Is Toronto really THAT much better than Calgary?

So, I’ve had a couple days to digest The Economist‘s 2011 Liveability Ranking, in which both my current hometown and the city I grew up in made the Top Five.  Based on their complex calculations, Toronto ranked fourth overall, with a score of 97.2 out of 100.  Calgary was fifth, racking up a total of 96.6, which got me thinking–is Toronto really 0.6 per cent better than Calgary?

The Economist rankings are based on five categories, namely Stability, Healthcare, Culture & Environment, Education and Infrastructure.  Both cities scored a perfect 100 in three of them–Stability, Healthcare and Education–with Toronto’s eight-point advantage in Culture & Environment beating out Calgary’s seven-point edge in Infrastructure.  Don’t get me wrong, Toronto’s a lot more cultured than Cowtown.  The only thing I don’t get is how the cultural capital of Canada only scored a 97.2.  While that is the second-highest total of any city in the Top 10, there was one city that got a perfect score in that category, Vancouver.  That sure shocked the hell outta me, considering what they do for entertainment in that city.  (The scores had already been compiled before the mostly-White Riot, mind you.  The study notes “Although the riots came too late in the year to have an impact on the score of the current survey, further unrest may affect scores for the city in the future.”)

I was a little surprised by Calgary having such an edge in Infrastructure, though.  Don’t get me wrong, the city is rapidly expanding, and there are new roads, overpasses and C-Train stations every time I go back there–but for my money’s worth, the TTC is quicker and more efficient than Calgary Transit.  There, I said it.

Alas, after being born out here, moving over there when I was a kid, and returning here for university and sticking around afterwards, I’ve spent at least 12 years living in both cities.  Thus, I feel that I’m able to take a closer look at The Economist‘s study to see if Toronto is really 0.7 points better than Calgary.






Although I feel that Toronto’s reputation as a “dangerous city” is highly overrated (stay out of certain neighbourhoods, and you’ll be fine), statistics show that we’ve got a lot more crime than Calgary, which has only reported three homicides this year, compared to 32 for Toronto.  Not to mention that Calgary’s never been the subject of a serious terrorist threat–but Toronto has had a pretty serious one in the time since I moved out here.







When I was living in Calgary, I had a family doctor who was almost like family.  If she didn’t know what was wrong with me when I came in, she would always figure it out.  Since I moved out here, I’ve yet to find a doctor I can trust.  I’ve been to this one clinic near my office (and where I used to live) a few times, but every time I see a different doctor there, I get a different story.  I think I only had to go to the hospital twice when I was growing up out west, and both times were relatively quick and painless, considering that my thumb had swollen up to the size of a softball the second time.  On the other hand, I checked myself into the hospital once a couple years back with some wicked stomach pains, which I feared was appendicitis.  Toronto General kept me for a full 24 hours, most of which was spent in the hallway, not even in a room, then finally discharged me without telling me what was wrong.  On the plus side, they gave me all the morphine I could ask for.









Now these are some interesting subcategories.  Toronto is a lot hotter and more humid than Calgary, where the air is dry and the weather unpredictable.  (It even snowed on Canada Day when I was a kid!)  I must say that I was known for my dry, hacking cough in high school, and it was only a matter of hours upon my last visit to Cowtown that I started hacking up blood.  Although the summertime’s a bitch when you don’t have air conditioning, I’m definitely more comfortable with the climate out here.

As far as corruption is concerned, I’ve seen a lot more at Queen’s Park under Dolton McSquinty (my favourite Toronto Sun nickname for him!) than we ever had in Calgary under King Ralph Klein’s rule.  Don’t get me wrong, Uncle Ralphie was a raging drunk, but he wasn’t a crook.  When he left office, he gave every Albertan a 400-dollar surplus cheque.  (Mine was sent to my parents’ house, but I still got it!)  On the other hand, I was so disgusted by the eHealth scandal that I went and voted for Rob Ford.  That said, I must admit that Calgary is more uptight and censor-y than T.O..  Technically, burlesque dancing is still illegal in Alberta

While the first four or five categories are evenly split, Toronto takes the last four easily.  This city has seven professional sports teams, not including the Bills, who are on a five-year loan from Buffalo.  In Calgary, you’ve really only got the Flames and Stamps.  There hasn’t been an affiliated minor league baseball team in town since the Cannons moved to Albuquerque, and the Calgary Roughnecks aren’t exactly the greatest show on turf.  (That’s a lacrosse team, by the way.)

