Calgary AB vs. Toronto ON: 10 Things to Know BEFORE Moving
Choosing where to live among Canada's top cities significantly impacts daily life and overall happiness. Calgary and Toronto, the biggest cities in their respective provinces, offer distinct living experiences shaped by their unique climates and amenities. The city of Calgary, known for its proximity to the Rocky Mountains and a more relaxed lifestyle, contrasts with Toronto's bustling urban environment and diverse cultural scene. Discover the key aspects defining the Calgary lifestyle and the day-to-day in Toronto, helping you make an informed decision about your next home.
Is it Cheaper to Live in Calgary or Toronto?
From a simple dollars and cents perspective, there's no comparison: the cost of living in Calgary is significantly lower than in Toronto. Rankings frequently list Toronto as Canada's priciest city, while Calgary is typically among the least expensive of the country's major metropolitan areas. However, both are among the 150 most expensive cities worldwide.
Cost of Living
Overall, living costs are notably higher in Toronto than in Calgary. Housing makes up the most significant difference between the two. Citywide, the average home price in Toronto exceeds $1.1 million. Housing prices vary widely, but condos typically hover around $800,000, and modern estates can exceed $15 million.
Average prices in Calgary are about half that, at around $600,000. Calgary’s luxury homes list from $1–$10 million and include everything from sprawling estates to high-rise condos, but there are much more accessible real estate categories in town. Townhomes in Calgary list from the $200s to nearly $2 million, while the vast majority of Calgary’s condos are priced from the mid-$100s to $2.5 million.
Rentals are also typically cheaper in Calgary, with two bedrooms averaging $2,200 per month, compared to a monthly rent of around $3,300 for Toronto. Beyond housing, other costs are also generally higher in Toronto than in Calgary, including transportation (gas and car insurance) and food from the grocery store and local restaurants.
Typical Salaries & Income
Naturally, residents' income plays a significant role in dealing with the cost of living. The most recent official numbers show Calgary's median household income at $100,000, slightly outpacing Toronto’s $97,000. This partly reflects Calgary's plentiful high-income jobs in the energy industry, while Toronto offers a more diverse economy with a broader range of typical salaries. Toronto also provides a higher minimum wage, $16.55 per hour, versus $15 hourly in Calgary. Both cities have seen steady growth in household incomes in recent years.
Provincial income taxes will affect residents differently, depending on their income. Those earning less than six figures annually typically pay a lower rate in Ontario, as will the highest earners making $220,000 or more. Those in the middle of this range will benefit from Alberta's tax structure instead.
How's the Weather in Calgary vs. Toronto?
There are some important differences in climate in these two top cities, much of it stemming from the differences in latitude between them. Toronto is several hundred kilometres further south than Calgary, typically producing a warmer and milder overall climate partially influenced by the Great Lakes. This location also leads to higher humidity levels in Toronto than in relatively dry Calgary.
Summer high temperatures are similar (typically falling between 20℃–24℃), though Calgary has notably colder winters (in the negative teens Celsius versus negative single digits Celsius in Toronto). The cold, however, doesn’t keep residents and visitors away from Calgary’s great winter festivals!
Toronto also receives more rain than Calgary, known as one of the sunniest cities in Canada due to the number of clear days. While Toronto can experience significant lake-effect snowfall, Calgary still receives more on average. However, Calgary is also known for the Chinook winds that affect Alberta and other parts of western Canada, which provide a warming draft of air that can often quickly melt fallen snow.
Which is Bigger: Calgary or Toronto?
The numbers are clear: Toronto is the largest city in Canada, with nearly three million residents. That's not to suggest Calgary isn't also a large city, earning its spot as Canada's third most-populated with more than 1.3 million residents. However, those living in Calgary have a bit more elbow room, as the city spans nearly 320 square miles compared to Toronto's 244 square miles. It’s much easier to find homes with acreage in Calgary than in Toronto.
In general, those looking for the perks of big-city life, like a strong economy, convenient transportation, and plentiful amenities and attractions, can find what they're looking for in either location. However, people looking for specific elements of culture, art, entertainment, and other more niche factors will likely find a wider diversity among Toronto's larger population.
Finding a Job in Calgary vs. Toronto
Job seekers won't have to look too far in either city, as both are among the country's most thriving local economies. Unemployment is slightly lower in Calgary, close to Canada's nationwide average. Toronto is slightly above this level. As a large international city, Toronto offers positions in nearly any field imaginable. Financial services, tech, and media are among the most dominant industries, alongside thriving healthcare and education fields.
On the other hand, Calgary's economy has historically focused on the energy industry, thanks to Alberta's extensive oil and gas reserves. Energy companies are a major player in the local job market, though opportunities are also available in agribusiness and logistics—especially in Calgary’s Downtown Commercial Core. These fields continue to grow due to Alberta's plentiful open space and strategic location in the country. Tourism is also a big job creator in both areas, with many visitors coming to see Canada's largest city or explore the gorgeous Canadian Rockies from Calgary.
Getting Around in Calgary vs. Toronto
Depending on how potential residents plan to get around and where they're going, both Toronto and Calgary offer some advantages and drawbacks when it comes to transportation. Generally speaking, it's vital to remember Calgary's potential for worse winter weather, which can affect various modes of transportation in different ways.
Both Calgary and Toronto offer some of the country's best public transit networks, but Toronto comes out on top in a head-to-head comparison. Those living in Calgary City Centre condos have tremendous public transit access, as does anyone living in Downtown Toronto.
