The top 10 Canadian Riverside cities take into consideration the average crime rate, cityscape and infrastructure design, and tourism appeal. Speaking as a Canadian who has been to most of these cities, including a few that once upon a time served as my home, I know first-hand that there is more to the appeal of these cities than meets the common eye. What also makes these great Canadian cities stand out is their dedication to keeping them as green and safe as possible. These are also the cities best regarded for embracing multiculturalism, which best defines Canada as a nation.
Top 10 Canadian Riverside Cities
#10 – Timmins, Ontario
Situated on the Mattagami River in Timmins, Ontario. Fans of Shania Twain are likely to recognize this community as her original hometown. She comes from an impressive lineup of celebrities who once upon a time called Timmins their home. With a population of about forty thousand people, Timmins probably isn’t the place to go if you intend to experience a warm winter. It gets very cold here, which may explain why some of the best hockey players, including Frank Mahovlich and Peter Mahovlich, were able to make such an impression in the National Hockey League. The people of Timmins love their hockey!
When the winters aren’t so cold, the ski resorts in the area are a local favorite. Once the weather becomes even more favorable, both locals and visitors alike won’t hesitate to take advantage of what this small city has to offer. For outdoor enthusiasts, Timmins is a paradise. Timmins has also become a thriving community that has no trouble keeping up with shopping trends, as well as providing tourist attractions such as Cedar Mountain Wilderness Tours, Mount Jamieson Resort, and the Timmins Museum and National Exhibit Centre.
What you’ll find at the museum is how Timmins began as a community during the Porcupine Gold Rush. Ambitious prospectors tried their luck at Porcupine Lake and the Frederick House River. Employees of Benny Hollinger stayed in Timmins after he began Hollinger Mines in 1909. The town itself got its name from Noah Timmins, an uncle to the mine manager, Alphonse Pare. Timmins began as a mining colony that soon grew into a township, then incorporated as a city once it amalgamated the nearby towns of Porcupine, South Porcupine, and Schumacher. This is Northeastern Ontario’s biggest community that caters to its population.
#9 – Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
With a population of approximately three hundred thousand residents, Saskatoon is the largest city in the province of Saskatchewan. The city itself is divided by the South Saskatchewan River which spans from east to west. Located in the heart of the Canadian prairies, this city boasts a rich supply of resources such as chernozem. It’s also home to many other rare resources that are now beginning to take center stage as valuable contributors to green energy. This includes supplying materials needed to build electric vehicles. The future of Saskatoon stands to see the population of this city grow exponentially in the next few years.
As a city, Saskatoon is very protective of its riverbank park spaces. This includes the National Historic Site of Canada’s Wanuskewin Heritage Park. The connection this city has to the First Nations is among the most impressive throughout all of North America. Saskatoon’s demographic has nine river crossings that have earned it the following nicknames, “Bridge City” and “Paris of the Prairies.” The city itself got its name from the berry that naturally grows in the region.
I personally live three hours east of Saskatoon so I know this city well. While many may wonder why it deserved mention as one of the top ten riverside cities in Canada, the bottom line is Saskatoon is rich with cultural history, lots of green scenery, and walkability. It’s Broadway Avenue is definitely worth your time if you want to take in the city’s eclectic scene. Whenever going to Saskatoon, failing to jump on the shopping opportunities along Broadway Avenue is not an option.
#8 – Winnipeg, Manitoba
Winding through the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, are two rivers. The Assiniboine River comes in from the west, connecting to the Red River. This is also dubbed “The Forks.” Red River itself connects to the massive Lake Winnipeg to its north. To its south, it winds its way all the way to the forked rivers of Bois de Sioux River and Otter Tail River. These are located at the border of Minnesota and North Dakota. The history of Winnipeg as a city began with its impact on the fur trading industry. In 1738, Fort Rouge was built as a fur trading post by Sieur de La Verendrye.
The native population, as well as the French, used this site as a major source of trade before the British arrived with its Hudson’s Bay Company. After the Seven Years’ War, control of Winnipeg fell into the hands of the British. However, the French who called the place home at the time married women from the First Nations in the area. This is where the ancestry of the Metis began to make its mark.
