How expensive is life in Canada? A 2019-2020 cost of living review by province and territory

Chapter 4: Cost of living in Ontario

Published: 30-12-2019

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PVTiste

Cost of living in Ontario

Ontario is one of the most expensive provinces in Canada. However, Ontario is also huge and different cities have radically different costs of living. Toronto, the most populous city in Canada, has a high cost of living. Ottawa, despite its status of national capital, is comparatively weirdly affordable. Life is much cheaper in smaller cities like London, Kingston, Windsor, Hamilton, etc.

Average wages in Ontario

Minimum wage (as of January 1, 2018):

  • General minimum wage (applies to most employees), $14 per hour
  • Liquor servers minimum wage, $12.20 per hour

Minimum wages may be reviewed in October 2020 since current wages are applicable for January 1, 2018, to September 30, 2020.

Ontario 2018 average hourly wage
Average hourly wage (total employees - all industries) $27.36
Management $45.45
Business - finance and administration $27.12
Natural and applied sciences $36.80
Health $30.36
Education - law and social - community and government services $34.34
Art - culture - recreation and sport $22.42
Sales and service $17.88
Trades - transport and equipment operator $25.60
Natural resources - agriculture $21.16
Manufacturing and utilities $21.96

Cost of living in Toronto

There’s no denying it, Toronto is expensive. CBC loves to report on the crazy real estate market, including a garage that costs $600,000 and “million-dollar houses” that look like backyard playhouses. The rest of Canada looks at Toronto the same way Australians see Sydney, Japanese see Tokyo or British see London—“you gotta be crazy or rich to live there!”

Yet, Toronto welcomes plenty of newcomers and Canadians. There’s a large job market, salaries are higher and, well, it’s a fun city!

Rent prices

According to the CMHC, a one-bedroom apartment (one bedroom + living room) in the Greater Toronto Area is $1261 per month. A bachelor apartment is $1080 per month.

However, even though it’s often cheaper, living in one of the 25 cities of the GTA may not be the most practical solution for many WHV holders as public transit may be non-existent and distances are huge. Prices are higher in the city of Toronto but with more services, businesses and work opportunities.

RentSeeker claims on average, monthly rent for a bachelor apartment is $1515, while PadMapper offers a $1900 per month estimate.

RentSeeker data November 2019 PadMapper data November 2019
Bachelor apartment $1532 $1900
One-bedroom apartment $1723 $2300
Two-bedroom apartment $2080 $3000
Three-bedroom apartment $2353 $3695

The CMHC data also reveals that:

  • The most expensive neighbourhoods are downtown Toronto, within the Bathurst-Bayview Avenue-Dupont Street triangle. Rent is still high north of Bathurst and Bayview, but it goes down West of Bathurst and East of Bayview.
  • Mississauga, Etobicoke, Scarborough, North York, York and East York tend to be cheaper but you will be far from Toronto. To get around, you’ll need a car or a monthly transit pass, which is another expense to take into account.
  • Sharing a house with roommates may be a good solution. Rooms start at $800 per month in Toronto.
  • Rent is always higher in a condo (e.g. a newer building with front desk, gym, swimming pool and other shared amenities). A one-bedroom condo apartment is about $1850 per month. Curious to discover what a downtown Toronto condo looks like? Read Report from the 50th floor — Stuff You Learn Living the Condo Lifestyle Downtown Toronto for 3 Days.

Public transportation

Toronto’s mass transit includes subways, buses, and streetcars. The system is operated by the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and inter-regional commuter rail and bus service is provided by GO Transit.

You can use a PRESTO card, preloaded online, at a machine or at a Shoppers Drug Mart, to pay your fare on all TTC streetcars, buses and at every subway station.

  • Single fare paid with a PRESTO card: $3.10
  • Single fare cash fare: $3.25
  • TTC monthly pass: $151.15
  • TTC weekly pass: $64.95
  • TTC day pass: $13

For more details, read Fare information.

If you decide to live in the GTA for cheaper, you may want to consider buying a car. Don’t forget to budget for insurance—it may be much more expensive than you think because despite driving experience in your home country, most companies will apply the “new driver” tax. You could pay $300-$600 per month. For more info, read Buying a car in Canada.

