Canada is a land of beautiful ocean coastlines, breathtaking mountains, and vast prairies. In between all its rugged nature lies its largest cities, spread out from coast to coast.
The world’s second largest country by land area, Canada’s origin story tells of millenia of Indigenous habitation followed by European settlements from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Many of these settlements grew to be large cities; here are the ten biggest, from highest to lowest population.
At 2.7 millions residents as of 2022, Toronto tops the list as Canada’s most populous city. As is a recurring theme, the area that became the Queen City was inhabited by Indigenous tribes for thousands of years before the British Crown arrived. Toronto became an industrial powerhouse with the establishment of railway lines, making it the bridge between North America and the rest of the world.
When immigrants began to land in Canada, they primarily came in through Toronto, turning it into a culturally diverse city—today, its position as one of the most diverse cities in the world is a big draw for residents. It’s also a haven of economic opportunities, especially in tech, and it has impressively low crime rates for a city so big.
Visitors of all kinds will find fun in Toronto. Ripley’s Aquarium is great for families, and the Royal Ontario Museum will enthrall lovers of art and cultural studies. Another popular museum is Casa Loma, an early 20th-century castle overlooking the city. For those who want to get away for the day to experience the grandeur of nature, Niagara Falls is only a short drive from Toronto.
Québec is the only Canadian province that is predominantly French, and its southern city of Montreal is no exception. Montreal’s growth spurt began in the early 17th century with the settling of French immigrants. With the arrival of railroads making it a major linking point for Canada and the United States, Montreal came to be considered the economic and cultural capital of Canada. The city’s current 1.7 million residents hail from all around the world.
Montreal’s cost of living is affordable for such a large city. It’s widely considered to be a fantastic place to raise a family, as well as being world famous for its nightlife scene. Add in all the delicious cuisines, and it’s clear why so many people are proud to call Montreal their home.
It’s also a great place to visit. Tourists can walk through the iconic Notre-Dame Basilica, or explore the myriad of museums and shops in the Parisian-inspired historic district. Mount Royal Park is another favorite stop, with its mix of city views and greenery.
Nestled between the prairielands to the east and the Rocky Mountains to the west, Calgary sits at 1.3 million residents. The city was formed to function as a police post to protect the area’s competitive fur trade, and to also protect against U.S. whisky traders. 1912 saw the creation of the now-annual Calgary Stampede, an event meant to sell the allure of the Wild West that draws over a million visitors each year.
Calgary is consistently ranked as one of the best cities to live in across the entire world. It’s no surprise why—it has a variety of booming industries, including manufacturing, transportation, and financial services. Plus, it has a dry and sunny climate, so it’s beautiful even during those cold Canadian winters.
Of course, one of the top attractions in the city is the Calgary Stampede. The zoo is popular as well, as is the Heritage Park Historical Village. Many people use Calgary as a landing point to visit the incredible Banff National Park, which is just a short drive into the mountains.
Canada’s capital city in southern Ontario has just over one million residents. The first major influx of settlers to Ottawa was due to the 1800 foundation of the fruitful timber trade. It won the title of the nation’s capital because of its geography—it was between significant Canadian cities, and its terrain made it defensible against attacks.
One factor that draws residents to live in Ottawa is the ample, and stable, government jobs. It’s also another Canadian city with low crime rates. Although bustling, Ottawa has many large parks and other green spaces around the city.
Parliament Hill is a popular tourist location in Ottawa. There are several museums to visit, with fan-favorites including the Canadian Museum of Nature and the Canadian Museum of History. The Rideau Canal is a must-see destination: it doubles as a river for kayaking and paddleboarding in the summer and the world’s largest outdoor ice skating rink in the winter.
Called the “Gateway to the North”, Edmonton is Canada’s northernmost metropolitan area. The first Europeans to come to Edmonton in the 18th century did so as part of the Hudson’s Bay Company with the goal of establishing fur trading posts with Indigenous tribes. Settlers from the east of Canada, and many other parts of the world, were soon drawn to the plentiful, fertile land. Edmonton has since grown to house one million residents.