Every winter season, Winnipeg hosts the Festival du Voyageur. This is a celebration that peers into the French exploration and settlement of the Red River valley. There is also Folklorama, the world’s largest and longest-running cultural celebration festival in the world. In Winnipeg, the celebration of art, culture, and entertainment is felt throughout the year as this city doesn’t hold back when it comes to hosting festivals. Among all the big cities in Canada, Winnipeg is among the friendliest with members of the LGBT community.
#7 – Chilliwack, British Columbia
The province of British Columbia is clearly Canada’s pride and joy as a province loaded with mountains and other natural wonders that rightfully earn the nickname ‘Supernatural.” The city of Chilliwack is surrounded by the supernatural beauty of the mountains and is home to some of the best recreational sites the province has to offer. This is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. Ever heard of the Canadian rock group, Chilliwack? The Vancouver-based rock group chose this city’s name to call themselves and the locals won’t hesitate to tell you about it, either.
Chilliwack has a solid history of serving an important role in the Canadian rock music industry with its own bands, Mystery Machine, The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, and These Kids Wear Crowns. If music isn’t your thing, there is the annual corn harvest this city is known for, as well as the province’s second-largest independent bookstore, The Book Man. As a city, Chilliwack graces the Fraser Valley’s second-largest city, right after Abbotsford. With a population of approximately one hundred thousand residents, Chilliwack’s dedication to keeping the locals happy and secure is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Chilliwack’s popularity as a tourist destination is also well-noted. Regardless of the time of year, there’s always something to do here.
Chilliwack’s history begins in 1859 when over forty thousand gold miners trekked to the goldfields of the Upper Fraser Valley. Chilliwack was a popular stopover at the time. However, among the population who saw the beauty and potential of Chilliwack, they stayed put. By the mid-1860s, several farms sprouted around the Fraser River steamboat landings. Sites like Chilliwack Landing, Miller’s Landing, Minto Landing, and Sumas Landing are definitely worth checking out if you want to learn a bit more about this city’s history. Chilliwack’s history begins in 1873 as the province’s third municipality.
At the time, steamboats served as the main source of transportation as the Fraser River made it easy enough to transport goods and passengers to and fro between Chilliwack and New Westminster. After the Canadian Pacific Railway was constructed in 1885, several residents moved across the Fraser River at Minto Landing to catch the train at Harrison Mills. Because of Chilliwack’s demographics, the city’s commercial expansion extended to the south.
This is the city that has the largest number of rainbow crosswalks in the province of British Columbia, despite the city council’s decision to stop installing more. Chilliwack is bounded on the north by the Fraser River, as well as on the south by the Canadian-United States border. The convenience of Chilliwack’s location as a city is close enough to Vancouver where it’s about an hour’s drive to get there on the Trans-Canada Highway. Chilliwack’s design is made up of several amalgamated communities and villages. Most of its immediate surroundings have over nine hundred farms. This has remained an important part of Chilliwack’s landscape they’re extremely protective of it. What’s great about this city is it often doesn’t feel like one.
#6 – Edmonton, Alberta
The city of Edmonton, Alberta has a divider clean through the city known as the North Saskatchewan River. Upper Edmonton is to the north of it while Lower Edmonton is to the south. I was actually born in the city of Edmonton but lived in a community just west of the city known as Stony Plain. We were close enough to it that all of our major shopping took place there. From 1984 until 1991, my father and I lived there before moving back west, this time to Spruce Grove. Again, we were close enough to the city where a daily commute took less than half an hour to travel by car.
Originally, Edmonton served as a stopover as ambitious miners trekked northwest during the days of the Klondike. During the late 1800s, the quest to find gold in the Yukon Territory lured several men and women to seek their fortune. This is where Edmonton was recognized as the “Gateway City to the North.” Most of these people traveled from as far east as the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean. Because of this lengthy journey, the need to rest along the riverbank was necessary. In the process, smart businessmen realized how important Edmonton became as a major stopover. So, shops were constructed to sell supplies, etc. to the miners that were determined to keep going west. In fact, should you ever visit Edmonton in mid-July, its infamous Klondike Days gives visitors great insight into a humble community that gradually turned into a big city.
