The debate between Vancouver and Toronto is just another example of the tradition of city rivalries. The problem with comparing Toronto to Vancouver is that it’s not a fair match. Toronto real estate is in a whole different weight class, with a much larger population and much more space than Vancouver. That being said, Vancouver has an equal footing in the minds of Canadians (and the world at large). The cities are equally prominent, equally powerful culturally, and equally complex. To choose between the two, you have to get into the nitty-gritty, and that’s what we plan to do.
To compare Vancouver and Toronto, we will analyze them through eight categories and see where one exceeds the other. We’ll get into why Toronto is a better choice for certain homebuyers than others and likewise with Vancouver. Because the question isn’t which city is best, but which city is best for you?
Vancouver vs. Toronto: Character
Vancouver is a Pacific city before anything else. It shares a lot in common with cities like Seattle, San Francisco, Hong Kong, and Sydney. Over the last half-century, Vancouver real estate developments have focused on building up rather than out, so its skyline is punctuated by mid-to-high rise residential towers. This concentration on vertical development is as much a consequence of Vancouver’s location on an island as it is a deliberate decision made by the city planners decades ago. Vancouver set out to avoid urban sprawl, to preserve its surrounding habitats, and direct development towards a pedestrian lifestyle and not an automobile-reliant populous.
Vancouver has about 700,000 people living in its core and a further two million surrounding it. This is relatively smaller than what people imagine for a city with such a big reputation. Bear in mind, however, that these three million people live in a small area surrounded by imposing mountains and water. Due to these geographical constraints, Vancouver has the highest density of any Canadian city. Everything in Vancouver is compressed and concentrated.
Vancouver is a forward-facing, modern city to the fullest extent. This city focuses on being green, livable, and closely connected with the rest of the Pacific sphere of the world. People move at a slower, more relaxed pace than their counterparts in Toronto and tend to be more outdoorsy and active.
Toronto is just the opposite. It’s a midwestern city through and through, similar to Chicago and Detroit. Toronto has its downtown skyscrapers, to be sure, but the vast majority of the city and the metropolitan area has spread out to cover an enormous amount of land. Toronto is nearly twice as large as Vancouver and has millions more people. Where Vancouver developed up, Toronto real estate developed out, and suburbs extend dozens of kilometres from the city centre.
Toronto has a faster pace of life than Vancouver, with many of its inhabitants just starting out in their respective industries, all trying to make a name for themselves. Every year many immigrants move to the city to start new lives in Canada, opening small businesses of their own. This lends to the forward momentum that characterizes Toronto’s daily life. If you’re ambitious, Toronto is the city for you.
Vancouver vs. Toronto: Real Estate
Vancouver real estate is among the most lucrative in the world. If you’re thinking about finding a home for sale in Vancouver, you need to narrow down your decision between buying either a detached home or a condo. If you’re looking for a condo, you’re in luck. Condos dominate the Vancouver market. Condos for sale in Vancouver tend to be the most affordable housing option in the city. They typically sell for $800,000 but can be found as low as $650,000. For detached homes, you’ll need a mixture of good luck and good timing.
Detached homes are rare in Vancouver. There isn’t much space for them to exist, and the city isn’t interested in promoting that property type. That being said, you can still find detached homes. They typically list for 1.4 million, and the luxury market starts at around $4,000,000. Most of these homes are older and built during the ‘50s and ‘60s before Vancouver’s growth really started to take off.
Despite the price, most Vancouver properties tend to sit on the market for twenty days. Property appreciates at impressive rates, but values tend to swing pretty dramatically from year to year, so if you’re looking to build equity in your home, you should be prepared to play a long game.
Toronto real estate is renowned for its high value and its competitiveness. Toronto’s prices are generally lower than Vancouver’s, but the market is much more competitive. At first glance, this might come as a surprise because Toronto has so many suburbs filled with detached homes. That being the case, those homes are occupied, and they don’t stay unoccupied for very long. The average days-on-market for all Toronto property is just 18, and there are parts of Toronto where homes last less than a week on the market before they’re bought.
