This article has been edited and updated for 2017, to see the original list scroll down.
Opinions expressed in this article are solely those of Pat Spracklin, author of the article, and do not reflect the attitudes or views of the photographers whose work is used below.
We’ve told you about some of the underrated immigration destinations in Canada, now check out our list of places prospective Canadians should avoid: the poor places, the racist places, the isolated places, the depressing places, the worst of the worst! Naturally, the tiny towns in the woods of Northern Ontario or the southern shore of Newfoundland would be the worst of the worst, but let’s be reasonable. Here are list of towns and cities with a substantial population (at least 5000 residents) that might seem like a decent idea to a prospective immigrant interested in a slower pace of living.
1. New Glasgow, Nova Scotia
- High crime rate? Check.
- High unemployment? Check.
- High cost of living? Check.
- Limited access to services? Check.
- High property taxes? Check.
- Bad weather? Check.
Despite being a small, quaint city just a few hours from Halifax, New Glasgow tops polls of the worst places to live in Canada. How could those 9,000 people stand it? They must have all been born there.
In 2009 New Glasgow ranked 36th out of 208 in StatsCan's crime severity index. The crime rate increased from 2011 to 2012, and was significantly higher than the provincial average.
In 2006, New Glasgow had an unemployment rate of 7.7%. It has decreased since then and, as of the 2011 census, it was 5.7%, or slightly lower than the provincial average.
Cost of Living
The cost of living in New Glasgow was estimated by one website to be 4% higher than the cost of living in New York City, but only 30.3% of those reporting say their households earn more than $60,000 Canadian per year (after taxes).
Property tax in New Glasgow was higher than the average in Nova Scotia and significantly higher than Halifax up to and including 2013.
New Glasgow receives 1212 cm of precipitation per year (that's more than Vancouver). (Climate-Data.org via Wikipedia)
|Average precipitation mm
|Average precipitation mm
Video of New Glasgow after a storm
2. Truro, Nova Scotia
“The hub of Nova Scotia,” at the head of Cobequid Bay has long been known as a place not to live by fellow Nova Scotians. In Money Sense’s most recent survey of the best places to live in Canada, Truro featured in the Top 25 in one of their eleven categories: affordable housing. Given that “affordable housing” is available in every community on this list, it’s hard to see why it’s a reason to move to Truro particularly. Truro is small (just over 12,000 people) and it has been stagnating for decades:
|Population of Truro|
Unless you want to go into the garment industry, you probably shouldn't move to Truro. On the other hand, maybe there's an opportunity here we can't see.
3. Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Sydney [Public Domain]
The municipality of Cape Breton is really a number of communities located on the eastern most part of Cape Breton Island, Sydney being probably the most well known. We last wrote about Cape Breton in 2013, when we noted that nearby Inverness was shrinking dramatically. However, all of Cape Breton has been experiencing the same kind of decline that has affected Inverness and the communities of the Cape Breton municipality are not immune either. Though Cape Breton’s population has not declined as sharply as Inverness’, it has still declined steadily since the 70s, with the decline of the coal and fishing industries.
Much like New Glasgow and Truro, MoneySense says the only thing to recommend Cape Breton is the affordable housing. We disagree: the nearby scenery is spectacular and Cape Breton is home to one of Canada’s greatest historic sites, Fortress of Louisbourg. However, neither the views nor the history will pay the rent.
Numbers prior to 1996 are for Cape Breton County. Numbers from 1996 onward is for Cape Breton Regional Municipality, which is the same area as the old county. Data from Wikipedia.
4. Grand Falls-Windsor
Grand Falls-Windsor were separate towns until they were forced to amalgamate back in 1991, becoming the fifth largest town in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The town was a pulp and paper centre until the biggest plant closed back in 2009. This just exacerbated the town’s growth problem: Grand Falls-Windsor hasn’t been shrinking but its population has been stagnant since 1966 (with a slight decline in the 1980s). So job prospects are slim. Add to it Newfoundland’s notorious weather and the place is not exactly where you want to end up when you immigrate to Canada. (And even when the planes can leave the island, the nearest international airport is 100km away.) Grand Falls-Windsor doesn't have the affordable housing that the other towns on this list have, but because it's a major centre in the province, at least there are hospitals.