Edmonton is North America’s northernmost big city with over one million residents. As for the river it sits on, the North Saskatchewan River originates from the Columbia Icefield in Jasper National Park. By car, it’s about three hours west of the city. Aside from Klondike Days, Edmonton hosts several festivals that also give it another nickname, “Festival City.” Edmonton is also home to what used to be the world’s largest shopping complex, West Edmonton Mall. Now, in size, sits behind the Mall of America, which is located in Bloomington, Minnesota. By annual visitor count, it is the second busiest mall in Canada, sitting behind the Toronto Eaton Centre in Toronto, Ontario. West Edmonton Mall is Edmonton’s biggest tourist attraction as this mall also serves as home to an indoor waterpark, indoor skating rink, indoor miniature golf, a casino, and its own hotel. The hotel itself is a tourist attraction with themed rooms.
When not focused on tourism, Edmonton’s importance as a city contributing to the Canadian and global economy includes its impressive collection of manufacturing plants. While this poses an environmental challenge to Edmonton’s connection to the North Saskatchewan River, the city doesn’t stop short in its attempt to keep the city as green as possible. Edmonton’s dedication to parks is part of the reason why it deserves mention as one of the top riverside cities in Canada.
#5 – Toronto, Ontario
Toronto, Ontario is Canada’s most popular city, as well as the largest. It’s also the fourth most populous city in North America. Dubbed the anchor of the Golden Horseshoe, Toronto is home to approximately ten million residents. The cultural diversity of Toronto makes this the ideal city to do business in. It is recognized as one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Most global corporate giants who’ve set up a regional office in Canada pick Toronto as their city of choice. Although Toronto has most of its coastline banked on Lake Ontario, the city’s landscape is also dictated by the layout of the Rouge River that runs along its eastern border of it. The park it belongs to, Rouge Park is the only one in Canada designated as a national park within a municipality. Along the southern tip, the Rouge River acts as a boundary between Toronto and the southwestern community of Pickering.
The history of Toronto began in 1793 when the British Crown established it as a town called York. However, the War of 1812 and the Battle of York inflicted heavy damage upon the community. In 1834, York was renamed Toronto. This is Canada’s equivalent to America’s New York City. That alone puts Toronto as one of the best Canadian riverside cities as it works hard to keep up with the times as a thriving community. Toronto has everything a person can hope for, which is why many Canadian immigrants flock to this city. Not only do the locals benefit from the range of opportunities Toronto offers as a city, but so do the tourists.
Toronto is the home of Canada’s busiest shopping mall, Toronto Eaton Centre. The Toronto Harbor is also the city’s pride and joy, as well as its CN Tower, and the multitude of parks scattered throughout. This is also the city known for its contribution to art and pop culture. If you’re looking to make a name for yourself in acting or the music industry, this would be one of the best places to go. Toronto is Canada’s largest media market and is one of the nation’s central hubs when it comes to the film and television industry. In fact, next time you watch a movie that’s supposedly situated in Chicago or New York City, odds are the actors are actually in Toronto. It’s usually cheaper here to do movies than in most other big cities throughout North America.
#4 – Kamloops, British Columbia
Situated in British Columbia’s Thompson Valley is Kamloops. This city is also part of the Montane Cordillera Ecozone. The northern border of Kamloops sits at the junction of Thompson River to the west, North Thompson River to the north, and South Thompson River to the east. Speaking as someone who has been there a few times and also has family living there, I have to admit this is one of the best riverside cities that grace the Canadian landscape. I absolutely love this city! Incorporated in 1893, Kamloops started out with about five hundred residents. After the completed Canadian Pacific Railroad was completed in 1886, it ran through the city’s downtown area. After this, the Canadian National Railway was installed in 1912. This made Kamloops an important transportation hub at the time. Now at a population count of approximately one hundred thousand residents, Kamloops has developed as one of the most thriving communities in British Columbia, as well as all of Canada.
Dubbed the Tournament Capital of Canada, there are more than one hundred sporting tournaments held in this city each year. If you’re a fan of sports, this is the place to go. If you’re not a fan, there are more than enough tourist attractions to be found here to keep you busy. Also, if you’re an outdoor enthusiast, Kamloops is a wonderful playground. Both locals and visitors alike often take in the various parks that are wonderfully diversified in theme. If you’re into the best Mother Nature has to offer, Kamloops is the place to go. If you’re more into the engineering wonders designed by people, many of these are located in and near Kamloops which is guaranteed to cure any sign of boredom. Annually, nearly two million tourists visit Kamloops. Many of them are so addicted to the appeal of Kamloops that they keep coming back like repeat customers.