When it comes to food and drink, consumer goods and services (shopping!) and cultural availability, it’s not even close.  Anyone who would take Calgary in these categories has obviously never been to Toronto.





Comparing the primary/secondary school system in Calgary to the post-secondary system in Toronto is apples and oranges, really.  I will say that I couldn’t have possibly done less work to earn a degree than I did by studying Magazine Journalism at university, whereas I actually had to work for (some of) my grades in junior high and high school.








In Calgary, I had to drive to get anywhere.  In Toronto, I’ve only been behind the wheel once, and that was to move my stuff two blocks east to my current apartment.  I can’t really comment on the quality of the roads out here, but like I said, Calgary’s always building and improving.  On the other hand, there always seems to be construction around Yonge & Bloor, but nothing seems to change.

That being said, I can definitely compare transit systems.  After high school, I worked in a motorcycle shop on the other side of town.  Driving there took 40 minutes, tops, when my mom let me borrow her car.  Otherwise, it was an hour and a half on Calgary Transit, taking two buses and the C-Train, which didn’t go as far as my neighbourhood.  (They’ve since extended it.)  After university, my first job was in Scarborough.  It took me 45 minutes on the TTC to get to work via the Bloor-Danforth line and the 34 Eglinton bus, unless there was a delay.  One morning, when the subway broke down, I took a taxi from St. George to Pape that took almost as long and cost me 20 dollars.  The bottom line, I guess, is that it’s better to drive in Calgary, but The Better Way is the best way to get to work out of all of the above.

International links?  Well, Pearson’s a lot larger than Calgary International, and it’s a lot easier to get to and from the airport to downtown.  I think I saw a bus when I was last in Calgary that went to one of the newer subway stations in the Northeast–which still a long way from the heart of the city.

On another note, the house I grew up in was a lot nicer than any of the places I’ve lived in since, and there have been several.  I should also mention that two summers ago, my basement apartment in the Annex (I no longer live there) was subject to three or four blackouts that lasted at least half an hour.  That never happened to me in Calgary.

Looks like we’re about even till we look at the cities’ administration.  I’ve witnessed the growth of Calgary’s infrastructure under Dave Bronconnier, and as someone who only comes back to Calgary every year or two, it really seems impressive.  From what little I’ve heard about new mayor Nenshi, I think the city’s well-positioned moving forward.  On the other hand, Toronto has Rob Ford, who put the kibosh on Transit City and walks to get rid of bike lanes, too.  I don’t like where this is going…


So there you have it, folks.  Much like your typical Flames-Leafs game, the final score is Calgary 3, Toronto 1.  Did I mention that Calgary also has better jobstastier brews and that its Sled Island music festival kicked the shit outta this year’s NXNE?  So why don’t I move back there?  Well, I don’t have any experience in engineering or design and I’m one good solid day’s worth of warehouse work away from a massive heart attack.  I think I’ll stick to my downtown desk job in a city where French is a career asset, not just a language you use to make fun of people behind their backs.

If I had somewhere else to go, you know I’d be the first to leave…



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11 responses to “Is Toronto really THAT much better than Calgary?

    • Personally, I would take Big Rock’s Grasshopper over anything bottled by Mill St, Steamwhistle or Amsterdam. Which reminds me, I hafta stock up on ‘Hopper for the big Battle of Alberta game on Monday. :)

      • And I would take Wild Rose’s IPA over anything brewed by Grasshopper. Simply the best beer brewed in Canada.

      • Haven’t seen that one anywhere in Toronnah, sadly. Will hafta keep an eye out next time I’m in Calgary.

        On that note, I’d also take Alberta Genuine Draft over Lakeport if I was down to my last 10 bucks and needed to get drunk. ;)

  1. I agree that Toronto should outrank Vancouver in terms of culture. When I’m in Toronto I open up NOW and am blown away by how much is happening there. I guess if you consider culture & environment, then Vancouver’s mild/bland climate is preferable to Toronto’s extreme winter and summer temperatures. Maybe that was the deciding factor. Personally, I wish it snowed more here!

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