Dying Towns: 10 Cities in Canada that Smart Immigrants Avoid

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There are two ways to look at towns and cities whose populations are declining.
On the one hand, jobs and other economic opportunities are likely scarce if people are leaving the community.
On the other hand, there may be some unidentified opportunities for the entrepreneur. Maybe the business venture or discovery that will revitalize the city just hasn’t been uncovered yet.

There are two ways to look at towns and cities whose populations are declining.

On the one hand, jobs and other economic opportunities are likely scarce if people are leaving the community.

On the other hand, there may be some unidentified opportunities for the entrepreneur. Maybe the business venture or discovery that will revitalize the city just hasn’t been uncovered yet.

With those things in mind, we present the 10 census agglomerations (CAs) with the worst population decline between the last census (2016) and the previous census (2011). A census agglomeration is an urban area with at least 10,000 people, so the places on this list are cities, whereas the communities on the old list are towns.


10. North Bay, Ontario – 2.6% decline to 70,378

North Bay By User: (WT-shared) Scott77 at wts wikivoyage [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

[Public Domain]

North Bay is the third largest city in Northern Ontario, after Sudbury and Thunder Bay. It is often considered the “gateway” to the northern half of the province given its location on one of the two main roads between northern and southern Ontario. (It’s also slightly closer to Toronto than Sudbury.)

It’s a big enough city to support a university and a few colleges, as well as a junior hockey team and a transit system. Historically North Bay thrived because of the military base in town, but has also profitted from the mining industry and tourism. The military base shrunk considerably in the 1990s.

The decline in population isn’t particularly large, so it’s possible this is just a blip. But the population of the metropolitan area barely grew between 2006 and 2011, and the city itself shrunk. With the decline of many traditional industries it’s possible that North Bay will continue to shrink as Sudbury continues to grow.


9. Bathurst, New Brunswick – 2.6% decline to 31,110

Bathurst By Diablo2003 [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

[Public Domain]

Bathurst is the 5th largest CA in New Brunswick. It is located in the northeastern part of the province, about an hour’s drive from the Quebec border.

The city has been in trouble since the closure of the Brunswick Mine in 2013. Berfore that a major pulp and paper mill closed, also contributing to fewer jobs in the area. This has further caused population decline in a city that was already dying, and the population hasn’t increased since the 1970s, when it was a boom town due to these industries.

This is a part of the country that has experienced a lot of economic problems over the years and it’s unlikely things will reverse any time soon.


8. Baie-Comeau, Quebec – 2.7% decline to 27,692

Baie-Comeau By ChristianT [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

by ChristianT / Wikimedia Commons /CC BY-SA 4.0

Baie-Comeau’s problem is, at least in part, its location. Located on the north shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, it is a 5 and a half hour drive from Quebec City, a drive that involves at least one ferry unless you go out of your way to Saguenay, itself nearly 4 hours away from Baie-Comeau.

Like Bathurst, Baie-Comeau experienced a resource boom in the 1970s but the population has been steadily declining since. Add to that the rather unpleasant winters and you can understand why people don’t want to live here any more.


7. Prince Rupert, British Columbia – 2.8% decline to 12,687

Prince Rupert By Sam Beebe (Flickr: Prince Rupert) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

by Sam Beebe / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

If Baie-Comeau seems isolated to you, well let me introduce you to Prince Rupert, the “gateway” to the northern coast of British Columbia and the last stop for the train. Because of Prince Rupert’s gorgeous location in the coastal mountains, it is a 16 and a half hour drive from Vancovuer. The comparatively gigantic Prince George, the closest larger city, is 8 hours away by car.

Yes, the location has something to do with why people don’t stay here. But though the city is the only significant port between Vancouver and Alaska, the area is notorious for crime – the road between Prince George and Prince Rupert is the infamous “Highway of Tears.” And unless you work in the fishing or tourism industries, or work in the port, there aren’t many jobs.

Prince George’s boom was in the 1990s, and it’s been declining ever since.


6. Cape Breton, Nova Scotia – 2.9% decline to 98,722

by WayeMason at English Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

by WayeMason et al. / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Cape Breton is a region on Cape Breton Island centred on the city of Sydney, Nova Scotia. Like much of the Maritimes, and Cape Breton in particular, the economy here has been in trouble ever since the collapse of the coal and steel industries in the region. There has been historical decline in the population since the early 1970s.

The hope is that tourism, already a major industry with the Cabot Trail nextdoor, will eventually reverse the decades of population decline.


5. Pembroke, Ontario – 3.1% decline to 23,269

Pembroke By P199 [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], from Wikimedia Commons

by P199 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Pembroke is the biggest city between Ottawa and North Bay. Like North Bay, Pembroke’s economy has long centred around the military, though farming and tourism also play a part.

