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23 February, 2022

The ten largest cities in Canada (and their investment strengths)

Toronto is the largest city in Canada and a major investment hub in North America, but which other locations make up the top ten?

By Richard Gardham

The ten largest cities in Canada are Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Ottawa, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Mississauga, Vancouver, Brampton and Hamilton. Here, we profile each of them and look at the sectors in which they excel.

Toronto

Population: 2.79 million (population of urban area: 5.65 million)

Toronto may not be Canada’s capital city, but it is the largest and that makes it a major draw for investment. Aside from its large, well-educated population, its location on Lake Ontario a short distance from the US border (as well as tourist attractions such as Niagara Falls) means it holds multiple attractions to any investor wanting close proximity to a vast market and a high quality of life for employees. Toronto is an international hub for business and finance, and its Bay Street financial district is considered to be the Canadian equivalent of Wall Street in New York. As well as hosting the headquarters of big names such as Royal Bank of Canada, Toronto-Dominion Bank and Scotiabank, Toronto also has a strong reputation for producing fintech start-ups. The city is considered a North American tech stronghold, with claims to be Canada’s equivalent to Silicon Valley, while it also hosts a successful film and television industry.

Montreal

Population: 1.76 million (population of urban area: 3.68 million)

Montreal lies in the province of Quebec on the St Lawrence River, located close to the US border and just 196km east of Ottawa. The city is renowned for its tech industry and is a global hub for AI research. Its strong reputation has brought in investment from the likes of Facebook, Microsoft, Google and Samsung. Montreal is the largest French-Canadian city, and has a vast bilingual population, with an estimated 57.4% of of its inhabitants able to speak both English and French (making it the second-largest primarily French-speaking city in the world after Paris). It has a vibrant video gaming sector, as well as being a Canadian stronghold for the finance, film and television, oil refining, aerospace and pharmaceuticals industries. Montreal was recently awarded second spot in a ranking of the world’s best cities for hybrid work.

Calgary

Population: 1.3 million (population of urban area: 1.3 million)

Calgary is located in the province of Alberta in western Canada, some 300km from the city of Edmonton, to which it is directly linked by Highway 2. The city is considered to be the Canadian leader in the oil and gas industry, hosting headquarters or operations of the likes of BP Canada, Canadian Natural Resources Limited, Cenovus Energy, Encana and Shell Canada. Other industrial strengths of the city revolve around the aerospace, logistics, business services, health and education, financial services, and film and television sectors. Known for its high levels of wealth, as of 2015, Calgary was considered to hold the most millionaires per capita of any city in Canada.

Ottawa

Population: 1.01 million (population of urban area: 1.07 million)

Although Ottawa is Canada’s capital city, it is often overshadowed by the likes of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver when it comes to attracting investment. That said, the city, which lies in the south of the province of Ontario close to the US border and just under 200km from Montreal, has a large number of universities and colleges and is often considered to have the most educated workforce in the whole of Canada. Being a capital city, Ottawa’s economy is largely based around public services (given the large number of government bodies based there), but it also has strengths in high-tech industries, healthcare and agriculture.

Edmonton

Population: 1 million (population of urban area: 1.05 million)

Edmonton is a city in western Canada, lying about 300km north of Calgary, and is a staging point for large oil sands projects based in northern Alberta, as well as diamond mining operations in Canada’s less hospitable northern areas. As with Calgary, Edmonton is considered a North American hub for the oil and gas industries. It also has strengths in the technology, research, finance, and distribution and logistics sectors. Edmonton offers an impressive quality of life and is famed throughout Canada for its year-round hosting of festivals. It is also home to the largest shopping mall in North America.

Winnipeg

Population: 750,000 (population of urban area: 760,000)

Winnipeg is the capital of the centrally based province of Manitoba and is named after nearby Lake Winnipeg. The city is a railway and transportation hub, although its economy is based around a diverse range of sectors, such as healthcare, retail, manufacturing and public administration. The Royal Canadian Mint is based in Winnipeg, and the city has been recognised as one of the cheapest in Canada in which to do business. It is considered one of the most culturally important cities in Canada and a key tourist location within the country.

Mississauga

Population: 718,000 (population of urban area: part of Greater Toronto – see above)

Mississauga is located in the province of Ontario and is considered part of Greater Toronto. Its thriving central business district saw large population growth in the second half of the 20th century. Industrially, its strengths are based around pharmaceuticals, finance, electronics, aerospace and the manufacturing of transportation parts. The city plays host to the national headquarters of Hewlett Packard, Honeywell, Walmart, Kellogg’s and Panasonic.

Vancouver

Population: 662,000 (population of urban area: 2.43 million)

Vancouver is located on Canada’s west coast, just north of the US border and about 230km away from the city of Seattle. It is a regular recipient of ‘most liveable cities in the world’ accolades, and has one of the most multicultural populations in Canada. Vancouver prides itself on being an environmentally friendly city, a reputation it has worked hard to cultivate since Greenpeace was founded in the city in 1969. Its port is the largest in Canada and the fourth largest by tonnage in the Americas region. Vancouver also hosts a vibrant film production industry, giving it the nickname ‘Hollywood North’. It is a major tourism hub, and its reputation for hosting a well-educated population and a high level of liveability has attracted the attention of some major tech companies. Vancouver also has strengths in biotechnology, aerospace and videogame development.

Brampton

Population: 656,000 (population of urban area: part of Greater Toronto – see above)

Brampton is the fastest growing of Canada’s major cities, and is considered part of ‘Greater Toronto’. Its nickname ‘the Flower Town of Canada’ stems from its historic greenhouse industry, but in the 21st century its strengths lie in advanced manufacturing, retail administration, logistics, technology, food and beverages, and life sciences. Companies with operations in the city include Amazon, Ford and Nestlé.

Hamilton

Population: 569,000 (population of urban area: 730,000)

Hamilton is also located in the south of the province of Ontario, midway between the Canadian city of Toronto and the US city of Buffalo. It lies about 66km from Niagara Falls. The city was built on industries such as steel manufacturing, but in recent years it has moved to a more service-based economy, with health and life sciences at the forefront of its offering. Steel manufacturing is still important to Hamilton, however, and through companies such as Stelco and Dofasco it produces about 60% of Canada’s steel.

Please note that Quebec City has a population of 532,000, although the population of its urban area is 733,000, the ninth largest in Canada. It is considered to be one of the most important cities in French Canada and on an industrial level it excels in public administration, defence, services and manufacturing (particularly pulp and paper products).

Population figures are based on municipal boundaries and 2021 figures from Statistics Canada.

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