The Toronto real estate market is mainly competitive due to a supply shortage. Toronto is running out of space to build both new detached homes and new Toronto condos. This, coupled with high levels of annual immigration, ensure that anyone looking to own their home in Toronto must be prepared to work for it. A good real estate agent in a good brokerage is a must if you want to get that dream house in Toronto.
When considering real estate between Toronto and Vancouver, the property type is everything. If you want to live in a condo, move to Vancouver. If you want to live in a detached home, choose Toronto. If you’re not interested in a detached home, either city will suit you fine.
Vancouver vs. Toronto: Location
Where cities are is just as important as what cities are like. If you’re into the outdoors, Vancouver might as well be heaven on Earth. You’re within driving distance of fantastic hikes both in Canada and the United States, and if you like to sail or fish, the ocean is right next door. If you do business in Asia, Vancouver is as close as you’ll get to Japan and China while staying in Canada. The downside of Vancouver’s location is that it has to import most of its commodities, which drives up the cost of virtually everything.
Toronto is better located than Vancouver in almost every way. It’s closest to the population centre of Canada and the United States. It’s within a day’s flight to nearly all of Europe and within driving distance of Ottawa and Montreal. If you’re trying to stay connected with most of the world, Toronto is your go-to city, but if you want to get away from it all, then head out to Vancouver.
Vancouver vs. Toronto: Economy
Both Vancouver and Toronto feature pretty similar economies, only at different scales. Jobs are a little harder to come by in Vancouver. It’s a smaller city, hence less opportunities than what you might find in Toronto. That being said, Vancouver has a diverse economy with jobs in biotechnology, software development, mining, and even film.
Toronto is undoubtedly the economic capital of Canada. The big five financial institutions of Canada all have their headquarters in Toronto, and the city’s unemployment rate is 7%, whereas, in Vancouver, it’s 12%. With more people living in Toronto, there are more businesses both large and small to get a job. Toronto is also building its reputation as a tech city and offers more jobs than D.C., Seattle, and San Francisco combined. Toronto’s economy is no joke; you can rely on finding work in this city.
Vancouver vs. Toronto: Cost Of Living
As with many metropolis cities, the cost of goods and commodities is higher than in the suburbs. Comparatively speaking, Toronto has lower costs than almost every major world city. For example, it’s much cheaper to live in Toronto than New York city. However, when it comes to Canadian cities, Toronto might be the most costly to live in (the city).
Vancouver has a similar cost of living to Toronto overall. In fact, on some indices, Vancouver is only 1-2% cheaper than Toronto. You’ll find things like milk are much cheaper in Vancouver but things like alcohol, red meat and eggs are more expensive. Overall it’s a wash, neither city really has an advantage in this category except in niche cases.
Vancouver vs. Toronto: Schools
Vancouver schools are top-rated for British Columbia. They have big-city funding to rely on and a highly-educated population to support the system. In Vancouver, where you live determines where your kid will go to school, so put a good amount of time into studying the schools zoned for the neighbourhoods you’re looking at before deciding on a house. Here’s a quick list of the top schools in Vancouver.
- West Bay Elementary School (K-7)
- Rockridge Secondary School (8-12)
- Seycove Secondary
In Toronto, you’ll find yourself in a similar situation to Vancouver. Your school choice is limited to where you live, but because Toronto is a bigger city than Vancouver, you’ll have more options to choose from within your area. Thanks to Ontario’s larger francophone population, you’ll find more schools in Toronto that accommodate French-speaking pupils. Here’s a look at the top schools in Toronto.
