Best places to live in Canada

As the citizens of Canada continue to age, they are no longer content to while away their so-called golden years pottering around the garden or ambling down to the corner restaurant for coffee with the “boys.” In a country of nearly 31.5 million, about 45 per cent of them — more than 14 million people — are now over the age of 50. Most of them — about nine million — are boomers, born into a time of social change, advanced education, increased knowledge about the importance of health and fitness, determined to grab life by the throat and live it to its fullest.

For these people and their compatriots who are still young at heart, we’ve put together a list of our 20 favourite retirement spots from Vancouver Island to Newfoundland. This week: the first 10.

Kelowna: Living the Good Life
The Okanagan Valley is home to one of the highest proportions of retired people in Canada. The weather is mild, the scenery is sensational, golf courses — and bird species — abound (35 golf courses, 120 species of birds), 2,700 fruit growers offer their wares, and there are 13 wineries! Better yet, housing prices are reasonable.

Kelowna is well knowfor its hot summers and temperate winters. The average daytime high during July and August is 27 C. The average daytime high during December and January is –0.3 C. The city receives more than 2,000 hours of sunshine annually and just over 280 millimetres of rain.

It’s the largest city in the Okanagan (population 96,000) and boasts all the amenities of a major city — good dining, unique shops and a vibrant cultural life. Yet orchards and vineyards grow within a 10-minute drive of the downtown core.

What to Do
Situated on the eastern shore of Okanagan Lake midway between Penticton in the south and Vernon in the north, Kelowna residents and tourists alike find the 110-kilometre-long lake offers wonderful opportunities for boating, swimming and fishing. The nearby mountains attract hikers, outdoor lovers and skiers. There are three major ski hills within a one-hour drive — Big White, Silver Star and Apex.

In addition, Skyreach Place regularly features major entertainers and events. The new Rotary Centre for the Arts is a significant feature of the downtown cultural district.

Health-care Services:
Kelowna General Hospital is the largest and most comprehensive in the southern interior of B.C. with a full treatment cancer clinic. There are about 80 doctors in Kelowna.

Setting up House
In 2002, the average cost of a home in Kelowna was $215,000; in Vernon (North Okanagan), $170,000; and in Penticton (South Okanagan), $146,500.

Next page: Vancouver, Victoria

Vancouver: A Natural Beauty
From the downtown core with its stately architecture and the pretty houses in North Van to Kitsilano where even the oldest hippies feel young again to Granville Island eateries and Stanley Park’s ruggedness, Vancouver is a feast for the senses. Sure, it rains a lot (1,219 mm a year on average). But visitors are often overwhelmed, when the fog clears, to see the Coast Mountains looming outside their windows. Although the weather is not quite as mild as Victoria (temperatures average 3 C in January and 18 C in July), such moderation seems to sit well with the locals. Vancouverites are, for the most part, sophisticated and friendly. Even with a population of nearly two million, the pace is relaxed and creative. In Gastown especially, homegrown fashion and jewelry designers flourish.

What to Do
Vancouver has a lot to offer, even for people who don’t want to ski at nearby Whistler or hike the mountains or jog through the city’s nearly 200 parks. Besides its geographical location in a paradise of perennial blooms and rugged coastline, Vancouver is a cosmopolitan city of upscale stores and enough attractions to busy the most inquisitive. There is the Vancouver Aquarium, Vancouver Opera, Ballet British Columbia and Vancouver Film School. The Vancouver Canucks play at GM Place and everybody goes to watch. The Vancouver Art Gallery is a permanent home to the works of Emily Carr, as well as a series of travelling installations.

Health-care Services:
Vancouver has seven hospitals including the B.C. Women’s Hospital and Health Centre, Vancouver General, St. Paul’s, St. Vincent and University Hospital. There are approximately 900 doctors in Vancouver. There are seven community health centres, which provide a number of services including home support for the elderly, long-term care aid and mental health services.

Setting up House
Vancouver’s major drawback is a biggie, according to RE/Max and the Board of Trade: the average house price in Vancouver in 2002 was about $300,000.

