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Victoria named Canada's Best Small City

Victoria named Canada's Best Small City


Report cites Victoria's parks, museums, and restaurants—but urges action on affordability

Victoria has been named Canada’s Best Small City in a ranking that breaks down cities, piece by piece, to evaluate them by the numbers.

The municipality beat out Kelowna, Kingston, and Niagara Falls for first place.

“Sounds right to me, absolutely,” mayor Lisa Helps laughs, and says she’s planning to rib Kelowna mayor Colin Basran with the news next time they meet. “It’s hard to disagree with that.”

Nanaimo and Saanich also placed in the rankings, coming in at number 20 and 23, respectively—the only other Vancouver Island municipalities to make the top 25. (Greater Victoria was not considered as a single city, but rather each municipality was considered on its own.) 

The factors that put Victoria in the top spot fell under the “programming” and “product” categories—the city placed first in both categories.

The Product category ranks museums, universities, direct flights, convention centres, and attractions, and the report highlights Victoria’s three universities and its second-most educated residents among Canada’s small cities.

Programming measures things like restaurants, shopping, concerts, events—and, though young Victorians may disagree—nightlife. That nightlife is specifically lauded in the report, in particular Victoria’s historically significant craft brewing industry, and the city’s claim to the most restaurants per capita in Canada.

The city’s parks and outdoor access, including Beacon Hill Park and “newly pedestrianized” Clover Point, were ranked second in the country, in part due to their fantastic views of the Olympic Mountains and the straits around Vancouver Island.

Victoria’s summer, just in time for it to have actually arrived, was singled out as an asset even among the weather subcategory, where Victoria placed low (35th) overall.

Saanich was recognized for its economic diversity, the number of active transportation projects and cycle commuters—second only to Victoria—and high educational attainment. Nanaimo ranked high for air quality, attractiveness for relocation, and relative affordability.

Resonance Co’s report does contain some cautionary notes for Victoria among its many plaudits, though.

“Attracting talent here will be crucial,” the authors write. “Victoria has the lowest birth rate of any Canadian city and is at the bottom of our 25 small cities in the Young Adults subcategory. Average house prices of well over a million dollars—combined with skyrocketing rents and resistance to rezoning—are kryptonite to sustainable population and talent growth.”

Helps agrees that there are major issues of affordability that need addressing—in particular around housing—and that she has faced frustration with the lack of power the city alone has to combat it. But she says the recognition is a welcome reminder that even with its shortcomings, Victoria has a lot to offer.

“Sometimes for those of us who live here, we’re always looking at the things that are wrong because we want to fix them,” she says. “Sometimes we forget to look up and realize what we do have. It’s pretty spectacular.”

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