistics-driven ranking lists like Moneysense's1 list of best places to live in BC, but stats don't tell the whole story. What makes any place great, in the end, is people. Patricia's mom retired in Penticton and she says, "Everyone is so helpful and friendly here. There is so much [for mom] to do here … We could not be happier for mom."
Find great retirement destinations in Penticton.
Population: 14,828 (2016)
Signature attraction: Several local museums include the Comox Air Force Museum, but the real reason people come here is the spectacular shoreline, where you can sight seals and other wildlife.
Signature event: Penticton Peach Festival
Fun fact: The indigenous people, K’omoks, called this area Kwak'wala, meaning “plentiful” due to its abundant marine life and warm winters.
Like other towns dotting the inner shoreline of Vancouver Island, Comox benefits from mild weather year round, making it a rapidly emerging “hot spot” for retirees. There’s lots of fun to be had along the shoreline, ranging from hiking to whale watching. Mount Washington ski resort is a half hour’s drive away for ski buffs. There are also 11 golf courses in the area. You can see Comox Glacier from just about anywhere in town.
Comox is a wonderful place to visit and you will want to stay. Live in an area like this, and you’ll find your interest in life revitalized by both the beautiful environs but also the people of the area. When you wake up to scenery like this every morning, you can’t help but be your best.
Find a great place to retire in Comox.
Population: 19,952 (2016)
Signature attraction: The namesake of the city is a giant 486 ton glacial erratic, but Semiahmoo Trail Park’s pleasant parkland and walking/hiking/jogging trails feels most emblematic of the city.
Signature event: The Spirit of the Sea Festival is held every August on White Rock Beach, including a parade, live music, and a sandcastle competition.
White Rock is, of course, part of Greater Vancouver, but that doesn’t hinder it from generating a smoothly small town vibe. It overlooks the waters of Semiahmoo Bay and the Strait of Georgia and has kept a relatively stable population for some years. As a Vancouver destination, it's often overlooked for trendier boroughs like Kitsilano Beach and North or West Vancouver. To us, this is an advantage. White Rock is a striking alternative idea for those who want the small town feel while not removing themselves from big city vibrancy, attractions, and excitement.
White Rock is, in fact, a retirement destination, with over 29% of White Rock’s population being over the age of 65. Ben Nuttall-Smith is one person who loves his retirement in White Rock. There are “so many happy faces around... And I marvel at the fabulous views,” he says. “Sunsets and the reflection from sunrise are spectacular over the bay.”
Find a great place to retire in White Rock.
It should also be noted that Tsawwassen is every bit as appealing as White Rock. In putting together this list, we were really torn between the two. Tsawwassen is rich with parkland, and you can take the ferry to Vancouver Island from this charming city. You can also find several ideal retirement destinations in Tsawwassen.
Population: 1,775 (2016)
Signature attraction: Perfect climate and pleasant vistas of Cowichan Bay
If there is a paradise on earth, or at least in Canada, it might be Cowichan Bay. There's a reason why the area is becoming increasingly famous for its vineyards; this is home to Canada's only Marine Mediterranean climate, with moderate summers and mild winters. Or in other words, a paradisiacal destination no matter what time of year you choose to visit – or stay.
The entire area here is appealing on many different levels. Walk through town and enjoy the perfect mountain air, that's both healing and invigorating. It's a place that brings out the best in everyone. It's also known for its value. The Financial Post highlighted this as a small town with big savings. There are no Vancouver real estate prices to contend with. It's a destination that proudly flies below the radar, although people (including us) do want to share their knowledge.
Beatrice is one resident who writes, "There's so much beauty here … amazing ocean life in the Strait … you'll regularly see whales." The thing that really keeps her going is the copious local activities: "there's golf, there are sports activities on the water…" For all that, though, nothing matters more than community. Beatrice says the thing she most loves about life in Cowichan Valley is the people, "they are all so wonderful. They really are the best people, here, in our community."
Check out welcoming places in or near Cobble Hill.
Sources and further resources
2Market Information (July 2018). Kenneal.com
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