The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) operates a vast, high-frequency network of buses, streetcars, and underground subways. These span the city proper and the sprawling Greater Toronto Area, including connections to other regional agencies like GO Transit.
Calgary Transit offers both bus and rail service, though across a smaller service area. Instead of an underground subway, residents and visitors can use above-ground light rail. Service can be less frequent than in Toronto, as well. Both are relatively affordable, at $3.70 for a single adult ride in Calgary and $3.35 in Toronto. However, each system also offers daily, weekly, or monthly passes that help regular riders save money.
Additionally, each city also offers bike-share programs and extensive bike lanes and paths, as well as easily available taxis and ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft.
Driving & Traffic
Toronto's big-city sprawl and high population naturally contribute to worse traffic than smaller, less dense Calgary. In fact, Toronto is known to have the worst traffic in the country. Despite its prominence and size, Calgary still only has Canada's 10th worst traffic. The difference adds up to nearly 90 hours per year—the equivalent of two full weeks of work spent in extra traffic.
The nature of the roads themselves is also important, whether it’s in the Greater Toronto Area or in Calgary’s best neighbourhoods. Toronto's streets are arranged in a relatively orderly grid, while Calgary's can be more confusing to navigate, especially for new residents. However, Toronto drivers will also need to watch out for streetcars, which share lanes with cars in some areas. In addition, parking can be more challenging or expensive in Toronto.
Does Calgary or Toronto Have Better Things to Do?
Both Toronto and Calgary have plenty to keep residents busy and entertained. However, which one is best may come down to personal taste. Here's what each has to offer.
As far as major cities go, both Toronto and Calgary have plentiful and high-quality ways to enjoy the outdoors. Calgary is beloved for its proximity to the breathtaking Rocky Mountains and the wide open spaces of the Canadian Prairies. Its smaller size and less developed surroundings make it a top choice for those who love getting away from the hustle and bustle, and there’s no better way to enjoy the city than hanging out at Calgary’s best parks. Meanwhile, Toronto provides easy access to Lake Ontario, the other Great Lakes, and the vast wooded areas of Ontario and Quebec.
They also each offer extensive green space within town, like Toronto's High Park or Prince's Island Park in Calgary. In addition, Calgary residents can enjoy the unique Winsport facility, part of the city's Olympic heritage from the 1988 games, now a top spot for ski jumping, mountain biking, and other outdoor fun. Toronto also has one-of-a-kind outdoor experiences, like hopping a ferry to Centre Island and spending the day kayaking around the waterways, with spectacular city views close by.
Arts & Culture
In many ways, Toronto is the cultural capital of Canada. The large city, known as one of the most diverse and multicultural anywhere in the world, is home to countless museums, art galleries, live entertainment, and much more. Some of the most notable include the Royal Ontario Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Hockey Hall of Fame. In addition to a wide variety of music venues and live theatre spots, residents can shop for authentic local products at the historic St. Lawrence Market or stroll through the revitalized Distillery District, a popular shopping, dining, and entertainment area.
That's not to say there's no cultural scene in Calgary. There are educational spots like Glenbow Museum and TELUS Spark Science Centre, as well as extensive public art. However, there's no bigger event around town than the Calgary Stampede, a yearly rodeo and Western festival that draws tens of thousands of visitors each summer. Many plan vacations around the event every year thanks to the bounty of things to do during the Calgary Stampede. Calgary’s summer festivals range from the dynamic Lilac Festival to events focusing on musical styles from jazz and blues to country, folk, EDM, and others.
Both cities are good choices for those who love live professional sports. Toronto is home to the NHL's Maple Leafs, the NBA's Raptors, MLB's Blue Jays, and the CFL's Argonauts, among others. Calgary hosts the NHL's Flames, who play near the Ramsay neighbourhood, and the CFL's Stampeders, whose stadium is located adjacent to the Banff Trail community.
Food & Nightlife
Toronto also edges out Calgary regarding the size and diversity of its dining and nightlife. It's home to several of the top restaurants in the nation, including the modern French fare of Alo or the uniquely Canadian seasonal menu of Edulis. The city's diverse residents lead to a similarly varied restaurant scene, including extensive Indian, Greek, Italian, Middle Eastern, and other international and fusion cuisines. There's also a nearly limitless number of bars, clubs, lounges, and other nightlife spots, particularly in the Entertainment District, Queen Street West, King Street West, and The Annex.
While Toronto has a higher number of top restaurants, Calgary is also home to many of its own. Calgary is known for the quality Alberta beef found at higher-end restaurants like Caesar's Steak House & Lounge, located in the exclusive Eau Claire neighbourhood. The city also has a thriving Vietnamese food scene, including spots like Pho Dau Bo Restaurant. Nightlife can be found throughout the city, with the 17th Avenue Southwest corridor home to some of the best options, along with the Inglewood and Kensington neighbourhoods.
Calgary or Toronto: Choosing a Dynamic Canadian City
Calgary and Toronto each present unique attributes that cater to different preferences and lifestyles. Calgary's natural beauty and slower pace offer a serene backdrop for those seeking tranquillity, while Toronto's vibrant urban life and cultural diversity attract those craving a dynamic city experience. Understanding these differences is crucial for anyone considering relocating to either city. The decision ultimately hinges on personal priorities, whether they lean towards the majestic landscapes of Calgary or the bustling streets of Toronto.