In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, Canadians’ interest in small towns has increased exponentially, many people deciding that now is a good time to look closer at small town living. Maybe you’re thinking of a weekend getaway, out of the city, to enjoy some local flavour. Perhaps you’re considering a move, dreaming of a place you can settle into and grow to love. No matter what your reasons for investigating, we’ve come up with a list of places across the country that are worth looking closer at.
Living in a small town is appealing as you get older. Some advantages are as follows:
As an authority on retirement options, where to retire, and how to age optimally, we offer our picks for the ten best small towns in Canada (in alphabetical order). We think you can live really well in the places below, our choices for Canada’s best small towns.
Median home price: 199,000
Fun fact: The Star Inn, part of nearby Glengarry Pioneer Museum is the oldest bar in Ontario.
Alexandria, Ontario is uniquely Canadian in that it's one of very few places west of Quebec with French as its official language. Its population is a near-perfect mix of English and French speakers. It’s part of a collection of Eastern Ontario towns and townships (like nearby The Nation or Russell Township) that are highly rated for affordable real estate and low crime rates.
There’s a lot more to like about the town of Alexandria, if you’re looking for a peaceful, idyllic place to live. There's a hospital right in town, for one thing, and plenty of both local history and natural beauty, including the cathedral of Saint-Finnan, and Alexandria Island Park, on Mill Pond. Another rarity about this town is its relative proximity to not one, but two major cities. Ottawa is only an hour away, and Montreal is an hour and a half. For hikers, skiers and nature lovers of any other ilk, Mont Tremblant is less than 2 hours away, too.
Population: 35,250 (2016)
Median house price: $650,542
Average property tax: $2,718
Fun fact: Although the area is home to many post-War Dutch immigrants, many of them taking up farming in Holland Marsh, the area is named for Samuel Holland who explored the area in the 1790’s.
Bradford and West Gwillimbury, Ontario was shortlisted by MoneySense in 2017, noted for its low crime, high average annual income, and homes’ high net worth. We love how it epitomizes rural living “north of Toronto.” And living here, now, is more appealing than ever. You can find everything you need in the area, plus you’re situated perfectly halfway between the playground of Ontario’s cottage country and the attractions and activity of Toronto. Golf lovers will love Nottawasaga Resort and other nearby golf courses. Both Barrie and Newmarket are conveniently close for shopping. Scenery lovers will enjoy any trip that takes them through the rolling hill country here, and hikers love the proximity of the Bruce Trail. Like so many towns on this list, we like the way it combines idyllic small town living with proximity to world class attractions and recreation.
Living and retiring in Bradford
Hilda Anderson is one senior who loves her home in Bradford. “There are so many good people here,” she'll tell you. Find excellent places to live in Bradford or, for anyone 55 and older, read reviews of active adult living in Central Ontario.
Population: 12,288 (2016)
Average property tax: $1,736
Average value of primary real estate: $912,436
Signature attraction: While the Rockies are all spectacular, Kananaskis Valley affords all the jaw-dropping, instagram-worthy vistas you’ll ever want.
Travel west from Calgary on the Trans Canada, up into the Rockies, and your first stop has to be Canmore, couched between rugged peaks like Mount Rundle, Grotto Mountain, and many others. The town is full of progressive, touristy shops, but step away from the main drag, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by beautiful mountain scenes. You'll want to stay longer.
The town of Canmore was ranked #7 in MoneySense’s rankings of the best places to live (of any size) in all of Canada, in their last rankings. There’s a vibrant arts scene here, and the local economy is positively booming. It’s a great place to invest real estate dollars while enjoying a long list of local activities like skiing, hiking, fishing, climbing, etc. There's even an array of local golf courses (six in all!) Get a look at more Canmore at explorecanmore.ca.
Living and retiring in Canmore
The liveliness of the town is a big draw for people. Amelia moved here from the Athabasca area. Since finding a home here, she says, “I feel a lot better. You socialize here [so much]. It's so healthy!"
Find a great place to retire in Canmore.
Population: 4,944 (2016)
Average property tax: $2,120
Average value of primary real estate: 490,000 (2018)
Signature attraction: "The City of Totems" is home to 80 totem poles.
To be honest, we would not be remiss to populate this entire list with Vancouver Island small towns. This is a retirement destination not just for Canadians but for the world. Among Island locations, though, Duncan is exceptional for its climate. It’s an inland lee, boasting a Mediterranean climate right here in Canada. It also offers surprisingly reasonable real estate costs (relative to BC, that is) and reliable small town friendliness. Then there’s the proximity to the panoramic, eye-filling natural beauty of Genoa Bay, Stoney Hill, and, well, all of the east coast of the Island. We could go on about the beauty of the area but if you’ve never been, have a small preview here and here.
Living and retiring in Duncan
"I love it here," says Thelma, who has retired to Duncan. "I have no regrets at all about moving here. Everyone is really nice and treats you really good. I certainly say you should move in here."
Population: 7,628 (2016)
Average property tax: $3400
Median house price in Goderich: $394,000
Fun fact: Founded in 1828, people thought it proper to name the town after the British Prime Minister. The PM at that time was Frederick John Robinson, but his peerage title was Viscount Goderich.
Legend has it that Goderich was called "the prettiest town in Canada" by Queen Elizabeth II when she visited in the 1950’s. The town is one of very few places in Canada built on a hub model: all the streets radiate outward from the downtown core. The town's central square is landscaped beautifully during summer months. From downtown, you can easily walk to one of three local beaches on Lake Huron. Further along the coast both north and south, you'll find more popular beachfront hangouts including Grand Bend, Sauble Beach, and others. It’s also home to several historical buildings, including the Historic CPR Station, the Huron Historic Gaol and the Huron County Museum. For all of that, it’s the downhome friendliness of people here that will reel you in.