|Average high °C||−2.6||−2.6||1.2)||6.8)||13.5||18.6||22.7||22.3||17.4||10.7||4.9||0.0||9.4|
|Average Precipitation mm||93.6||93.7||90.8||84.0||78.5||89.4||88.5||107.3||95.6||94.2||93.6||89.8||1,098.9|
5. Dolbeau-Mistassini, Quebec
Dolbeau-Mistassini is another amalgamated city of two towns, this amalgamation occurred in 1997. Do-Mi, as it is known, is the local hub, featuring bigger malls and stores than the surrounding communities. But it relies on pulp and paper and the mill closed for three years at the beginning of the decade. The city’s population has been stagnating since before the merger and it has actually been declining slightly during this century; there are less people in Do-Mi now than there were in 1991.
Like most of the cities and towns on this list, Do-Mi’s sole attraction to newcomers is its affordable housing prices.
Did we mention where Do-Mi is located? Do-Mi is over 3 and a half hours drive north of Quebec City. If you like the Lac Saint Jean area, that's good news, probably. But for a lot of people Do-Mi is pretty isolated. (It is less than two hours from Saguenay, so that's something.)
6. Bay Roberts, Newfoundland
Many, many other rural communities on the east coast could make this list, but Bay Roberts appears because it had the highest unemployment rate in Canada, at 17% in 2011. Despite the oil, gas, mining and hydro-power booms in Newfoundland, Bay Roberts has somehow managed to avoid the job benefits. This wouldn’t seem so peculiar if Bay Roberts wasn’t just an hour’s drive from money-drunk St. John’s and other rapidly expanding bedroom communities like Conception Bay South.
The unemployment rate has improved as it was 20.7% in 2006.
Drive Around Bay Roberts
7. Shawinigan, Quebec
Four hours south of Dolbeau-Mistassini lies Shawinigan, just north of Trois Revieres. In 2011, Shawinigan was the 14th largest urban area in Quebec. But though Shawinigan was long a centre of industry in Quebec, many of those industries began to relocate, starting in the 1950s. Though hydro electricity is still a major industry, due to the presence of the nearby falls, most pulp and paper mills have closed, as has the city’s major aluminum plant. Economic prospects are not great, though there has been an attempt to start a tourist industry around the city’s “industrial theme park,” La Cité de l'Énergie. If that’s not enough reason to, Shawinigan is home to one of Quebec’s premiere breweries, Le Trou du Diable. However, the only reason to move there permanently is the affordable housing, which you can get in lots of other towns and cities in Quebec.
8. Amherst, Nova Scotia
About an hour northwest of Truro, along the Miners Memorial Highway, and sitting next to the New Brunswick border, lies Amherst, Nova Scotia. I spent a week there one night in the 90s.
Amherst held a strategic position in the past, as it lies on the Isthmus of Chignecto, the narrow piece of land that connects Nova Scotia to the rest of Canada. So it’s no surprise that Europeans have been living in the area since 1672 and that this area was highly contested when the English were battling the French for control of the region. By 1908, Amherst was among the most industrialized towns in the Maritimes.
But, like so many Maritime towns, the importance Amherst used to have has waned and many of the industries that propped up the town in the past have left. Amherst’s population has been pretty stagnant since the 1920s and growing by less than 5% per census since, or outright declining, since 1956. The population was 10,301 in 1956; it’s 9,413 now. The population was 9,998 in 1921.
However, the town does offer affordable real estate, like the entire Maritime region, and the town is a minor commercial centre for Cumberland County and the surrounding region.
Fun Fact: Leon Trotsky was once imprisoned in Amherst.
9. Campbellton, New Brunswick
The only city on the list from New Brunswick, Campbellton has some of the most affordable housing in Canada. It also has 2 hospitals! (That’s a lot for a population of just over 7,000 people.) It’s near the scenic Gaspe area of Quebec too.
But despite the local salmon fishing and scenery, and despite the paper industry, Campbellton has seen its population decline steadily due to the lack of jobs since the 1960s, like much of the Maritimes.
An added difficulty for some new immigrants could be the language situation: Campbellton is just about fully bilingual, with slightly more than 50% of the population identifying as French, slightly more than 40% identifying as English and the remaining people identifying as bilingual from birth. So if you are from a non-English or non-French speaking country, you will need to know both national languages (three languages total) to make it here.