Victoria: Canada’s own (sub-) Mediterranean
Landing in Victoria one winter, a Toronto visitor remarked on its verdant beauty to a taxi driver. “For-ged-aboud-it,” he snarled. “We already have enough easterners here.” Indeed, in subsequent travels, the visitor discovered that residents of this regal city (population 74,125 with a growth rate of eight per cent since 1996) specifically do not welcome Torontonians. Still, StatsCan says that only one-quarter of the retired people in B.C. were born there. Because of its balmy weather — Victoria is in a sub-Mediterranean zone (average temperature in January is 5 C and in July 15 C) with the most moderate temperatures in the country — and its resort-city feel — Victoria is home to nearly 30,000 people over the age of 45.

What to Do
Hikers and golfers, avid fishers and birders can walk and putt and troll and gawk all year long in sweaters and windbreakers. Vancouver Island is on the Pacific Flyway with about 150 bird species stopping on the island as part of their migratory route.

Health-care Services
There are more than 10 hospitals in Victoria and more on the southern end of the island — and 300 doctors. The Vancouver Island Centre is one of four cancer centres that make up the British Columbia Cancer Agency. Facilities available include community care, elder extended and intermediate care, and mental health and home support.

Setting up House
According to the Victoria Real Estate Board, housing prices increased in 2002, fuelled in part by the reduced number of properties available for sale. The overall average price for single family homes in Greater Victoria was $280,218, up eight per cent from 2001. Prices for condos jumped more than nine per cent to an overall average of $150,426 while prices for townhouses increased nearly seven per cent to $213,659.

Next page: Edmonton, Calgary

Calgary: Big-city facilities and down-home charm
In southern Alberta on the Bow River, where a thousand miles of prairie give way to the Rocky Mountains, sits Calgary. Torontonians call it Cowtown — and parts of Calgary and the foothills on its doorstep are still home to real calf-ropin’, steer-wraslin’ ranch hands. But as its skyscrapers will attest, Calgary, with its population of one million, is also home to the second highest number of corporate headquarters in Canada (behind Hogtown).

With the lowest civic tax rates in the country, the lowest gasoline prices and no provincial sales tax, it is very attractive to business leaders and ordinary soon-to-be-retired folk alike. Ordinary folk fit in well. But it is cold in Calgary, come winter. Temperatures range from –16 to –4 C in January unless a chinook — a warm wind blowing off the Rockies — jumps them up 20 to 30 C. The average annual snowfall is 135 centimetres.

What to Do
Calgary inherited its top-notch athletic facilities by hosting the 1988 Winter Olympics. Every summer, the famous Calgary Stampede, the world’s largest outdoor rodeo, features flapjacks and square dancing while a virtual sea of cowboys bust broncs — and more than a few bones — for 10 straight days. The NHL’s Calgary Flames and the CFL’s Stampeders keep armchair athletes happy while a choice of art galleries, museums, live theatre and ballet satiate the culture crowd.

Health-care Service:
Some 2,000 doctors cover every specialty you could think of in Calgary’s 11 hospitals.

Setting up House
The average cost of a bungalow in Calgary is $212,688. For a two-storey, it’s $227,389, and a condo goes for $134,114.

Edmonton: Shop ’til you drop
With all due respect to its history and apologies to its 937,845 citizens, one place pops up in every conversation about Edmonton: the West Edmonton Mall. It advertises itself as the world’s largest shopping and entertainment complex. And with 800 stores and services, 110 eateries, 19 movie theatres, an amusement park, a casino and that five-acre wave pool, we believe it. You can even stay all week if you want to book into one of the mall’s two hotels.

On top of all this, Edmonton is beautifully located in the North Saskatchewan River Valley, a stretch of urban parkland encompassing more than 7,200 hectares and almost 100 kilometres of walking and jogging paths.

What to Do
Right outside the city, Cooking Lake-Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area gives hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders some 150 kilometres of trails — plenty of room to avoid each other in the great outdoors.

The city also hosts a number of big parties: a jazz festival, heritage festival and Klondike Days every summer. It’s home to the famous Citadel Theatre and the equally famous Edmonton Eskimos. But let’s get back to the mall. It actually spans the equivalent of 48 city blocks and has seven theme parks. We’re there!

