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The Pros and Cons of Moving to Calgary
Calgary is one of Canada’s most famous cities, thanks to the Calgary Stampede and the city’s importance to the energy industry. It was also host to the 1988 Winter Olympics, which didn’t hurt either. A populous city that’s home to more than 1.6 million people, Calgary has a lot to offer as a place to live.
Before you take the leap with hiring a long distance moving company, here’s our guide to some of the awesome – and not-so-awesome – things that make Calgary unique.
The Pros of Moving to Calgary
There are plenty of perks about moving to Calgary compared to other cities in Canada. After all, it’s been named the world’s fifth most livable city by the Economist for seven years in a row, earning top marks for stability, healthcare and education.
If you want to make Calgary home, here are some of the many reasons why the booming city of “Cowtown” is such a great place to live.
1. Calgary Is the World’s Cleanest City
Starting in 2007, Forbes magazine ranked Calgary as the world’s cleanest city. And as of 2023, the World Atlas still claims that it’s the world’s cleanest city. Calgary has also topped the 2014 Mercer Global Financial list for the same honour.
The city boasts clean sewage systems, good water drinkability and availability, and there’s not much air pollution.
What keeps Calgary so spick and span? For one, there are heavy fines for littering. Even dropping a cigarette butt onto the sidewalk can net you a $500 to $1,000 fine.
There are also a bevvy of recycling programs in place. The city also cleans a significant amount of the city’s streets each spring — not just the major roads. Some 15,000 kilometers of streets get swept. It’s no wonder that Calgary is one of the cleanest cities year round!
2. Low Sales Tax
One of the nice things about living in Alberta is that there’s no provincial sales tax. If you move to Calgary, you’ll only have to pay the five percent federal Goods and Services Tax.
In comparison, if you live in Ontario, Quebec, or the Atlantic provinces, you’re paying about a combined 15 percent provincial and federal sales tax. This means that you spend less on items such as groceries, clothes and entertainment.
There was, however, some talk in 2016 about adding a provincial sales tax, but that appears to have died down. No new sales taxes have been put in place as of yet.
If you’re looking to save money shopping, therefore, then Calgary is currently a good bet.
3. Spend Less Time in Bad Weather
Calgary has an extensive covered skywalk system for pedestrians called the Plus 15 Skywalk – named for the fact that it’s mostly 15 feet above the ground. It is the world’s biggest collection of footbridges connected to buildings, totalling some 16 kilometers in length.
With the Plus 15, you can walk to various downtown buildings and stores without having to go outside. Because it is heated, you can walk around in it during the winter in shorts and a T-shirt.
The city is said to be currently looking at reviewing the Plus 15, though. It does create a problem in that it prohibits foot traffic at street level on downtown streets. This prevents things such as nightlife to really take root and flourish. That’s not to say that there aren’t any restaurants and clubs or things to do in Calgary, though. Some just feel that there might not be just as many as there could be.
In the end, if you don’t want to set foot outside in the winter or during a downpour, Calgary is the place for you.
4. Public Transit is Fairly Reliable, Environmentally Friendly, and Affordable
Calgary’s public transit system is said to be “reasonably good”. There’s a network of trains and buses designed to get people downtown in the mornings and back again in the evenings.
Keeping with the city’s focus on cleanliness, Calgary’s light railway — called the C-Train — is powered by electricity from wind farms. It is the first wind-powered public transit system in North America. Thanks to this initiative, carbon dioxide emissions were reduced by more than 56,000 tonnes in 2012.
Outside of the downtown core, there are park-and-rides for the buses and trains. The nice thing about them is they have free plug-ins for your engine’s block heaters, which helps make your car easy to start after it’s been sitting outside in the cold Calgary winter.
Also, public transit is pretty affordable. The average fare for an adult trip ticket is $3.60. Plus, in downtown Calgary, the C-Train is free to ride within a certain zone. If you rely on public transit, Calgary seems to be a good town to get around in.
