The Migrants' Guide to Living in Calgary

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Migrants' Guide to Living in Calgary

Calgary is a prairie city of around 1 million inhabitants. It sits in a vast, brown coloured plain in Southern Alberta. The Rocky Mountains rise dramatically to the west - about an hour away by car. Calgary's latitude - 51 degrees north - is similar to London, Paris, Seattle and Vancouver. It enjoys long days in summer but has long nights in winter. Calgary is semi-arid - hence the brown landscape. Sitting on the prairies, it enjoys plenty of sunshine with low rainfall.

Of all Canada's provinces, Alberta's character is most like the USA. Alberta has cowboy boots, rodeos, cow festivals, and American spellings. Its government is to the right of Canada's other provinces. Alberta has a reputation for socially conservative attitudes - some describe them as "redneck" attitudes.

Business and Jobs
Alberta has the lion's share of Canada's oil industry. Its reserves - in the form of oil-sands - are estimated to be twice Saudi Arabia's. Projections in 2006 show a labour shortage of 100,000 workers in the next few years. Calgary is one of Canada's wealthiest cities.

Low taxes have brought many businesses to Calgary. Small businesses in Alberta pay just 16 percent tax. Calgary's unemployment rate is 4 percent, lower than other Canadian centres.

Calgary continues to grow rapidly. New housing developments and infrastructure projects abound. The city's building industry is healthy with a good supply of construction jobs.

The oil industry and its suppliers pay some of the highest salaries in Calgary. The government, universities and schools aren't as generous with their money but offer reasonable salaries and good conditions of employment.

Despite the low unemployment rate, getting well-paid work has proved difficult for many migrants when they first arrive in the city. Many of Calgary's employers seem to look first for a local employee. If they can't find a suitable local employee, employers will consider employing a migrant.

If you have specialist, in-demand skills in the oil and gas industry, you are less likely to have difficulties.

Getting low paid work is easier.

There is no sales tax in Alberta. Shoppers in most of Canada's provinces have to add sales tax to their purchases, ranging from 7 percent in British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan to 15 percent in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Alberta and Calgary's public finances are very healthy and the standard of healthcare compares favourably with other parts of Canada.

Environment and Getting Around
Despite the oil industry, Calgary has a very clean environment.

There is little litter and the air is refreshingly clear and crisp. In 2004, Mercer carried out a survey of quality of life in cities around the world. The survey rated cities for many features, including environment. Calgary had the highest score in the world for a clean environment, with a rating of 166, followed by Honolulu, Helsinki and Katsuyama in Japan on 154.

Calgary also has some wonderful, extensive parkland with unvandalised playgrounds. The parks have attractive paths and cycle routes - especially parks on the Bow River.

Calgary's public transport is reasonably good.

The c-train (a light railway) is reliable and runs from the suburbs into downtown Calgary. The c-train is powered by electricity generated by windfarms. Within downtown Calgary you can travel free on the c-train. Outside downtown, there are free park-and-ride-car-parks for the C-train and on buses.

Park and Ride car parks feature free plug-in block heaters. These heaters are needed in cold weather to preheat car engines before they can start. The c-train stations aren't enclosed which makes for some very chilly waits in winter.
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Most Calgarians prefer using their cars to public transport. City officials estimate that more than forty percent of downtown workers use the c-train regularly though.

Calgary's growth has outpaced the government's ability to cope. Infrastructure is falling behind population growth. This can lead to traffic jams during rush hour. People coming from larger cities in other countries will find the traffic relatively easy. Getting around is made harder by Calgary's many traffic lights. Some drivers' habit of tailgating can also be annoying.

Suburban developments have outpaced school construction. This has led to lengthy journeys for some children and overcrowding of popular existing schools. Children living in a school's zone are entitled to free bus travel if they live more than 0.8 km from their school.

Where to Live in Calgary
As Calgary has boomed, migrants have flooded in from Europe, Asia and other Canadian cities. Suburban development has boomed too.

Calgary's housing is very affordable compared with Vancouver or Toronto. Its preferred residential areas lie in the North West and South West suburbs. These are closest to the Rockies with attractive mountain views.

The South East and North East, where the airport is situated, are quite industrialised and are less favoured locations.

Summing Up
To some migrants, Calgary feels isolated - an island city in the middle of a vast prairie. Unlike Toronto, there are no other sizeable towns and cities nearby. It's also a long, long way from the sea or sizeable lakes.

Most migrants, provided they can cope with the cool climate, find Calgary offers an extremely attractive lifestyle.

Calgary's Negatives

The long, cold winter.

The rapid thaw and slush when the warm Chinook wind blows in winter.

The short summer.

A lack of history, historical buildings, and culture.

Calgary's Positives

Low taxes.

Low unemployment.

Clean and beautiful, with a modern, attractive downtown, a good-sized meandering river, and the rocky mountain backdrop.

Clean air.

Chinook winds bringing mild days in winter.

Fantastic winter sports - with Canada Olympic Park.

Friendly people.

Affordable houses.

It's easy to "get away from it all" into a huge province with a small population