Health-care Services:
Edmonton has approximately 550 doctors, including allergists, cardiologists, naturopaths, physicians and surgeons, neurologists, ophthalmologists and gastroenterologists. There are also a number of clinics. There are 15 hospitals and health-care centres including the University of Alberta Hospital. The hospital is a leading health sciences centre and specializes in a range of diagnostic and treatment services. It is also a major trauma centre and has been a pioneer in many of its services including, organ transplantation, burn treatment, renal dialysis, and cardiac and neurosciences.

Setting up House
Average house prices in Edmonton at the end of 2002 were $164,571 for a detached bungalow, $185,286 for a two-storey and $115,500 for a condo.

Next page: Moosejaw, Regina

Moose Jaw: place of plenty
This progressive city of 35,000 brags about its history, its culture and “a name remembered around the world.” Originally attributed to the Cree who called it Moosegaw, meaning warm breezes, the old fur-trading stop is located in a sheltered valley at the confluence of the Moose Jaw River and Thunder Creek, only 175 kilometres from the U.S. border. As well as its outlandish name, Moose Jaw trumpets its economy (in 2002, its projected retail sales were some $430 million, 28 per cent above the national average) and a vast number of services.

What to do
A quick scan of its offerings produces a horticultural society, writers’ group, wildlife association, antique car club, mixed broomball league, senior ladies’ basketball and the Nancy Greene Learn to Ski and Snowboard Club.

Even more interesting, Moose Jaw has a series of underground tunnels popular with rum-runners in the days of Prohibition. It is currently expanding them as a tourist attraction. Hoping to draw some 150,000 visitors, the city is also raising money for a cultural centre and beefing up its downtown area to show off a $13 million casino.

Health-care services
Interestingly, more than one-third of Moose Jaw’s residents are over the age of 45, and the city looks after them well. The Moose Jaw Union Hospital has specialists in gynecology, orthopedics, internal medicine, cardiology and a hyperbaric chamber to treat poisonings and crush injuries. In all, the city has 40 doctors, some 15 dentists, seven eye-care specialists and a seniors’ association.

Setting up house
The city claims to have one of the lowest housing costs per capita in Canada, although the average house price has continued to rise for the past three years. In 2002, the average house price for a single family home was $68,000.

Regina: The rock stops here
Curling may not be everybody’s idea of heaven. But if it’s yours, Regina is the place to be. The late Olympic curling star Sandra Schmirler, who was born in nearby Biggar, claimed curling was bred into Prairie people. And even a quick count of the curling clubs in the province — some 200 — proves her right.

Just 65 kilometres from the more geographically blessed Moose Jaw, Regina was originally known as Pile o’ Bones, the site of a huge stack of bison bones carefully kept by the Cree and Métis, who believed that bison would not stray far from the bones of their predecessors. Once flat and featureless, Regina benefited from its location on the CPR line in the 1880s and a make-work project in the dirty thirties — the digging with shovels and pickaxes of Wascana Lake and subsequent planting of some 350,000 trees to beautify the plain. And, contrary to popular belief, Saskatchewan is not just prairie. Half of the province is covered by forest.

What to do
The city with its university, science centre and theatre centre has more to offer than curling and a commitment to good health. Regina (population 200,000) has four curling clubs that welcome curlers of various talents.

Health-care services
The other main feature of Regina is its health care. Its hospital has a CT scanner, ICU, orthopedic clinic and complete surgical services. Some 450 doctors work for in the region.

Setting up house
Average house prices in Regina in September 2002 were $114,000 for a bungalow; $155,000 (in the north) and $173,000 (in the south) for an executive two-storey; $107,000 (in the north) and $125,000 (in the south) for a standard two-storey; and $89,000 for a condo.

Next page: Brandon, Winnipeg, and Collingwood

Brandon: A nature-lover’s dream
The second largest city in Manitoba, Brandon is located in the Assiniboine River valley, almost equidistant to three national and provincial parks: Riding Mountain to the north, Turtle Mountain to the south and Spruce Woods to the east. It’s a naturalist’s idea of heaven, not to mention an ideal pied-à-terre for golfers, sailors, horseback riders, cross-country skiers, fisher folk and bird-watchers. Manitoba abounds with wildlife and bird species, and Brandon has a wildlife management area on its outskirts. But Riding Mountain, an hour’s drive away, promises the moon.