#3 – Quebec City, Quebec
Along the St. Lawrence River, Quebec City, Quebec mostly sits along its northern shoreline, extending from west to northeast. When the French came to North America in the sixteenth century, this became one of the earliest European settlements. That took place in 1541 when explorer Jacques Cartier and four hundred people in his company tried to call it home. At one point, it was the only fortified city north of Mexico. In fact, the walls built from that era still stand and serve as a historical monument of this incredibly beautiful city. That’s more than what can be said about Cartier and his people. In less than one year after settlement, they were driven out by the harsh winter and the hostile behavior extended by the local natives.
In 1608, French explorer Samuel de Champlain was more successful with his settlement attempt. Quebec was officially founded on July 3 and became the home of a man dubbed “The Father of New France.” The nation known as Canada got its name from Quebec’s settlement as a community. The reference links to the abandoned St. Lawrence Iroquoian settlement, Stadacona. Today, the size of Quebec is over five hundred thousand people. This is a city uniquely dedicated to the preservation of its heritage as a root city that paved the way for Canada to be born as a nation.
Quebec City boasts must-see historical sites that draw in tourists from all over the world. The Petit Champlain is suspected to be the oldest commercial district in North America and it is indeed worth visiting. Both the locals and tourists love venturing up and down Rue du Petit-Champlain to see what’s trending, as well as any potential bargains to be had. The historical Battlefield Park and Plains of Abraham has a collection of monuments, statues, and structures, many of which offer impressive views of the St. Lawrence River. What makes Quebec City so appealing is how humble it is for a big city. Although humble, they’re not short of showing off how proud they are of a place the Quebecois call home.
#2 – Calgary, Alberta
For six years, I lived in Calgary, Alberta. Even before choosing this city as my home, I was strongly drawn to everything it offered but was especially fond of its Bow River. This river begins with the Canadian Rocky Mountains and winds through the Alberta foothills and its prairies before meeting up with the Oldman River. From there, it forms the South Saskatchewan River. Bow River itself flows through Calgary, as well as the Elbow River. The Elbow flows into Bow from the Glenmore Reservoir. The Bow River pathway developed along the riverbanks serves as a big part of Calgary’s design as a city.
Many Canadian corporations prefer Calgary as their main base of operations for a variety of reasons. For starters, real estate costs tend to be lower than setting up shops in cities like Toronto, Ontario. Year after year, Calgary remains one of the favorite Canadian cities to host annual conventions. Also, year after year, the infamous Calgary Stampede draws in tourists from all over the world during its ten-day run, in early July. Dubbed “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth,” the Stampede draws in over a million visitors per year that take in all the festivities. The parade to get the party started will have the entire downtown core shut down, which is a necessity as the streets are jam-packed with parade-goers along its route. After this, the rodeo, the midway, the concerts, and everything Calgary Stampede has to offer goes into full swing for ten days. Don’t forget the pancake breakfasts, which are held throughout various parts of the city.
Aside from the Stampede, Calgary’s appeal as a tourist destination includes the close proximity it has to Banff National Park. From Calgary, views of the majestic Canadian Rockies can be seen. Just west of the city are two key points of interest. Olympic Park was originally designed to help the city host the 1988 Winter Olympics before it has since become a training facility for athletes. Calaway Park is Calgary’s own amusement park that brings in a flurry of visitors year after year. While I lived in Calgary, I absolutely loved the city. If there was a big Canadian city I ever chose to move back to, this one would be at the top of the list.
It should also be pointed out that Calgary is a favorite city for young academics. No other city in Canada has the level of higher education opportunities as Calgary. I learned this shortly after moving to the city in 1993. As the world focuses more on climate change than ever before, much of the ingenuity behind it comes from graduates that once belonged to Calgary’s post-secondary schools.