Living and retiring in Goderich
Goderich is home to a number of excellent retirement homes in Goderich. Nearby, there are also a number of adult lifestyle communities suitably close to Lake Huron.
Population: 33,890 (2016)
Average property tax: $1,604
Average value of primary real estate: 311,593
Signature attraction: The Moose Jaw tunnels are an extensive tunnel system that provided safe harbour for Chinese rail workers in the early 20th century. They're also long rumoured to have been a hideout for Al Capone during Prohibition.
It’s not only cool to tell people that you are a "Moose Javian," this is a town with class — and lots to do! People visit here for the mineral springs, while there’s also a casino. The eclectic array of historical attractions in town includes the above-mentioned Moose Jaw Tunnels, Sukanen Ship Pioneer Village, the History of Transportation Western Development Museum, and the storied SnowBirds, who make their home here and put on an annual free show. “The Jaw” is a great place to live, listed in MoneySense's top 250 best places to live across Canada, noted for its accessibility to health care, home affordability, and low taxes.
For arts lovers, there’s a vibrant community of local artists, and you’ll also enjoy the annual Saskatchewan Festival of Words. Nature lovers will enjoy the many local parks, most of those found on the South Saskatchewan River meandering through town; Old Wives Lake is also a beautiful place. In addition, there’s a waterpark and other activities for kids to enjoy. The town is growing at a moderate pace, too, with a slow but steady population change over the last ten years.
Find a great place to live in Moose Jaw.
Population: 25,258 (2011)
Median house price in Picton: $324,450
Average property tax: $2,718
Average population change over 5 year period: 2.4%
Picton is the jewel of Prince Edward County, a retirement destination for people who want to leave behind the hustle of Greater Toronto and enjoy life in a colourful town that’s also close to Lake Ontario. The County is one of the province’s up-and-coming wine regions. Picton itself has flair, exemplified by colourful local shops, artisans’ boutiques and markets that make it a pleasant weekend getaway. Sandbanks Provincial Park is one of the best beaches on the Lake. Picton is shortlisted by MoneySense as a top place to live, cited for its easy access to health care and the local arts scene.
Living and retiring in Picton
Picton is home to one of the best adult lifestyle communities in central Ontario. There are also several excellent retirement communities in Trenton and area.
Median house price in Simcoe: $631,000
Simcoe is the epitome of a quiet place to get away to. Hamilton, the nearest big city, is about an hour away. Similar to nearby towns like Aylmer, Caledonia, Cayuga, and Dunnville, it's far away from the hustle and bustle of major highways, urban sprawl and the heavy traffic of the rest of southern Ontario. Activity in town picks up during summer months, though, with cottagers and boaters passing through on their way to Long Point, Turkey Point, or other Lake Erie destinations.
Proximity to the Lake makes it a good place to retire to: fishing and boating on Long Point Bay are idyllic retirement tranquility. Family from out of the area will enjoy visiting, especially if you take them to nearby Long Point or Port Burwell, some of the province's best kept secrets in terms of beautiful beaches.
Population: 32,655 (2016)
Average property tax: $2,087
Average value of primary real estate: 577,335
Signature attraction: The West Kelowna wine trail takes you through a dozen world-renowned wineries
The province of British Columbia is full of cheerfully beautiful small towns where people love the lifestyle. We dedicate a whole page to its great small towns. West Kelowna epitomizes peaceful BC interior living, surrounded by glorious Rockies' mountainscapes. There’s everything you need here, thanks to over 1500 local businesses. Typical of the province, it’s home to hundreds of dedicated green spaces. Of course, there are numerous local ski resorts, and innumerable hiking trails through old growth forest. The town is ranked high on Moneysense's list of best places to live in Canada because of its low taxes, healthy economy, and the local climate, tempered by chinook winds and Lake Okanagan. For all that, there’s a community spirit, identifiable in the way local businesses participate happily in charity ventures.
Local senior, Mary Lou, says that in West Kelowna, "I know I'm safe," a fact that's also assuring to family from outside of town. West Kelowna offers beauty, vitality, safety, and contentment, a combination that makes it a great Canadian small town.
Learn more about great places to live near West Kelowna.
Population: 3,648 (2016)
Average property tax: $1,449
Average value of primary real estate: $148,000
Fun fact: Thomas Haliburton’s early 19th century description of boys playing a game with sticks and skates on the ice of nearby Long Pond (the first known description of ice hockey, of course), calls the sport “hurley on ice.”
How quintessentially Canadian is Windsor, Nova Scotia? It prides itself as the “birthplace of ice hockey” and also boasts Canada’s oldest hockey rink. Those facts should make it a mecca for hockey fans, but other factors cited by MoneySense make it a great place to live; these include low taxes, housing affordability and low crime. Like so much of Nova Scotia and the Maritimes, it’s wonderful in the summertime, a vacation destination for families from across the country. The storied tides of Fundy are just one of many reasons to visit. During winter, it’s sheltered from Atlantic storms, thanks to its being an inland lee.
Many houses in the area sell for less than $100,000, making Windsor and West Hants a worthy retirement destination. You can also find deals on beautiful local homes, priced reasonably compared to markets elsewhere. Mary Ruth and Ervin Cohrane are two people who have retired here and vouch for the area. “The people here help each other,” they tell us. "Everyone here is just really friendly."
Sources for data used above
*Since we are looking at excellent small towns nationwide, this list does not necessarily match up with our regional and provincial lists. As noted in some text, we pick towns that epitomize certain types, factors, or regions, helpful for people from out of the province or country. This list also contains a variety in both appeal and ethos.
More in our series of best places
Tools to help you choose
Sign up today to receive tips and advice on retirement living, retirement communities, home care and other services.