White and blue collar workers alike can find stable employment in Edmonton. The oil and gas industry, the city’s largest, provides jobs for both. Those who live here also enjoy the cultural diversity of residents.
The West Edmonton Mall is the largest mall in North America, where you can find not only hundreds of shops, but indoor theme parks. Visitors will also enjoy Fort Edmonton Park, the largest living history museum in Canada.
While Edmonton opened the door to settlement in the north, Manitoba’s capital Winnipeg connected the more-populated eastern half of the country to the west; thus, it is known as the “Gateway to the West.” Like many other Canadian cities, Winnipeg’s roots were in the fur trade. The early 1800s saw the first permanent settlement here, made by a mix of Indigenous and French peoples. 749,607 Winnipeggers live here today.
Affordability is probably the biggest pro of living in Winnipeg. Housing is affordable, and cost of living is low for a city. Residents also benefit from access to great healthcare. Winnipeg is home to the University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba, thus several parts of the city are structured to appeal to college students.
The Forks is a popular marketplace for both residents and tourists. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is a unique and humbling visit, and the Assiniboine Park is a lively one, containing a zoo and theater.
Mississauga, ONThe first of three Toronto suburbs to make the list, Mississauga is an amalgamation of several smaller cities and towns that were absorbed to become the one city. The land was given to British Loyalists from the Crown after the American Revolution, creating a population increase. The 1930s construction of the Pearson Airport, Canada’s busiest, solidified Mississauga as a transportation hub. 717,961 people now live here.
Mississauga is another wonderful place for families to live. It’s known for having great schools and safe neighborhoods. The city has tons of indoor and outdoor activities catered toward all seasons, providing year-round fun for residents.
The second largest mall in Canada, Square One Shopping Center, provides a fun day for all ages. To see the beauty of nature that partially contributed to Mississauga’s growth, visit Kariya Park, a Japanese garden and park.
Although inhabited by First Nations peoples for thousands of years, Vancouver’s population boom came in 1858 when the Fraser Gold Rush brought upwards of 20,000 men to the area. Permanent settlements in the city grew around sawmills, as logging became its most lucrative industry. The number of residents rose steadily over the years, and over 675,000 people now call Vancouver home.
Vancouver’s location is a primary draw for residents—its surrounded by mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The city’s public transportation system is phenomenal, and while the cost of living is high, it’s common to find jobs that offer competitive wages.
For those brave enough to walk above the treetops, Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is a thrilling place to visit. Science World, with its interactive exhibits, is another fun place to spend the day. One of Vancouver’s top destinations is Stanley Park, a public park with greenery and walking paths along the water.
Brampton is another suburb of Toronto whose growth did not come from a single inciting event. The geography of Brampton is ideal, so people have been continually immigrating there for over 200 years. Today, the city has over 650,000 residents.
People choose Brampton to have all the perks of Toronto but with a lower cost of living. With its cultural and linguistic diversity, the city is welcoming for people from all around the world.
Gage Park ticks several boxes for a good tourist attraction: trails for roller and ice skating (depending on the season), a wading pool, and grounds for afternoon concerts. Chinguacousy Park does as well, with splash pads, several recreational areas, and fields for Canadian football games.
Closing out the top ten is Hamilton, another of Toronto’s suburbs and the home to around 600,000 people. Its development can be credited to the same factors that grew Mississauga and Brampton—inexpensive lots of land that attracted British Loyalists, and later, Americans. Hamilton’s position on Lake Ontario also established it as a major port in the first half of the 19th century.
The benefits of living in Hamilton are similar to those of other Toronto suburbs. In addition, Hamilton has a lot of diversity in its job field, meaning just about anyone can find a career they love there. And, the city’s food scene is growing, so foodies will find it to be an exciting place to live.
The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum is a top attraction in Brampton. Another is Albion Falls, a waterfall cascading over layers of rock surrounded by scenic walking trails.
In all of the country’s biggest cities, you’ll see evidence of the various cultures that built them and the Indigenous tribes who came before. Canada is often underrated as a travel destination, but between picturesque scenery, rich history, and of course, their famously friendly residents, there are so many reasons to visit.