5. Family Doctors Are Now Easier to Find Than Ever
It used to be, during the boom years, there weren’t enough family doctors for Calgary’s expanding population. That has changed. Calgary now has 141 physicians per 100,000 people.
The national average is 115. In August 2016, 373 of Calgary’s 1,400 family doctors were accepting new patients. That was up more than 60 percent from the previous year.
Here’s a moving to Calgary tip. If you have an Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan card, many health services are free. There may be, however, a waiting period after arriving in Alberta to become eligible for one. It doesn’t matter if you’re from another province or another country — you might expect the same wait time. You should check to see if your current province’s plan covers health services in Alberta before moving.
6. Lots of Stuff to Do For Outdoors Lovers
Being in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Calgary is a boon to anyone who loves the outdoors. No matter what activities you love doing, Calgary offers it.
For starters, the city is home to Canada Olympic Park, which is used by both professional athletes and the general public. In the winter, you can slide down a hill there on an innertube.
Thanks to the park, you can also ski and snowboard right in the city, and take part in public skating and bobsledding. Summertime brings activities such as mountain biking and ziplining.
Calgary is also home to 8,000 hectares (nearly 20,000 acres) of parkland. If you’re a runner or a cyclist, the city offers 800 kilometers of pathways for you. It’s the most extensive network of urban pathways and bikeways in North America. Even if you’re downtown, the trails along the Bow River and Elbow River are spectacular and well-traveled.
If you’re looking for natural beauty, there are a few other destinations close by. Banff National Park is about an hour away by car, and offers some of the best downhill skiing in the world. Jasper, closer to Edmonton and about a five hour drive from Calgary, also has excellent skiing. Both locations are home to national parks that are wonderful places to camp and hike.
7. Calgary is Fairly Close to Other Destinations
Calgary is within striking distance of other places to see. Edmonton is only a three hour drive away going north. There’s great shopping and a water park at the West Edmonton Mall, for starters. There are plenty of museums and galleries to take in in the city, too.
The US border is a three hour drive away from Calgary in the opposite direction. On the other side, you can visit Glacier National Park, which is a United Nations World Heritage site. It’s home to more than 1,000 different species of plants, and hundreds of different kinds of animals.
A little longer of a drive at more than 10 hours is Vancouver. It’ll take you a day, but, once there, you can visit the ocean or take part in the city’s culture.
While some people may feel Calgary is a bit of an island because, unlike Toronto, there aren’t any major cities right beside it, it’s not nearly as isolated as you might think. There are places you can check out if you don’t mind putting a bit of gas in the tank.
8. World-Class Festivals & Activities
Calgary is home to a vibrant arts scene, from premier art galleries and museums to world-renowned festivals and events. There’s no shortage of things to do when you’re living in Calgary.
Every season is festival season in Calgary! The arts scene hosts Calgary International Film Festival, High Performance Rodeo, Calgary Folk Music Festival, and more. Or if you’d prefer something more hands, Beakerhead is where art, science, and engineering come together.
If the weather isn’t to your liking, you could simply wait for those chinook winds to warm things up, or head indoors to Telus Spark science center, the Glenbow Museum, or the Esker Foundation.
And any list of Calgary events wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the Calgary Stampede, of course! The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth is famous for a reason: it’s a spectacle that the entire city gets behind. Happening for 10 days in July, it’s something you’ve got to see at least once.
9. Night Life
No matter what type of mood you’re in, Calgary has a scene for you. There’s certainly plenty of dancing, music, and bars to be found in every genre. The huge dance hall Cowboys is “the most fun you can have with your boots on”, while the Blues Can offers live music 7 days a week.
If you’re looking for a fancy cocktail, look no further than Proof, Betty Lou’s Library, or Major Tom, which has been named one of Canada’s Best 100 Restaurants after only its first year!
The Cons of Moving to Calgary
Alas, there are some less savoury things about moving to Calgary.
1. Unemployment Is Still High
While the unemployment rate for Alberta has dropped slightly, it remains high in Calgary. In December 2016, Calgary’s unemployment rate was 10.2 percent. This rate is the highest of any Canadian city. In comparison, when the economy was booming in 2013, Calgary’s unemployment rate was 4.7 percent in September of that year.
