6 great places to live

1. COBOURG A real gem
Cobourg is a community that projects the feel of a small yet sophisticated town, making it an appealing retirement destination. Located just far enough away from Toronto to escape the sprawl, congestion and pollution, this city of 17,000 is characterized by early 19th-century architecture, massive sandy beaches and wonderful gardens. These features fit nicely with city-style shopping and dining in downtown Cobourg, confirming its billing as the Gem of Lake Ontario.

Golfers can take advantage of the area’s fine courses while sailing enthusiasts will enjoy excellent marina facilities and Yacht Club. Offshore, there’s ample opportunity to windsurf, canoe or kayak. Inland, the quiet tree-lined walkways and spectacular waterfront are perfect getaways for walkers, hikers and cyclists.

Victoria Hall, the city’s most notable structure, is the centre for Cobourg Arts. It’s the site of the Vintage Film Festival, which celebrates pre-1940s films including the work of Cobourg silent film actress Marie Dressler. Victoria Hall is also home to the Art Gallery of Northumberland as well as various musical and theatrical productions. Summer brings the Cobourg Waterfront Festival, which draws artists and craftspeople from across the country.

2. COLLINGWOOD Four seasons of fun
This gem of a city, a two-hour drive north of Toronto, draws those who seek small-town charm along with some of the best recreation opportunities in all of Ontario. And people are starting to discover the area’s attractions – the town has almost doubled in size over the last 20 years, reaching a comfortable 21,000. As the town has grown, so too has its cultural, shopping and dining experiences, with sophisticated restaurants, distinctive shopping, jazz in the park as well as other cultural offerings.

Beautifully situated on the southern shores of Georgian Bay, Collingwood is close to the stunning Blue Mountains on the Niagara Escarpment, as well as Wasaga Beach, one of longest freshwater beaches in Canada.

Once you get there, you’ll understand why the area is referred to as a four-season playground. Spring is fishing season, as anglers try to land a speckled or rainbow trout in the Beaver River. In summer, the area offers unlimited access to warm-weather pastimes – sailing, fishing, camping, swimming, scuba diving, hiking, biking and eight golf courses. Fall brings crisp air and beautiful colours as the leaves change. These are best viewed along the magnificent walking, biking and hiking trails. In winter, Blue Mountain offers numerous slopes for downhill skiers. Plus, there are numerous cross-county ski and snowmobile trails.

3. ELLIOT LAKE Escape up north
This once thriving mining town fell on hard times in the 1980s, when the resources dried up and the big companies moved out. Facing disaster, Elliot Lake went to great lengths to reposition itself as a retirement community, offering very affordable housing and great outdoor opportunities for retirees who enjoy a rugged environment. The far-sighted move completely rejuvenated this scenic north Ontario community of 14,000 to such an extent that the formerly known Uranium Capital of the World is now marketed as the Jewel in the Wilderness.

The main draw to Elliot Lake is affordable living. The low property prices combined with abundant health care and community services has attracted retirees from across North America.

Built right on the Canadian Shield and surrounded by boreal forest, Elliot Lake is home to abundant animal species, including bears, moose, deer and timber wolves. The city is within easy access to 4,000 beautiful lakes – an angler’s dream. The sandy beaches and crystal-clear water are perfect for summer enthusiasts. Golfers can hit the little white ball around the area’s golf courses. And the scenic landscape can be properly enjoyed along Elliot Lake’s many hiking trails.

Winters are hard, with an average temperature of -12 C and more than 200 cm of snowfall. But that fact also makes it a perfect winter playground, with a downhill ski run and numerous cross-country and snowmobile trails. There are many seniors groups and organizations as well 30 local art groups.

4. LONDON Nature meets city
As the largest municipality in southwestern Ontario, London offers many of the features you’d expect from a major city without the crime, congestion and high cost of living. Located on the Thames River, city residents benefit from top-notch health-care facilities, the renowned University of Western Ontario and an abundance of educational and cultural opportunities.

Best known for being a hub to insurance and IT companies, London is also a very green city. The city is noted for its inviting array of parks and paths – especially The Thames Valley Parkway – the perfect settings for walkers, joggers, cyclists and rollerbladers. The way nature weaves its way into the urban setting makes it easy to see why it’s dubbed the Forest City.

London’s hot summers attract many festivals, most notably Ribfest, the second largest rib festival in North America, and Sunfest, a music and cultural festival. Winters can be cold and snowy, with annual snowfall averaging more than 200 cm. However, when the snow and cold become overwhelming, there are lots of opportunities to enjoy indoor activities.

London has five seniors centres, offering a wide variety of activities and events that are easily reachable by the city’s excellent transportation system. Orchestra London serves those with a taste for classical music. The Grand Theatre offers up professional drama, and the London Regional Art and Historic Museums is one of several museums and art galleries located throughout the city and on the University campus.

5. NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE Eat, drink and play
World-class theatre, prestigious wineries, fine dining, top golf courses, beautiful countryside and lakeside living all converge in the city of Niagara-on-the-Lake, making it one of Ontario’s prettiest and most desirable retirement destinations.

Niagara-on-the-Lake is located along the south shore of Lake Ontario, about a two-hour drive from Toronto and 20 minutes from the American border. Its fertile soil and temperate climate make it a grape-growing region that produces 84 per cent of Canadian wines.

As home to the Shaw festival and its three theatres, the city has also become a major cultural destination, attracting visitors from the United States and around the world to its top-notch theatrical productions. Nearby Fort George and the well-preserved historical downtown hearken back to the War of 1812 era, when British redcoats fought against American invaders. The town was actually burnt to the ground but rebuilt by British Loyalists.

Locals and visitors love to stroll the old city streets taking in the beautiful homes and charming shops. It’s easy to understand why Niagara-on-the-Lake has been dubbed the loveliest town in Ontario. The downtown with its well-regarded restaurants, art galleries, antique shops and unique stores has something for everyone, no matter how eclectic his or her tastes.

In a town where more than half the 13,000 residents is over 45, there are many organizations and events aimed at the mature population. Sporting enthusiasts will appreciate the city’s biking and walking trails, the yacht club or the numerous golf courses scattered throughout the area.

6. PICTON The artsy community
Picton has undergone a great change over the past decade, much of it spurred on by the arrival of big-city refuges, all seeking to set up shop or home in this friendly city.

Many new Picton residents style themselves as artists and artisans, giving the community an eclectic flair. Each year, the city puts on a host of cultural events, led by the Prince Edward County Authors Festival, Art in the County, the Jazz Festival and the Regent Theatre Summer Festival with six different live productions.

The burgeoning local wine industry has brought with it numerous fine dining establishments, many of which feature local wine, cider or beer.

The city is beautifully situated, with fine architecture and a strong Loyalist tradition. Built on the shores of Picton Bay, the harbour and marina form a picturesque setting. The city is ideal for walking, and the surrounding area is attractive to hikers and cyclists. A 20-minute drive from town is Sandbanks Provincial Park, with its three expansive, sandy beaches. Winters are perfect for cross-country skiers or snowmobile enthusiasts.