Calgary sits in a vast, often brown coloured plain in Southern Alberta.
The prairie here is far above sea level: Calgary’s elevation is 1050 metres (3445 feet) above sea level.
Calgary is Alberta’s largest city, larger than Edmonton, the province’s capital. Calgary has grown rapidly in recent years.
Calgary’s latitude – 51 degrees north – is similar to London, Paris, Seattle and Vancouver.
Its high latitude results in long days in summer and long nights in winter.
Calgary is semi-arid – hence the brown landscape.
Sitting on the prairies, the city enjoys plenty of sunshine with low rainfall.
The Rocky Mountains rise dramatically to the west.
Of all Canada’s provinces, Alberta’s character is most like the USA. Alberta has cowboy boots, rodeos, cow festivals (Calgary is sometimes called Cowtown) and American spellings. Its government is to the right of Canada’s other provinces. Alberta has a reputation for socially conservative attitudes.
Calgary has a low violent crime rate compared to most major cities in Canada. However, The overall crime rate in Calgary increased by almost thirty percent in 2015 after falling for eleven consecutive years.
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 second only to Saudi Arabia’s. Calgary is one of Canada’s wealthiest cities.
Low taxes have brought many businesses to Calgary. Small businesses in Alberta pay just 14 percent tax, and there is no payroll tax.
Over the last two years, Calgary has been hit hard by falling oil prices and its economy has declined by over 2 percent in 2015 and is expected to decline by 1 percent in 2016.
Calgary’s unemployment rate in September 2016 was 9.8 percent, higher than the Canadian average of 7.0 percent. The number is higher than a year ago, when Calgary’s unemployment was 7.0 percent. In the boom oil price years, 2013 and 2014, Calgary’s unemployment rate was below 5 percent.
Approximately 16,000 jobs have been lost in Calgary in the last 12 months to September 2016. The fall in the oil price has reduced employment opportunities as oil producers trim their budgets and cut costs. Calgary’s manufacturing and construction sectors have also been affected by lower oil prices.
Despite the economic downturn, the oil industry and its suppliers still pay some of the highest salaries in Calgary.
The government, universities and schools aren’t quite as generous with their money but offer reasonable salaries and good conditions of employment.
The downsizing of the oil industry means that getting well-paid work will be 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.
There is no general sales tax levied in Alberta, although shoppers need to pay a federal sales tax of 5 percent. Shoppers in other Canadian provinces have to add a combined sales tax to their purchases ranging from 10 percent in Saskatchewan to 15 percent in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
Alberta and Calgary’s public finances are very healthy, and the standard of healthcare compares favourably with other parts of Canada.
Although healthcare is good, Calgary’s breakneck growth means you may find it difficult to get a family doctor when you first arrive in Calgary – there is a shortage.
Calgary Health maintains a list of family doctors currently accepting new patients here (pdf document).
If you haven’t registered with a family doctor, but need the services of one, you can use a walk-in clinic free of charge, provided you have an AHCIP card (Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan card).
When you arrive in Alberta you need to wait three months before you are eligible for an AHCIP card. This applies whether you are relocating internationally or from another Canadian province. To cover you during this time, private health insurance should be considered.
Environment and Getting Around
Calgary has a very clean environment. It was rated as the world’s cleanest city by Forbes Magazine in 2007 (this is the most recent survey published) and as the world’s fifth most livable city by the Economist in 2016 for the seventh year in a row.
The 2016 “livability ranking” report measures 30 factors under five categories: stability, health care, education, infrastructure, and culture and the environment. Calgary received top marks for healthcare, education and stability.
Calgary has little litter, and the air is refreshingly clear and crisp. In 2010, Mercer carried out a survey of quality of life in cities around the world and rated Calgary as the world’s top Eco-city on the basis of the city’s waste removal service, sewage systems, water drinkability & availability, and low air pollution.
Cats and dogs must be licensed by the City of Calgary.
Regulations prohibit pet cats from roaming in Calgary; this means that a cat must remain on the owner’s property.
Dogs must not be allowed off-leash unless they are in a securely fenced private yard or a designated off-leash area.
Calgary has 149 public off-leash areas, making a total of more than 1,250 hectares (3125 acres). Just over one-sixth of city parkland is designated off-leash.
Calgary has some wonderful, extensive parkland with unvandalised playgrounds. The parks have attractive paths and cycle routes – especially parks on the Bow River.
Buildings in downtown Calgary are linked by the +15 network of overhead pedestrian bridges, shown in one of the images on this page.
The +15 network is heated, so you can walk around the downtown’s buildings and shops in winter without the need for winter clothing.
The network (so called because the bridges are about 15 feet above the ground) is the biggest network of buildings connected by footbridges in the world, about 16 kilometers (10 miles) long in total.
Calgary’s public transport is reasonably good.
The C Train (a light railway) is reliable and runs from some of the suburbs into downtown Calgary. You can see the C Train’s Stations and routes here.
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 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.
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 been faster at times than the government’s ability to cope.
Infrastructure is falling behind population and there can be 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.
Suburban developments have outpaced school construction. This has led to lengthy journeys for some children and overcrowding of popular existing schools.
Where to Live in Calgary
As Calgary boomed when oil prices were high, migrants flooded in from Europe, Asia and other Canadian cities.
Suburban development boomed too.
The average price of a property in Calgary in August 2016 was $456,000 up one percent on the previous year. The number of house sales has dropped dramatically due to the economic downturn.
The city’s preferred residential areas lie in the North West and South West suburbs. These are closest to the Rockies with attractive mountain views.
The North East, where the airport is situated, and some rather industrial parts of the South East are often thought of as less favoured locations.
We’d recommend Tuscany, Edgemont, Country Hills, Dalhousie and Rosedale as good places to begin your search for a home.
We’d recommend West Hillhurst, Westgate and Springbank Hill as good places to begin your search for a home.
We’d recommend McKenzie Lake and Midnapore as good places to begin your search for a home.
Each of these areas has lower than average crime rates and offer residents an above average quality of life.
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 way from the sea or sizeable lakes.
Most migrants, provided they can cope with the cool climate, find Calgary offers an extremely attractive lifestyle.