Great places to live: Ontario

We continue our series of great places to live in Canada by exploring four Ontario spots.

Sault Ste. Marie: At the heart of the Great Lakes
Gracing the banks of the St. Mary’s River, Sault Ste. Marie is at the hub of two of the five Great Lakes: Huron and Superior. The “Soo” has undergone a transformation recently, growing from an industrial town to a white-collar city.

Its 74,500 inhabitants enjoy four seasons of activities from skiing and snowshoeing in winter to three seasons of hiking the Cross-Canada Trail, canoeing, camping, fishing, mountain biking and playing golf.


• Average Jan temp (mean): –9 C
• Average July temp (mean): 18 C
• Annual rainfall: 633 mm
• Annual snowfall: 317 cm

House facts

• Bungalows: $120,000
• Standard two-storey: $97,100
• Condominiums: $130,000
• Monthly rent for two-bedroom apartment: $700
(Average prices provided by Debbie Dunn, Royal LePage Butkovich & Associates/p>

The city has a variety of ways of getting around to meet every need. Sault Ste. Marie Transit has a fleet of 26 regular vehicles, seven para-transit buses and one community bus. A monthly pass for seniors is $46; a multi-ride pass costs $35 for 20 rides.

Sault Ste. Marie also boasts three taxi companies servicing the area.

Great things to do
Bon Soo winter carnival is held in a 20,000 square-foot pavilion in Roberta Bondar Park, named for the Soo’s favourite astronaut. The pavilion is used year-round for concerts, symphony performances and other events. There’s a nearby marina and a 1.5-kilometre boardwalk with fishing platforms and flagged with historical plaques.

Take the grandchildren on a two-hour tour of the Sault Canal. They may also want to visit the Tarentorus Fish Culture Station, where the province raises trout that will be released in the Great Lakes or other inland waters. At the annual Lake George Marshfest, they’ll learn why wetlands need protecting. At the insect workshop, they’ll find out what bugs do underwater.

The unique Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre preserves the story of the planes and pilots serving an all but inaccessible land and illustrates the forest firefighting history of the area.

Shadows of the Mind Film Festival focuses on social issues, especially those concerning mental health. The Algoma Film Society screens films local theatres find non-profitable. The Musical Comedy Guild stages two full-fledged musicals a year; the Sault Theatre Workshop mounts three theatrical productions and has developed a young company of actors to play to young audiences.

Creativity can get a workout through classes listed by the Arts Council of Sault Ste. Marie and District. People 60 and older get a 20 per cent discount on most continuing education classes offered by Sault College.

Cheer on the paddlers at the annual Sault North Rotary Dragon Boat Festival in June and attend RotaryFest in July.

The city is currently in the process of replacing the 56-year-old Sault Memorial Gardens, its rink and large-scale entertainment venue. The new building will preserve its beacon, which flashes nightly as a reminder of citizens who did not return from the Second World War. It will include sports and entertainment facilities and will remain home ice for the Soo Greyhounds hockey club.

In winter, there is access to 2,000 kilometres of snowmobile trails, cross-country skiing and ski resorts. Summer activities involve water sports, with lots of room to canoe or kayak. Birdwatchers will enjoy spotting bald eagles, ospreys and sandhill cranes.

Queensgate Greens, a nine-hole golf course, is a favourite of juniors and ladies. Although Sault Ste. Marie Golf Course is a private facility, Tanglewood Marsh and Crimson Ridge Golf Club are 18-hole courses open to the public.

If you get sick
Sault Area Hospital is an amalgamation of two acute care hospitals with a total of 360 beds. Plans are also underway for the construction of a new hospital.

Noteworthy local services include the hospital’s renal dialysis clinic, asthma education program, comprehensive cancer treatment program and a newly opened angiography suite.

More than 75 family physicians and 85 specialists serve the area. Sault Ste. Marie has four nursing homes.

From the horse’s mouth
“The Sault is a beautiful, safe, four-season city. The best part is most things are only a 10- to 15-minute drive from your home. What could be better in the spring or summer than strolling along our two-kilometre boardwalk beside the St. Mary’s River and the locks? The brilliant colours of the fall leaves are second to none, and all the winter sports are at your doorstep. Throw in live theatre, three museums, shopping malls, a university and more, and you couldn’t find a better place to live.” – Marilyn Patterson

Next page: Cobourg

Cobourg: Perfectly situated halfway between Toronto and Kingston
Rich in architectural history dating back to the 1800s, Cobourg (population 17,000) has been recognized for its gardens in the 1996 Communities in Bloom competition.