The high unemployment rate is linked to lower oil prices, which has led to layoffs in the oil industry. Manufacturing and construction has also been hurt. With more people out of work or having to cope with pay cuts or no raises, housing growth has slowed.
While the economy is expected to turn around, Calgary’s growth is directly tied to the oil industry. The boom-bust cycle of Calgary’s economy may give you pause about moving there. Things are great when times are good, but many jobs are not stable. When times are tough, good jobs can be extremely hard to come by.
The good news? If you do get a job in the oil patch, it still offers some of the highest salaries in the city. Oil and gas well operators make about $72,800, and those wages have gone up 17 percent since 2009.
2. Crime Rates Have Risen
Calgary’s crime rate is said to usually be fairly low compared to other Canadian cities. That said, there has been a significant increase in crime during the past few years. Crime in Calgary had dropped for 11 straight years before its Crime Severity Index leapt up 29 per cent in 2015. That increase was more than in any other city in the country.
According to Statistics Canada, the following incidents had risen in the city:
- Breaking and entering.
- Theft of $5,000 or under.
- Car theft.
Violent crime, such as homicides, assaults, and sexual assaults also rose in 2015.
What’s causing the recent crime wave? Police say it had to do with the sputtering local economy. The availability of very addictive drugs such as fentanyl and methamphetamine played a part, too.
The silver lining? The province’s economy is expected to grow in 2017. If it does, and Calgary sees some benefit from it, it’s likely that the crime rate may drop again.
3. Traffic Can Be Congested
Calgary has a reputation as being a bad city to drive in due to traffic jams. While Calgary’s traffic is not as bad as Montreal or Vancouver, Calgarians could expect 71 hours of traffic delays over a period of one year in 2014.
Things are improving, though. The obvious reason traffic seems now to be less congested is because, with all of the layoffs, fewer cars are now on the roads. The provincial government is also pouring funding into improving roads in Alberta, which may help, too. However, if the economy gets better, you may have to consider that gridlock could increase again. It’s good thing that Calgary has a pretty good public transit system. You may find yourself relying on it.
4. Schools Are Overcrowded
The population of Calgary’s suburbs has grown at such a fast pace that it had outdistanced school construction. That means, if you have kids, they might not be able to go to a school in your neighbourhood. Class sizes in some schools are above provincial guidelines.
Overcrowding is so bad that some schools are holding lotteries for a place in their school. Parents have been known to fake their home address just so their kids can get into the school they want, too.
Bussing — which might be necessary if your child can’t go to a crowded nearby school — can be an additional problem. In one instance, some children had to sit on the floor of their school bus because it was so packed. However, once alerted to the problem, the bus company got a bigger bus for that route.
Some relief may be on the way. The Alberta government promises to build 56 new schools or additions and modernize or replace 21 existing schools by 2018. That make take some of the pressure off Calgary’s maxed-out schools.
5. Real Estate is Expensive
While Calgary real estate prices are nowhere near as high as Toronto or Vancouver, it’s still one of the largest cities in Canada. The cost of living is expensive, and the sprawled-out nature of the city means that you’re likely not going to find affordable options with tons of spaces outside of the suburbs.
Home prices in the city centre average about $788,000, and a home in the outlying suburbs can set you back anywhere from $380,000 to $811,200, depending on the neighbourhood. The draw of the Rocky Mountains and the great outdoors is a key selling point, and plenty of people want to move here.
Should You Move to Calgary?
If you have a job lined up, Calgary can be a great city to live in – if not, getting your feet under you could be a challenge. Those looking for an active, outdoorsy, clean city to call home will love it. And remember real friends don’t ask their friends to help them move!
While Calgary doesn’t have the same kind of nightlife that you can find in Montréal or Toronto, it’s a great city with Western charm and spirit. It may become the place you love!
If you do decide to move to Calgary, your next step is packing. Use our packing tips for moving guide, so you’re not caught wondering where to begin.
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