What to do
The 300,000-hectare Riding Mountain Park is part of an escarpment, rising 300 metres from the prairie with a northern forest, an eastern deciduous forest, meadows and tracts of marsh and river-bottom wetland within its boundaries. These various ecosystems shelter wolves, lynxes, moose, elk, black bears and a herd of bison. Visitors can also ride horseback, fish for northern pike, trout and walleye, cross-country ski or sail on 25 hectares of Clear Lake (which also has an 18-hole golf course).

Health-care services
For a population of 40,000, Brandon has outstanding medical services. They include 66 family doctors, 15 dentists, 10 optometrists and five medical clinics.

Setting up house
Brandon’s average house price for 2002 was $93,693, and the average rent was $500 a month.

Winnipeg: Prairie culture capital
At the junction of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers near the Minnesota border, Winnipeg began its modern life as a fur-trading centre named by the Cree in the 1700s. Its nucleus as a city was one general store at the intersection of Portage and Main. From that raunchy frontier town, the provincial capital has matured into a metropolis with more than 618,000 people and a world-class triptych of cultural organizations: the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet — with famed principal Evelyn Hart — and the first civic art gallery in Canada, the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG).

Yep, it can get cold in Winnipeg (average winter temperature is –15 C; average number of frost-free days a year, 115), but there is an affordable public transit system and 125 curling rinks to make the weather more bearable.

What to do
The WAG gives art classes, offers readings by writers and poets and lectures by filmmakers and international critics. It also houses the largest collection of contemporary Inuit art in the world. At the University of Winnipeg, the continuing education department offers a 55 Plus Program with courses in classic film, languages and the legal system for $70 each.

In summer, the Winnipeg Folk Festival attracts thousands to Birds Hill Provincial Park campground with some 80 bands playing over four days. The list of things to do seems endless. Manitoba also claims to have more golf courses per capita that any other province in Canada. Winnipeg alone has eight privates courses and 15 more open to the public.

Health-care services:
Winnipeg has 10 hospitals, dozens of clinics, 25 personal-care homes and approximately 400 doctors. CancerCare Manitoba provides a number of excellent services. Also, Deer Lodge Centre offers adults with complex needs rehabilitation and specialized care for long-term health concerns.

Setting up house
Average housing costs in Winnipeg are $198,000 for a two-story detached, $160,000 for a bungalow. Rent on a two-bedroom apartment will set you back $650 a month.

Collingwood: A winter wonderland and more
It has everything a snow angel could ask for: skiing (think the private Georgian Peaks and the public Blue Mountain), curling (six clubs) and snowmobiling (four clubs). Every famous downhill racer runs a restaurant (well, Todd Brooker does), and 22 realtors vie to sell you a dream condo come true — maybe even right on the slopes.

What to Do
Even cold-weather haters have plenty of things to occupy themselves once spring rolls around. Collingwood (and area) also happens to offer fishing for splake, speckled trout and rainbow trout in the Beaver River. It has lawn bowling, two horse-riding stables and top-level horse shows. And during the summer months, there’s jazz in the park. There are eight golf courses, bingo and beaches — and dining in a restored Victorian manor or two.

On nearby Georgian Bay, there is the Chi-Cheemaun ferry, twin harbours, Flowerpot Island and two national parks. And there are plenty of shipwrecks for divers to explore in Tobermory. The area is famous for its hiking trails, its caves and its orchids.

Health-care Services
Collingwood General and Marine Hospital has 74 beds and an emergency room. There are 24 doctors in Collingwood.

Setting up house
There is one problem in this well-developed and planned paradise: housing prices. Record levels in sales and dollar volumes were registered in this town of 21,500 as 2002 came to a close. The number of multiple listings sold in the Georgian Triangle was up 26 per cent over 2001 with the average residential sale price ending at $179,892 versus $170,182 at the end of the previous year. In other words, if you are thinking about Collingwood, better make your move soon.

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Next week: The next ten best places to retire