10. Port Alberni, British Columbia
Unlike every other community on this list, Port Alberni does not have some of the cheapest housing in Canada. And that’s a problem because the people who live here don’t make a lot of money. The city is forestry town with a long history of pulp and paper. There is also fishing and tourism but, beyond that, opportunities for jobs are hard to come by in this rather isolated city, located over an hour’s drive from Nanaimo - a city of less than 100,000 people - on Vancouver Island. According to Money Sense, Port Alberni does not have a single feature to distinguish it as a prospective place to live. Less than 6% of the popular are visible minorities, meaning that it could be an uncomfortable transition for new immigrants, as well.
But the scenery’s great. Tourism hub Tofino is less than 2 hours away.
Other Best/Worst Articles
The 2013 Worst Places to Move in Canada
Here is the 2013 list:
1. New Glasgow, Nova Scotia
2. Kitchener - Waterloo, Ontario
Congratulations, Kitchener / Waterloo, you are the hate crime capital of Canada! Despite hosting two universities and a massive tech company campus, the Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge tri-city area experiences a high per capita rate of verbal and physical assaults on ethnic, religious and gay minorities. Despite its location in the highly diverse Southern Ontario region, Kitchener has inherited the mantle from the previous main offender, Calgary.
In 2011 Kitchener-Waterloo was surpassed by Peterborough, Hamilton and Ottawa in police-reported hate crimes, however the rate remained at nearly double the national average.
Kitchener Hate Crime Forum, 2006
3. Thetford Mines, Quebec
Thetford [Public Domain]
The third of the three rogues’ gallery dwellers is poor Thetford Mines, the heart of Quebec’s asbestos mining region and the winner of the title Most Polluted City in Canada. Despite the overwhelming evidence of the dangerous health effects of asbestos, Canada still mines the dangerous mineral, and the biggest mine in a populated area is in Thetford Mines.
Thetford [Public Domain]
Thetford Mines Study, 2007
4. Bay Roberts, Newfoundland
5. Sarnia, Ontario
Sarnia itself may not be so bad, but its view of and proximity to American heavy industry helps to reinforce the fact that this border town is polluted. It also has an empty downtown and a shrinking population.
VICE calls Sarnia's air the most polluted in Canada in 2013. [VICE removed the article from their website as of 2019.]
Canada's Toxic Chemical Valley by Vice
6. Saint John, New Brunswick
Long known as the unglamourous milltown cousin to its apostrophic neighbour to the east, St. John’s, Saint John is a dirty, stinky pulp and paper port on the Bay of Fundy. Despite the natural beauty nearby, the city has a declining population and few economic opportunities outside of the paper mills, nuclear power plant, and small university satellite campus. Don’t end up in Saint John when you want to live in St. John’s!
New Brunswick City Market [Public Domain]
Between 1970 and 2011, Saint John's population dropped by nealry 19,000, but between 2006 and 2001 the population increased by slightly over 5,000 people.
Uptown Saint John [Public Domain]
Saint John's February 2015 Storm
7. Nanaimo, BC
Nanaimo [Public Domain]
Nanaimo is another milltown with a sagging population close to world class natural beauty that cannot make up for the dour quality of life brought about by a legacy of coal mining and the city’s isolation: Victoria and Vancouver are both over 90 minutes away. Save your Vancouver Island dreams for retirement, or at least try Victoria first.
Nanaimo Waterfront [Public Domain]
Driving Around Nanaimo
8. Thunder Bay, Ontario
Thunder Bay [Public Domain]
Way up in the bush of Northern Ontario, on the shores of the “big lake they call Gitchee Gumee” (that’s Lake Superior), sits the largest city between Winnipeg and Sudbury, Thunder Bay. If Nanaimo is isolated, Thunder Bay is on the moon. With a typically cold Canadian climate and, yes, that 8-10 hour drive to the nearest major Canadian city; you might reconsider your plan to immigrate to Thunder Bay:
Driving Around Thunder Bay
Other Canadian Worsts
|Worst Cities by Violent Crime||Worst Cities to Immigrate to according to you||Worst Roads in Canada||Remotest Places in Canada|
|Worst Cities by Overall Crime Rate||Worst Cities by Drug Crime||Worst Cities by Property Crime|
What are people saying about this article?