Food

Food prices are consistent with the examples given in the overview. You may even find produce a bit cheaper than average.

For more detailed info, you can try the useful Nutritious Food Basket Calculator offered by the City of Toronto. For instance, according to the City, a single 19-to-30-year-old man spends $65 per week to eat nutritious meals, while a woman in the same age range spends $51 per week. For a couple in the 19-to-30 age range, the budget should be $120 per week.

The key to finding cheaper food is to explore Toronto’s multicultural neighbourhoods (and it’s fun too!). Head to Chinatown, Little India, Greektown, Koreatown, Little Jamaica or Little Portugal for delicious specialties, imported food and regular, cheaper fresh produce. Plus, you’re supporting communities and small businesses!

Entertainment

  • Restaurants: a meal and a non-alcoholic drink sets you back $20-$25 (plus tax and tip).
  • Bars: a beer is $7 and your favourite cocktail $13-$15 (tax and tip included).
  • Movie theatre: a ticket is $15 (but Cineplex offers $8.50 admission on Tuesdays!).
  • Cigarettes: $15 for a pack of 20.

Cost of living in Ottawa

The capital of Canada isn’t Montreal, Vancouver or Toronto—it’s Ottawa. Yes, for real. It’s picturesque, big enough, often praised for quality of life and it’s very affordable compared to world capital cities.

Rent prices

According to the CMHC, average monthly rent for a bachelor apartment is $881, $1095 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1490 for a two-bedroom apartment. Other sources like RentSeeker claim the average monthly rent for a bachelor is $1047.

The neighbourhoods of Little Italy, Wellington West, Chinatown, Tunney’s Pasture and Mechanicsville are very central and affordable, while the Glebe, South Ottawa and Lowertown are more expensive. Vanier also offers cheap rentals.

RentSeeker data November 2019 PadMapper data November 2019
Bachelor apartment $1047 $1270
One-bedroom apartment $1379 $1525
Two-bedroom apartment $1683 $1800
Three-bedroom apartment $1709 $1995

Ottawa is often referred to as the “National Capital Region,” a federal designation that includes the neighbouring city of Gatineau, Quebec, and surrounding urban and rural communities. Indeed, living in Gatineau, just across the river, can be a tempting option because rent prices are cheaper. According to the CMHC, a bachelor apartment is $656 per month and a two-bedroom apartment is $782 per month. PadMapper’s data suggests slightly higher rent prices—$825 per month for a bachelor apartment and $1198 per month for a two-bedroom apartment.

Gatineau is quieter than Ottawa and the tax system is different in Quebec so weigh the pros and cons. The biggest downside all locals complain about is traffic—rush hour on interprovincial bridge is complete madness, as many Gatineau residents work for the federal government in Ottawa. However, it can work for you if you don’t work the traditional 9-5 (or 8-4) office hours.

Public transportation

OC Transpo operates Ottawa’s bus network and the O-train, a brand-new (and already controversial) light-rail system as of 2019.

The Société de Transport de l’Outaouais (STO) operates on the Quebec side. Both systems connect (and a few buses run between the two cities) but they remain two distinct companies, each with their own passes and fares.

Here are OC Transpo fares as of October 2019:

  • Presto card: $6 (you must load at least $10)
  • Single trip: $3.55 if paid with the Presto card or $3.60 cash (exact fare required)
  • Monthly pass: $119.50
  • Day pass: $10.75

Food

Food prices tend to be higher in Ottawa than in other Canadian cities for produce, dairy products, eggs, meat and fish.

Skip the Byward Market for produce, head to the Lansdowne farmer’s market or to the Parkdale market. Farm Boy, a retailer operating in Ontario and headquartered in Ottawa, offers a large selection of fresh produce, organic foods and natural foods. You can also check out T&T, a huge supermarket with food products from all over Asia and a selection of take-out food.

Entertainment

  • Restaurants: a meal and a non-alcoholic drink sets you back $20 (plus tax and tip). Fancier options are around $50-$85.
  • Bars: a beer is $7 and your favourite cocktail $10-$15 (tax and tip included).
  • Movie theatre: a ticket is $15 (but Cineplex offers $8.25 admission on Tuesdays!).
  • Cigarettes: $15 for a pack of 20.
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