- Rosedale Public School (K-6)
- Swansea Public School (K-8)
- William Lyon MacKenzie Collegiate Institute (9-12)
- Leaside High School (9-12)
Vancouver vs. Toronto: Crime
Over the last twenty years, Vancouver has seen its crime rate fall considerably, as have most other Canadian cities. Vancouver focuses nearly a fifth of its yearly budget on its police protection, which is as sure a sign as any that Vancouver takes crime seriously. Most telling of all, the rate of firearm violence has dropped from 45.3 per 100,000 in 2006 to just 16.2 a little over ten years later. Crime is a part of every city, but these falling rates demonstrate that Vancouver has made the safety of its streets a top priority.
Toronto is one of the safest cities of its size by far. Toronto’s homicide rate is negligible when compared to cities like Los Angeles, Atlanta, and even Boston. As far as crimes like theft and burglary go, Toronto has a lower rate than Vancouver and Montreal. Toronto residents report feeling safe while walking around their neighbourhoods at night in virtually all parts of the city, especially the suburbs. If you’re worried about crime, but you know you want to live in a big Canadian city, pick Toronto.
Vancouver vs. Toronto: Climate
We’ll get right down to it; Vancouver beats Toronto on climate every day of the week. The weather in Vancouver is a breath of fresh air for any Canadian used to living in the middle of the country or back east. The winters in Vancouver are very mild, thanks to the moderating Pacific ocean. The temperature rarely dips below freezing, and in the summer your thermometer will stay in the 20s for most of the season. You do have to deal with a lot of rain, but only during the winter.
Toronto climate is a whole different ball game compared to Vancouver. The winters are notorious, but if you can brave them, you’ll be able to hold it over the head of the rest of Canada. Most winter days stay below freezing, and the weather doesn’t start to warm up till the tail end of May. If you hate being hot, you won’t have to worry during the summer, as the daily average rarely exceeds the mid-twenties. The snowfall needs recognition. Toronto gets as much snow as Vancouver gets rain. Be prepared to shovel out your driveway weekly when winter arrives.
Vancouver vs. Toronto: Transportation
Public transportation is a major part of what makes Vancouver the city it is today. City planners designed Vancouver to rely mainly on rapid transit rail lines that operate through all city parts. The SkyTrain, as it’s called, is the reason that Vancouver can function as a city. If you move here, you’ll probably use it every single day. The downside of relying so heavily on public transit is that the road system is not designed for large amounts of traffic; there’s only one freeway running through the city. Traffic in Vancouver is often ranked as some of the worst in the world, so if you’re trying to get around the city, we highly recommend using the train.
Toronto is a city built for cars. Major arterial roads interlace the city at regular intervals. Though they get clogged with traffic as with any other major city in the world, it’s not nearly as bad in Vancouver. That being said, it’s not necessary to own a car if you’re trying to move to Toronto. The Toronto Transit Commission (the TTC) has rail lines serving most parts of the city, and the GO transit system links almost all of the Lake Ontario cities together, from St. Catharines to Oshawa. If you’re worried about having several options for transportation, Toronto is probably the best city for you.
Vancouver vs. Toronto: So which city is better?
Similar to our Los Angeles vs Toronto post, it’ll likely come down to your own personal lifestyle choices. If you’re a young person looking to start a career, a family, or both, Toronto is the best city for you to move to. Toronto has more employment opportunities, housing, a more flexible transit system, and it is better located in Canada if you’re worried about staying close to friends and family. You can have just about any lifestyle you want in Toronto, whether living it up in a downtown condo and engaging in the nightlife or settling down in one of the suburbs. You can build a life in Toronto.
Vancouver, on the other hand, is a niche city. If you’re already established in your career and with your family, or if you’re just looking to make a change, Vancouver is a perfect place to move to. No other city in Canada has the same ambience and atmosphere as Vancouver. It’s unique, and if you value living green and enjoying the great outdoors, you really can’t do better than Vancouver.
Overall, the choice between Toronto and Vancouver is tied directly to where you are in life and where you want to be. If you want to get started, go to Toronto. If you want to start over, go to Vancouver.