#1 – Montreal, Quebec
The city of Montreal, Quebec is technically an island city built between two rivers. Extending from the west to the northeast is the Prairies River. This one acts as a border between it and another great riverside city, Laval. The mighty St. Lawrence River also starts from the city’s west and travels northeast but along the southern shoreline, serving as a separator between Montreal and yet another great riverside city, Longueuil. Speaking as someone who has been to Montreal on more than a few occasions, I can personally vouch for how great this city is. Among the local population, there is no place quite like home.
Among tourists and frequent visitors, the charm of Montreal is unparalleled. Montreal is Canada’s second-largest city overall. Toronto is at the top while Vancouver is right behind it. The city itself was founded in 1642, originally as Ville-Marie. In the English dialect, it stands for “City of Mary.” The city was built and named after Mount Royal, a triple-peaked hill that remains one of Montreal’s crown jewels as a major attraction. The center of the city is situated on the Island of Montreal and has since sprawled out to some of the smaller peripheral islands around it. The metropolitan population of Montreal is over four million people. The city itself is nearly two million. While French is the primary language in the city, more than half of the population is quite capable of speaking and understanding English.
The commercial importance of Montreal often rivals Toronto, as well as its appeal as a tourist attraction. However, what puts Montreal on top comes from the Global Liveability Ranking system run by the Economist Intelligence Unit. In 2017, it was globally ranked at number twelve. In 2021, it fell to number forty but the blame went to how badly the Canadian federal government handled the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the economic woes that went with it. Despite this, Montreal still remains in the top ten as a globally favorite city to be a university student, at least according to the QS World University Rankings. So, if you’re seeking higher education, along with a good dose of multiculturalism to go with it, Montreal is the city to go to.
Aside from Montreal’s might as a commercial hub of activity, it’s also loaded with the universal appeal of hosting international conferences and major sporting events. The Montreal International Jazz Festival is a must as this is the city that hosts the largest jazz festival in the world. This is also the city that hosts the largest French music festival in the world, Les Francos de Montreal. Montreal loves its music! As proof, it sets up each spring a swingset located in its art district, Quartier des Spectacles, that responds to music once you hop onto a swing and start moving to and fro. When all twenty-one of these swings are used at the same time, an orchestra of instrumental music fills the air.
Now, if music really isn’t your thing but comedy is, Montreal’s Just for Laughs is the world’s largest annual comedy festival. There’s even a television show with the same title, featuring some of the best gags Montreal tricksters have been able to pull off upon an unsuspecting victim of choice. As far as culture and entertainment value goes, Montreal is often referred to as Canada’s Cultural Capital. One of the best times of the year to really get a feel for Montreal’s love for multiculturalism extends from mid-June until the end of August.
Annually, an international fireworks competition is held where it is nation against nation to see who will have the best fireworks display that best paints a picture of their cultural influence. The mix of the night sky bursting into a multitude of colorful designs and the music to go with it has made this so popular that tourists often schedule their visit to Montreal just so they can at least attend one fireworks display while there. I’ve been to one of these personally and can vouch it’s an experience worth having.
Adding to Montreal’s legacy is its favorite sports team, the Canadiens. This was one of the first six NHL teams and has won more Stanley Cups than any other team in the league since it began its inaugural season in 1917. Montreal’s love for sports doesn’t stop there. It was here MLB Hall of Famer, Jackie Robinson, broke baseball’s color line with Montreal’s minor league team, the Royals of the International League. The support Robinson received from the locals in 1946 was a memory that he forever cherished. After Olympic Stadium hosted Canada’s only Summer Olympics in 1976, MLB’s Montreal Expos moved in after playing in their original stomping grounds, Jarry Park Stadium. The team played there for thirty-six seasons before moving to Washington, D.C., and rebranding itself to the Washington Nationals.
On every front, Montreal is the number one riverside city in Canada. It is here you will find you don’t necessarily have to be born Quebecois to feel at home. Treat the people with respect, as everyone deserves, and even as a visitor, you may feel like you’d rather stay put and call it home. In fact, many visitors have already done this as Montreal’s charm as a big city truly feels out of this world. Aside from its magnificent cityscape, cultural background, and history, Montreal is surrounded by nature at its finest display. You’re not far from escaping to the mountains and wilderness when you’d rather go find some peace and quiet away from the city.
Top 10 Canadian Riverside Cities article published on BigCityReview.com© 2023
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