The personalities of our Canadian cities in a few short words

After crossing Canada coast to coast and then backtracking to Banff on my Moose Network tour, I met with a few tourism folks for a quart of beer at the Banff Ave. Brewing Company. We talked about how in each city I visited, it didn’t take long to nail down its vibe and personality. In quick succession, I rattled off a few adjectives to describe each place.

Obviously my experiences are different from others: my huge friend-base in Toronto love the city, I didn’t; I loved Montreal and still ache to go back, but Joanna Haugen didn’t enjoy it at all. The point is each city’s first impressions stuck with me, and even though some cities were only a few hours of driving apart, their contrasts were incredible. I’m fascinated by how these places adapt those personas, and why they stick.

Happy in Halifax

So without further ado, here are my impressions (minus New Brunswick, since I didn’t spend time in any cities).

St. John’s

Historical, alive with culture, close-knit, incredibly isolated, surrounded by nature


Young, upbeat university town, welcoming, diverse with its people, eastern hospitality


“gentle island” works, family friendly, surprisingly fun nightlife, peaceful, place to escape


Alive with beautiful people, open-minded, independent, upbeat, feels like home


Conservative, uptight, aesthetically pleasing, air of safety, Canada’s pride

Oh, Ottawa!


Busy, full of self-importance, the epicentre of Canada, opportunistic, place to be


People living here have always been here, family-oriented, flat, artistic, hard to figure out



Quiet, isolated, welcoming people, currently under construction, booming


Full of young new grads, oil town, progressive, party place, folks in suits


Active people, outdoor lovers, hipsters, environmentally friendly, full of pride

Agree? Disagree? Weigh in.

  • November 08 2011

    Stop all the profiling! Haha mostly agree with your summaries of each city.

  • November 09 2011

    Ahaha! I’m from Toronto and I must agree with the “full of self-importance” thing. I mean, we do think we’re kind of a bigger deal than the nation’s capital… ;)

    • November 11 2011

      Toronto is a BFD! I’m just not a city gal. ;)

  • November 09 2011

    Have never been to Canada–sad face–but this will be a great reference point for when I do visit! My mom used to work in Montreal and loved it, so I’ve always been dying to go there–but after chatting with a few people from Quebec in France, I don’t think my French would come in much handy! Accent is super different. Great piece!

    • November 11 2011

      Lol, it’s true, Canadian French is quite different. I remember talking with my coworkers from France who found the Quebecois accent completely ridiculous. But I think you’d get along just fine!

      • November 25 2011

        @Christine You would totally get by just fine speaking “France” French in Montreal, just head over the Plateau and you’ll fit right in :)
        @Candice Having visited 6 of the 10 cities, I’d say you’re almost spot on! Good stuff!

  • November 10 2011

    I’d say you’re spot on with Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver… but sadly I can’t speak for the majority of the list – I’ve never been east of Quebec nor in the Prairies! I felt like Ottawa was something of a cross between Montreal and Vancouver, the people seemed more open and less uptight than I expected (I’d say they were friendlier than Torontonians).

    • November 11 2011

      I really didn’t mean for Ottawa to sound so negative, because I adore the city and I have nothing but fond memories of the place. But in comparison to the others, it certainly felt conservative!

  • November 10 2011

    Sadly I haven’t been to any of theses cities, but let’s just pretend that’s not the case, okay? I’ll rub my chin (as though I’m in deep thought) and then smile, and nod.
    (I bet you’re right on, anyway, Candice).

    • November 11 2011

      Well then, you need to get to Canada!

  • November 10 2011

    I’ve only spent a little time in Charlottetown, Halifax and Regina and those seem spot on. Definitely agree with the Toronto and Vancouver ones. The Calgary one surprised me, well just the progressive part. I guess living in Edmonton we get a very skewed version of Calgary, we still call them Cowtown.

    • November 11 2011

      Lol, hilarious! Everyone I know is flocking to Calgary to find work, and they’re always successful. I have an ongoing grudge against Calgary for stealing my friends.

  • November 10 2011

    I couldn’t agree more with Vancouver´s description. In my opinion, it is a top sports city in North America, not just because it welcomed the world for the Olympics, but also for numerous sports organizations and facilities.

    • November 11 2011

      I remember walking the Seawall and feeling ashamed for not being more fit. Everyone has flat tummies and bulging calves! Damn them.

  • November 11 2011

    hahaha, reading this I couldn’t help but think how well your list describes the PEOPLE I went to school with that have ended up in particular cities… ;D

    As previously discussed, I’m with you on the no likey toronto :/
    I’ve never been to Montreal, though.
    the word “uptight” for ottawa ruffled my feathers on first read. . . but on second thought, I can see that. In certain areas. but it is a pretty open and friendly city for the most part. but definitely lots of uptight people. I remember when my highschool friend visited me in guelph. she went to ottawa u. she was flabbergasted by the people walking around campus in pajamas, sweats, and the like… at ottawa u she said everyone is always dressed well and you’d be attacked otherwise ;P

    • November 12 2011

      I absolutely love Ottawa and wouldn’t mind living there at some point, but it’s definitely not a free-spirited and wild. Maybe I need to get to know some university kids or something. ;)

  • November 12 2011

    From 1998-2005, I traveled to Toronto, Calgary, Banff and Vancouver. I also met people who lived in Nova Scotia and Regina. I gotta admit that I fell in love with all the cities I went to, in particular, Toronto. My first trip there was in 1998 to Caribbana. Since that day, T-Dot had always been a favorite place of mine to go to, even in winter. I think the one thing I’ve loved the most about the Canadian cities I’ve been to is the wealth of diversity and blending of cultures.

    • November 12 2011

      You need to visit the east coast! I want to spend more time in Toronto. Might be different there now with more friends around.

  • November 12 2011

    “Oh, Ottawa.” when the picture shows more of Gatineau, across the river.

    • November 12 2011

      Yes, one of the few photos I took while I was there, unfortunately.

  • November 17 2011

    Well having been to all of the cities you mention (with the exception of St. John’s which is really sad considering I was married to a Newfoundlander), I’d have to agree with your assessments…..except Winnipeg. We’re not all from here – I’m from SK! ;-) You often find true Winnipegers have “perimeter-itis” (the Perimeter is the highway that runs around the city) and have never been beyond the confines of that road to see the rest of this lovely province. Unless of course they’re driving to Regina for a football game. The North is particularly lovely and Churchill should be on everyone’s “bucket list”. If you’ve never been to Saskatoon or Edmonton, those really are terrific cities. The University of Saskatchewan has one of the prettiest campuses in the country. I enjoy your stories – keep up the good work!

  • December 26 2011

    I haven’t been out west at all but I totally agree with what you say about the 5 cities I’ve been to. especially Ottawa, I actually couldn’t think of a word to describe how I felt about it until now! I almost got kicked out of a bar line by a big burly bouncer for smoking a draw outside, but then he just kicked out my new, ottawan friend, after he backed me up instead, I didn’t realize it was so frowned upon hahaha. The general population didn’t seem very friendly on the surface but MOST of the people I met personally were pretty nice! I also loved how clean the city was, it is very beautiful.

    • December 30 2011

      Hahaha, yup, that sounds about right! I have a love/hate relationship with Ottawa. Lots of good memories there, seems like a great place to raise a family…but not for me right now.

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