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 commotion of Vancouver or Victoria, or you're dreaming of a fresh place to settle, 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: 1,775 (2016)
Average property tax: $2,1141
Average value of primary real estate: 430,4971
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."
You can read another personal testimonial from Caron Nightingale about this paradise on earth.
Check out welcoming places in or near Cobble Hill.
Population: 32,655 (2016)
Average property tax: $2,0871
Average value of primary real estate: 577,3351
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)
Average property tax: $2,1201
Average value of primary real estate: 490,000 (2018) 2
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 costs (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)
Average property tax: $1,3101
Average value of primary real estate: 535,587 1
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's 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 places to live in the town of Penticton.
Population: 12,514 (2016)
Average property tax: $1,7061
Average value of primary real estate: 393,456 1
Signature event: Parksville BeachFest
Sometimes 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. Check out this idyllic town out for yourself, sometime soon.
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