Pembroke saw a fair amount of decline for two decades beginning in the ’70s, but had actually seen increased growth until the last census. It’s possible the most recent decline is a blip and not proof that people are decamping for Ottawa. Do you want to take the risk?


4. Timmins, Ontario – 3.2% decline to 41,788

Timmins By P199 [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], from Wikimedia Commons

by P199 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Smaller and more isolated than North Bay, Timmins is a lumber and mining town 3 and a half hours north of Sudbury.

After a big boom in the late ’70s, Timmins has found itself swinging between growth and decline for much of the ensuing decades.

The city functions as a regional centre to many smaller, more isolated towns so it’s unlikely this place will truly die, but its isolation also means it won’t likely boom again unless some new resource is discovered.


3. New Glasgow, Nova Scotia – 3.7% decline to 34,487

New Glasgow By Verne Equinox (I created this work entirely by myself.) [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

by Verne Equinox / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

A number of years ago, New Glasgow topped our list of The Top 8 Worst Places to Settle in Canada. We stole the idea from Money Sense but the truth is that, with the exception of a brief uptick at the 2011 census, New Glasgow has been shrinking since the 1970s.

In the article we highlighted the high crime rate, cost of liming, lack of employment, the property taxes and the relative lack of services for a an area with this many people in it. Perhaps that’s why between the 2011 census and the 2016 census, the population declined once again.


2. Elliot Lake, Ontario – 5.3% decline to 10,741

Elliot Lake by Bryan James [Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

The smallest city on this list is also one of the most notorious. When I was growing up, Elliot Lake was spoken of as some mysterious, dangerous place. Why? Because of the uranium mines. Elliot Lake exploded in population multiple times in the 20th century in part due to the city once being the “uranium capital of the world.”

Elliot Lake has other industries now and, for some reason, has become a bit of a retirement community for those fleeing the bigger cities of Sudbury and North Bay after they have finished their working lives. But the number of retirees moving to Elliot Lake has not offset the pople leaving, as the population has been declining since the mid 1990s.


1. Campbellton, New Brunswick – 9.3% decline to 15,746 (includes parts of Quebec)

Campbellton by Dennis Jarvis via Wikimedia Commons

by Dennis Jarvis / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

An hour or so northwest of Bathurst, on the Quebec border, is Campbellton.  As we noted with Bathurst, this whole area of New Brunswick has been struggling for decades. If you ignore 2006-2011, when the population of Campbellton plateaued, the city of Campellton’s population has dropped every census since 1981.

But despite the city’s decline, it is still a centre for the surrounding area; it’s the biggest population centre between Bathurst and Rimouski.

Still Campellton is a city whose best days are long behind it. Though it is located in one of the most scenic areas of eastern Canada, it is the not the kind of place you should move to looking for work.

Top 10 Dying Towns for 2013

Note: In our 2013 list, there was no cut off of 10,000 people, so these are smaller communities.


10. The Blue Mountains, Ontario

Blue Mountain by Ian Muttoo / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0

This is the weirdest town on this list and not just because there aren’t any mountains in the Town of the Blue Mountains. Collingwood – the largest community nearby – has been exploding even before resort behemoth Intrawest bought Blue Mountain ski resort in 1999 and turned it into the largest and most expensive resort in Ontario. But even though the average income has been rising by leaps and bounds, and even though unemployment is the lowest of any town on this list, people are still leaving: over 1/20th  of the population has left the area after the population had increased by well over 1/5th for the 15 years prior to that. Perhaps the excessive development is scaring people away or the cost of living is too high for a town that is a 2 hour drive from Toronto, the nearest major city. Nobody really knows why, but the Town of the Blue Mountains is dying.

If you are interested in moving there, here is the Ontario government’s website geared towards accreditation of international credentials.


9. Lac La Biche, Alberta

Mainstreet Lac La Biche, By Own work (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Lac La Biche by 117Avenue / Wikimedia  Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

The rest of Alberta is still exploding from the oil and gas boom: you can still move to Alberta to get paid a ridiculous amount of money for doing a job that pays virtually nothing in the rest of the country. But if you’re going to settle in Alberta, don’t settle in Lac La Biche. Whereas the rest of northeastern Alberta is growing like gangbusters, nobody is staying in this area: Lac La Biche has seen more than 1/13th of its population leave for the better jobs of just a little bit farther north. The good news is that Fort McMurray is only three hours away, so it’s not that hard to move if you’re stuck in Lac La Biche already.


8. Yarmouth, Nova Scotia

Yarmouth Downtown

Yarmouth [Public Domain]

Yarmouth is Canada’s lobster capital, and that’s probably about the only thing noteworthy about it. People are leaving, the ferry to Portland, Maine has stopped running, and unemployment is at a whopping 12.5%. Yartmouth still attracts some tourists – and foodies, obviously – but it doesn’t look like a good place to settle down if you are looking to find a job.


