How to choose your new neighbourhood
Whether you’ve just landed in Canada or you’re browsing classifieds from abroad, starting your apartment search in Canada can be a daunting task. How are you supposed to know where you will enjoy spending a few months or years? The city is brand new to you!
Try to do some basic research before your Canadian adventure. You can read testimonies from other WHV holders and backpackers or browse city-specific blogs and Instagram accounts to discover popular neighbourhoods.
Nothing beats first-hand experience, though. Once you’re in Canada, load Google Maps on your phone, put on walking shoes and explore the city!
Overview of a few popular neighbourhoods in Montreal
Montreal is huge and home to many very distinct neighbourhoods. Select a few and explore them to see if you’d enjoy the atmosphere as a resident. Here are a few of the most popular ones to get you started.
- The Plateau-Mont-Royal (subway stations Mont-Royal, Laurier and Rosemont) is quintessential Montreal and favoured by many WHV holders, especially French expats. This lively neighbourhood close to Downtown Montreal has it all, from shopping streets to a hip and artsy atmosphere. Once affordable and bohemian, it has gentrified. It remains a lovely neighbourhood… if you can afford the rent.
- North of the Plateau, Little Italy and La Petite-Patrie are home to the popular year-round Jean-Talon Market, one of the largest farmers’ markets in North America. The two neighbourhoods have great access to public transit and boast plenty of restaurants and small eateries. The atmosphere is friendly and lively in these family-oriented residential streets.
- Part of Plateau-Mont-Royal and along Saint-Laurent Boulevard, Mile End is known for its culture. Despite high rent prices, the artistic neighbourhood attracts many students and a large English-speaking population. You’ll find the best bars and the tastiest bagels on your doorstep.
- Downtown Montreal can be a good option if you want to be close to the nightlife and experience the hustle and bustle of a large North American city.
- To see the English side of Montreal, head to Montreal West (i.e. as in west of Saint-Laurent Boulevard). In McGill or Côte-des-Neiges, more than half of the residents speak English as their first language. Petite Bourgogne, Atwater and Saint-Henri are getting more and more popular as well.
- Hochelaga was traditionally a working-class neighbourhood and a few streets are still seen as less safe than the rest of the city. With its newfound popularity, it’s experiencing a real estate boom but remains unpretentious. Don’t overlook borough Lachine, also a cheaper option, and Verdun which is said to be having a renaissance.
- The borough of Montreal North and the Snowdon neighbourhood are occasionally described as “sketchy.” The area contains a sizeable community living below the poverty line, though it also has middle-class and upper-middle-class residences. Trust your instincts and remember that Montreal is overall a pretty safe city by world standards.
Overview of a few popular neighbourhoods in Toronto
Toronto is home to dozens of different neighbourhoods and each of them has a unique vibe. Beyond the atmosphere and rent price, don’t forget an important search criteria—access to public transportation. Like in many North American cities, the public transportation network isn’t that extensive and it’s best to be a five-minute walk from a subway, bus or streetcar station (especially in winter!).
- The Financial District is the economic centre of Canada, with plenty of tall glass buildings home to companies’ headquarters and financial institutions as well as shopping malls, shops, bars and restaurants. This is where many high-end condo units favoured by single professionals rose up from the ground.
- South-west of the Financial District, the Entertainment District is where you celebrate the end of the workweek and a business deal. You’ll find plenty of bars and discos but this is probably not the quietest place for a good night’s sleep…
- Along Dundas Street West, Little Italy and Little Portugal are two hip neighbourhoods with many shops, restaurants and bars. These neighbourhoods mostly come alive at night and on weekends.
- Queen Street West is a two-kilometre area close to the Financial District. The so-called “creative heart” of the city has it all—shops, eateries, flagship stores, art galleries and more. Unsurprisingly, it’s always lively.
- Centred on Bloor Street, The Annex is a vibrant neighbourhood home to a very heterogenous community who lives in the leafy residential streets among small boutiques, restaurants and trendy shops. Close to downtown, this food and shopping mecca is a sought-after neighbourhood.
- Both west of the Financial District, Chinatown and Kensington Market are full of small businesses and cheap Asian and Latino eateries. Note that the main streets can be noisy, even late at night.
- There’s no particular neighbourhood to avoid, just keep in mind that Toronto is very spread out and public transit is very limited in residential suburbs where everybody drives. Traffic is also an issue especially during morning and afternoon rush hours.
Overview of a few popular neighbourhoods in Vancouver
- The seaside neighbourhood of West End has it all—beaches, walkability, plenty of small businesses and proximity to Stanley Park. Unsurprisingly, affordable housing may be tricky to find.
- Culturally rich and authentic, Commercial Drive, also known as The Drive, is one of the best shopping, dining and nightlife districts. This is the kind of place where residents want to build a community and where you take a yoga class, eat vegan, shop local, go to festivals and enjoy ethnic food. It used to be affordable… not so much anymore.
- Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood, Gastown retains its historic charm and independent spirit. This is the perfect neighbourhood for those who work downtown and want to live nearby in a friendly community. With Victorian houses, a hip vibe, a thriving fashion scene, amazing restaurants and a good (if pricey) nightlife, Gastown is also popular with tourists.
- If you don’t need to live close to downtown, Kitsilano (“Kits”) is a good option. Over the Burrard Bridge from the downtown peninsula, this neighbourhood is the birthplace of yoga brand Lululemon and home to Vancouver’s oldest vegetarian restaurant—yes, it’s a bit of a modern version of 1960s San Francisco. Connected to public transit, it has everything residents need.
- Once a working-class neighbourhood, Mount Pleasant has gentrified but remains cheaper than many areas of Vancouver. With nine parks, it also has a good eating and shopping scene, especially around the “SoMa” (South Main Street) district. The neighbourhood is served by The Canada Line, buses and the SkyTrain.
- A few minutes away from downtown Vancouver and easily accessible from all over the Lower Mainland, South Granville is a neighbourhood of choice with the usual mix of businesses, shops and restaurants. It’s easy to get around using public transit. Note the huge houses in the residential part of Granville—you can share one with ten roommates!
- A thirty-minute bus ride from downtown Vancouver, Kerrisdale is booming and rent is a bit cheaper—for Vancouver… This neighbourhood is an eclectic mix of small apartments and big houses where you can live with 13 roommates—no, seriously, speaking from experience!