• Average Jan temp (mean): –6 C
• Average July temp (mean): 20 C
• Annual rainfall: 766 mm
• Annual snowfall: 106 cm

House facts

• Bungalow: $182,000 (more than 20 years old); $275,000 (new)
• Standard two-storey: $231,000 (less  than10 years old); $264,000 (20 years  old with bigger lots)
• Condominium $211,000 (less than 10 years old); $158,000 (10 years or older); $250,000 to $600,000 (on the waterfront)
• Monthly rent on two-bedroom apartment: $900 to $1,500 (not many)
(Average prices provided by Joanne Christy, Royal LePage ProAlliance Realty)

Cobourg Transit is a fully accessible community transit system that combines the dependability of a fixed-route service with the flexibility of door-to-door service for eligible riders six days a week. Wheels Service is available to anyone who is unable to use conventional transit facilities. There are also three taxi companies.

Great things to do
The 1860-vintage Victoria Hall easily dominates the urban landscape in Cobourg. It’s the site for the Vintage Film Festival celebrating pre-1940 films, one of them a Marie Dressler vehicle. Her Cobourg home has a modest museum dedicated to the star of Broadway and early Hollywood films. Victoria Hall also houses the Art Gallery of Northumberland and its gift shop as well as the town’s concert hall. Canada’s first theatre built for talking pictures has been lovingly restored. The Capital Theatre still shows films, but also has concert and theatrical performances.

In summer, the Cobourg Waterfront Festival takes place in Victoria Park. There’s entertainment at the park’s bandshell, but the focus of the event is the work of artists and craftspeople from across Canada. In June, the Downtown Buskers and Street Festival brings levity to the town, while July brings the Cobourg Highland Games.

The Cobourg campus of Sir Sandford Fleming College offers part-time classes, including various computer-related courses and how to use the Internet.

Working out is no problem at the YMCA, with its pool and personal conditioning centre. The Y encourages fitness for children, too. But fitness is really fun when it involves swimming at the beach, where beach volleyball can be played as well. Offshore, there’s sailing, windsurfing, canoeing and kayaking. Cobourg Yacht Club, working with Sir Sandford Fleming College, has created a school for wannabe sailors.

Cobourg Memorial and Jack Heenan arenas provide a place for lacrosse, skating and hockey. Ball diamonds, tennis and basketball courts, soccer fields and walking trails are available in various parks. Cobourg Creek Golf Course and Larchmere Golf Club are both nine-hole, public courses.

If you get sick
Opened in 2003, Cobourg’s Northumberland Hills Hospital is a modern community and regional hospital with a state-of-the-art trauma centre, new diagnostic imaging department (including CT scanner), women’s health centre, cancer centre, stroke recovery unit and palliative care clinic.

Approximately 29 family physicians and 10 visiting specialists serve local residents. There are three nursing homes.

From the horse’s mouth
“Cobourg is a thriving community. We’re proud of our new state-of-the-art hospital and facilities for those over 50. If you’re a sailor, hiker or golf enthusiast, Cobourg is the perfect playground. Welcome to a spectacular waterfront, quiet tree-lined walkways and a vibrant arts community. Come for a visit – stay for a lifetime” – Peter Delanty, Mayor

Next page: Perth

Perth: A small town with a big heart, and proud of its heritage
Self-proclaimed prettiest town in Ontario, Perth with its population of 6,000 is located at the edge of the Canadian Shield and the Ottawa Valley. It boasts 100 lakes within 50 miles. Now home of Balderson Cheese, Perth produced the world’s largest cheese in 1892 and shipped it by train to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.


• Average Jan temp (mean): –10 C
• Average July temp (mean): 21 C
• Annual rainfall: 702 mm
• Annual snowfall: 221 cm

House facts

• Bungalow: $160,000 to $270,000
• Two-storey: $170,000 to $400,000
• Condominium: $150,000 to $275,000
• Monthly rent for two-bedroom apartment: $600 to $800
(Average prices provided by Randy Cavanagh, Royal LePage Gale Real Estate)

Five taxi companies service the town.

Great things to do
Starting the New Year in Perth can be frigid for the determined folk who take part in the town’s annual Polar Bear Plunge. Perhaps they owe their toughness to the “stinking rose,” celebrated at the August Perth Garlic Festival. Earlier, a sweeter treat provides the excuse for fun at the Festival of the Maples. A suggested $20 donation buys a stoneware bowl filled with delicious soup. The Empty Bowls project raises money for the local food bank and youth centre.