7. Dryden, Ontario

Dryden Mill by Dhscommtech at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons

Dryden by Shane Trist / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

After some pretty significant growth in the late ’90s, Dryden is now moving the other direction now that the pulp and paper industry has slowed down there. (At least it probably smelled better while the mill was not operational.) Not only do people not want to live in Dryden because of declining industry, but Dryden is also remote and cold. Dryden is a 4 hour drive from Thundery Bay and nearly 4 hours from Winnipeg. And in the winter it averages around 20C below. So that’s fun. At least most people who have stayed in Dryden still have jobs.


6. Digby, Nova Scotia

Digby Harbour, By Aconcagua (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Digby Harbour by Aconcagua / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Digby is a pleasant little town in southwest Nova Scotia which is a significant tourist destination for those from nearby Halifax – 2 1/2 hours away – and Saint John – a 4 hour ferry ride away. The problem is that Digby, aside from losing people 6.5% of its population from 2006 to 2011, has a pretty high unemployment rate; nearly 13%. So whereas it might be a nice place to visit if you’re out that way examining historic Acadia, you likely don’t want to stay there.


5. Shippagan, New Brunswick

Shippagan [Public Domain]

On the one hand, Shippagan is the gateway to the gorgeous Miscou Island, one of the great scenic attractions in Canada:

Miscou Island, By New Brunswick Tourism [CC-BY-2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Miscou Island by New Brunswick Tourism / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

On the other hand, Shippagan is located just outside one of the poorest areas of the country, has lost over 6% of its population recently and has over 10% unemployment. Also, it’s sort of in the middle of nowhere; nearly 3 hours drive from Moncton, the closest major city.  So you won’t find a job anywhere near Shippagan itself, and if you do manage to find a job somewhere else, that will be one long commute.

4. Kitimat, BC

Aerial view of Kitimat By Sam Beebe (Kitimat) [CC-BY-2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Kitimat by Sam Beebe / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

Kitimat is an aluminum- and hydro-electricity-driven city located in the middle of nowhere in northwest BC. Aluminum was such a big part of its economy the place was actually built by Alcan. Though a lot of economic improvement is planned for this city, the town has still lost over 7% of its population in recent years, which might have something to do with its location:

View Larger Map

The unemployment rate isn’t quite as high as some of the towns on this list, but Prince Rupert is 200km away over winding mountain roads, which must be a lot of fun in winter. (Terrace is 62 km away, however.) You can understand why people don’t want to live there. I’m sure it’s scenic – when it’s not raining that is.


3. Clare, Nova Scotia

Metgan Post Office in the Municipality of Clare, By Verne Equinox (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Clare by Verne Equinox / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Clare is in significantly worse shape than nearby Digby, though it is home to same historical charms. The municipality has lost slightly less of its population than Digby, but the unemployment is just as bad and – far worse – the wages have been falling; falling farther than any other town on this list. Between the 2006 and 2011 censuses, most of these dying towns at least saw the wages increase slightly for those who stayed behind. Not in the towns of Clare. In Clare, average wages fell by 7.5%. Add that to the 13% unemployment and you really, really don’t want to settle here.


2. Inverness, Nova Scotia

Aerial of Inverness Sora 16 at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], from Wikimedia Commons

Inverness by Sora 16 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Inverness had the biggest population change in the study: over a five year period nearly 10% of the population left. Why? Well, Inverness used to be a coal-town – I know, you want to move there already – but when the mining stopped, the community never recovered. The only things sustaining it are fishing – it is located in the Maritimes after all – and tourism: access to the Cabot Trail – one of the most scenic drives in Canada – is only 25 minutes away. So Inverness may be a great place to visit, but it’s not somewhere you’d want to live. Not only are people moving out, but the unemployment rate was a catastrophic 17% in 2011.


1. Hearst, Ontario

Hearst, By P199 (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Hearst by P199 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

There are few less appetizing places to live in Canada than Hearst. Though the town boasts a university, albeit a very small one – a ‘federated school’ of Laurentian – it has lost nearly 10% of its population in the last half-decade due to the declining lumber industry and its location in the middle of nowhere: an hour’s drive from the bustling metropolis of Kapuskasing, and 6 hours from Sudbury, the closest city of any note. (Hearst is only 3 hours from Timmins, so that’s something, I guess. Note: all driving times are summer driving times and do not factor in inclement weather.)

View Larger Map

Unemployment is at a not-horrible-but-still-not-even-average 10% and Hearst is also the most Francophone community in Ontario, so it helps to be bilingual. But look at that map. What are you supposed to do there exactly? Canoe?

If you are interested in moving to Hearst, the government of Ontario has created a site for attracting business immigrants to northern Ontario. Keep in mind that the Ontario business immigration PNP is rather expensive.


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