"I'm From Nova Socita" writes:
New Glasgow has so many beautiful redeeming aspects though...like a Wendy's, the glutton of a profit whore known as the NSLC and is only a shake weights worth of cardio away from cheap smokes and moonshine (err...I mean one of our vibrant multicultural reserves).
"I LIVE IN KITCHENER WATERLOO AND PROUD TO CALL THIS MY CITY...ME AND MY DAUGHTER MOVED HERE OVER 10 YRS AGO AND ITS A GREAT CITY. ALWAYS THINGS TO DO. AMAZING MULTICULTURAL EVENTS, MUSIC FESTIVALS, AMAZINGI PLACES TO SKATE AND LOTS FOR FAMILIES. KW IS FAR THE NICEST PLACES IVE LIVED IN AND VERY FRIENDLY. THERE ARE ALWAYS PPL TO ASK AN EVEN THE GRT DRIVERS ARE HELPFUL. SO WHOEVER WROTE THIS CRAP ARTICLE NEEDS TO GIVE THEIR HEADS A SHAKE."
Listen to an interview with 570 News' Gary Doyle from March 27, 2014
Nobody had anything to say about Thetford Mines.
Seriously Bay Roberts?
M Egan S Horttie writes:
"Really where? because I sure as hell didn't see much of any thing, and I was there 2 days ago Where was I going ? Work place Group Employment! because I trained for 6 weeks, for a different trade out side of London (Yet another opportunity not available in this dump) ! .OH WOW more pubs ,and restaurants? That oughta boost our horrible employment rate, best look for another job on the side.. (If you can even f*cking find one) Let's not forget our lovely waterfront Centennial Park, full of Asbestos :D. As a kid ya this city was great, Canatara Park was awesome, the Howard Watson Natural trail is great the Beach, is great.I loved the Animal Farm. But as far as employment goes, that's far from being revitalized, not everyone wants to be a Chemical Engineer, or a goddamn nurse. Or sharpen pencils all day in an office.Those are pretty much your only options here. Oh and such a shame about Montanas, AGAIN. You like many other Sarnians may already be retired, not young and looking to find their way. Sarnia is showing it's age, and it's not looking good so far. It's old,and tired like the many people who live here anyway. The only big success was Bayfest. But even that seems to have been taken away from us. Oh yes, and apparently blinkers are optional on cars in this city."
"Nope, I live in Saint John and have my whole life. It's extremely dirty, smells horrible and there is no opportunity here for anyone. Do not move here."
"Interested to know the criteria used in these selections. For example, the reasons given for Nanaimo's inclusion are a sagging population, being a mill town, and isolation. Whereas if you look at somewhere like Prince George the population has actually declined (unlike Nanaimo's which has continued to grow), the economy is even more resource based, and the isolation factor is significantly more pronounced (9 to 10 hour drive to Edmonton/Calgary/Vancouver).
I am not trying to bash Prince George either... just curious what criteria were used to pick these cities."
"Wow, probably better than the place these immigrants are coming from, I think my mom would have regretted everyday of her life if she had left Mumbai to move to Thunder Bay Ontario..."
"Thunder Bay was built by the hard-working hands of Immigrants. We have a large Italian population, the largest Finnish population in the world outside of Finland, 22,000 urban Aboriginals (estimate) and a growing Muslim community.
We have a Thunder Bay Race Relations Committee, Diversity Thunder Bay Committee, a very active Multicultural Council and Multicultural Youth Council.
Thunder Bay is one of the fastest growing cities in Canada boasting the lowest unemployment rate in Ontario at 5.6%.
We have a world class hospital, Regional Research Institute that attracts Scientists from all parts of the world. We have a School of Medicine, A Law School, University, College, symphony orchestra, Community auditorium etc etc.
We are one of the most Diverse cities of it's size in North America.
The Mayor (me) was a Landed Immigrant (now a Canadian Citizen)
Please research a city before you put us in the bad light that you did."
Editor's Note: A previous version of this article contained a reference to a "marginalized underclass of native Canadians", referring to the aboriginal Canadian urban poverty that many Canadian cities, such as Thunder Bay, experience. There was no intent on the part of the author or Immigroup to assign blame for these conditions, rather only to make note of them.
This article was published in April 2013 and is the opinion of the original author, however it has been updated to include additional information as of March 2014.
Top 10 Most Dangerous Places to Live in Canada 2013