Many community activities centre on the Tay River and Tay Basin that form Perth’s downtown waterfront. The Stewart Park Festival combines three days of music and a Renewables Fair that shows off the latest in conservation technology. Recycled pieces of Ottawa’s Rideau St. bus mall were used in constructing the Crystal Palace that shelters many community events.

Grandchildren can take part in the yearly Perth Kidfest at the Tay Basin or learn to love theatre at the Perth Academy of Musical Theatre shows. Migrating geese stop at the Perth Wildlife Reserve and Tay Marsh, only minutes from town. The kids will love watching them from the observation tower.

The heritage buildings that give Perth its attractive character are cherished and many can be visited during Doors Open Perth in June.

Area studio tours, Art in the Garden and Festival of Quilts show off the contributions of the community’s creative people. Local artists own Riverguild Fine Crafts, a gallery simply bursting with beautiful work.
Active people can hike, bike, swim, boat, kayak, cross-country ski, fish, play tennis or beach volleyball, water ski, sail or golf. For the non-polar bears, the town has an indoor swimming pool.

Golfers have been tromping over the Perth Links O’ Tay Golf Course since 1890 and now have 18 holes to play. Mapleview Golf and Country Club, also with 18 holes, is a semi-private club.

If you get sick
Perth and Smith Falls District hospital covers many acute care medical services. The hospital also offers specialty consulting clinics, including dermatology, oncology, geriatric assessment, psychiatry, rheumatology, otolaryngology, internal medicine, neurology, dietetics, and diabetes counseling.

Perth has 15 family doctors and 15 specialists covering medical needs and two 150-bed nursing homes.

From the horse’s mouth
“Perth has great restaurants, an Olympic-sized swimming pool and an 18-hole golf course that I can walk to from my home.” – Randy Cavanagh

Next page: Thornbury

Thornbury: Close to apple orchards and ski hills
Thornbury is the newest boom town on Georgian Bay. Apple orchards and a long shoreline along Georgian Bay make it a walker’s paradise. The town of Thornbury had a population of 1,770 when it was amalgamated into the Town of the Blue Mountains, which boasts a population of 6,000.


• Average Jan temp (mean): –7 C
• Average July temp (mean): 20 C
• Annual rainfall: 707 mm
• Annual snowfall: 259 cm

House facts

• Bungalow: $240,000
• Two-storey: $250,000 to $500,000
• Condominiums: $180,000
• Monthly rent for two-bedroom apartment: $800 to $1,000
(Average prices provided by Emily J. Black, Royal LePage Locations North Realty)

Buses take you to Owen Sound, Barrie and Toronto. Taxis are available from Collingwood and Meaford.

Great things to do
The Georgian Sound Big Band Festival swings each spring. (It also features jazz and gospel music.) An antiques show takes place in February and August and the Thanksgiving Applefest in October.

Lifelong learning is available through the Bluewater District School Board (travel to a nearby town may be required).

Residents and tourists enjoy fishing, boating, sailing, kayaking and biking.
The Beaver Valley Arena echoes with the harsh hiss of skate blades, especially when the local Senior A team, the Georgian Bay River Rats, is playing.

Amalgamation united the township of Thornbury and Collingwood to form the Town of the Blue Mountains. There is skiing at Blue Mountain or Talisman; Georgian Peaks is a private ski club with swimming and tennis during the summer. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing along the Bruce or Georgian trails guarantee a good workout.

Thomas McBroom designed the Monterra Golf Course, an 18-hole public course at Blue Mountain Resort near Collingwood. Meaford Golf and Country Club has public twin nine-hole courses. Two new courses, Ravens at Lora Bay and the Georgian Bay Golf Club, are currently under development in the region.

If you get sick
Residents have access to two nearby hospitals: Collingwood General and Marine Hospital, a 76-bed facility; and Meaford General Hospital, a newly renovated community hospital with an after-hours walk-in clinic. Thornbury has four family doctors and one nursing home.

From the horse’s mouth
“Whatever you like to do is available here. Many retirees start by joining Beaver Valley Probus, which offers more than 25 activities. Whether it’s physical activity you seek, fine dining or shopping, you’ll find lots of new friends to enjoy in this warm community. I just love living here!” – Emily Black