So. You’re ready to move and you’re trying to decide between Ottawa and Toronto. You want to know which city is the better place to live, but you’re quickly finding the decision-making process to be overwhelming. It seems that everyone has an opinion of where you should live, but when they give you input, are they really thinking about what’s best for you? For your lifestyle?
Is it better to live in Ottawa or Toronto? We’ve put together an intensive comparison of the two cities. The facts speak for themselves. Ottawa is definitely the better city because of its:
- Lower cost of living
- Lower cost of housing
- Lower overall population.
- Greater amount of green space.
Since this list is only a proverbial 30,000-foot view of what Ottawa has to offer, we will dig into the details of each of these comparison points so you can see how we came to this conclusion.
How Ottawa and Toronto are Similar
To figure out which city was the better choice, we first looked at how they are similar.
Both Ottawa and Toronto have a lot of the same amenities, they just have them in different volumes.
Both cities can give you:
- A tourist-rich environment where there’s something happening all the time.
- Lot of lights at night and hustle and bustle.
- Lots of bike paths for green commuting.
- Easy access to hiking and camping.
- Possible celebrity sightings.
The difference between Ottawa and Toronto is that Ottawa has all of the big city amenities without the overly congested big city feel.
Capital Cities Rock
If you like capital cities, Ottawa and Toronto will both fit the bill.
Ottawa is the Canadian National Capital.
Toronto is the Capital for Ontario Province.
As an Ontarian, if you’re interested in participating in the legislative process, both cities have plenty of opportunities for you to be involved.
As the Nation’s Capital, about 35% of Ottawa’s overall job economy is tied to government and/or military-focused jobs. As the Province’s seat of government, Toronto about 11% of Toronto’s total employment is associated with government jobs.
What these jobs tend to lack in extravagant salaries, they tend to more than make up for in:
Capital cities also are usually very cosmopolitan and more often than not have additional educational opportunities.
If you’re someone with a strong appreciation for history, capital cities are usually rife with it. Ottawa and Toronto are no different. Both cities have incredible, carefully preserved, and refurbished historical buildings you can explore, photograph, and admire.
Since the Nation’s capital usually has more opportunities for historical exploration, Ottawa wins this point.
The Impact of the Cities Populations
If you are looking for a large metropolitan city that has a lot of people bustling around, Toronto would be the city you would choose. If, on the other hand, you prefer a large city that isn’t overly crowded, you’d fall in love with Ottawa.
According to World Population Review, Ottawa has about 1.393 million people in the city that covers an area of about 2,790 square kilometers (1,077 square miles).
Toronto, on the other hand, has a population of about 6.197 million people. It covers about 5,095 square kilometers (2,280 square miles).
By doing some basic math, we know that:
- Ottawa has about one person every .002 kilometers. That’s averages out to one person every half acre.
- Toronto has about one person every .0008 kilometers or one person every one-fifth of an acre.
If you prefer to be able to have your own space instead of feeling like you’re in Tokyo, Ottawa gives you more opportunity for that. Ottawa wins this point.
There are several outdoor activities you can enjoy in both cities. Here’s a sample:
Outdoor Activities in Toronto
- Harbor tours.
- Walking tours.
- Running tours.
- Biking tours.
- Skiing and Snowboarding.
- Various cruises to include tall ship cruises.
- Visit the Toronto Zoo.
- Take an Edge Walk at the CN Tower
Outdoor Activities in Ottawa
- Go to the Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival or any number of other festivals.
- Visit Luskville Falls.
- Go caving.
- Go camping.
- Go whitewater rafting.
- Take a cruise down the Ottawa River.
- Bike, run, skate (including ice skating), or walk down Rideau Canal.
- Canoe or kayak on Dow’s Lake.
- Jog on King Mountain Trail.
- Go strawberry picking.
- Take in an outdoor movie.
- Walk Alexandra Bridge at night.
Now that you’ve seen so many options – that only touch the surface of what you can experience in each city, you should also know that Ottawa has significantly more parks to residents than Toronto.
Although both cities have beautiful parks, they aren’t as easily accessible in Toronto as those in Ottawa. Once again, Ottawa wins this point.
Higher Education in Ottawa and Toronto
Both Ottawa and Toronto have world-class colleges and universities where you can take some courses, begin, or finish your degree, get your advanced degree, or maybe… be a guest lecturer.
Ottawa has 13 different colleges and universities. Some of them are:
- The University of Ottawa
- Carleton University
- Algonquin College
- The Université Saint Paul
- City College
- La Cité College of Applied Arts and Technology
- There is also a satellite campus in Ottawa:
- University of Ottawa – Saint Paul University
Being the much larger city, Toronto also has more higher learning options. There are 22 various colleges and universities within Toronto. Among them are:
- The University of Toronto
- York University
- Ryerson University
- Tyndale College & Seminary
- Centennial College
- There are also several satellite campuses in Toronto to include:
- Regis College University of Toronto
- Upper Madison College
- University of Toronto – University of St Michael’s College
- University of Toronto – Wycliffe College
Toronto not only has more campuses available than Ottawa, but there seem to be more diverse learning opportunities. Toronto wins this section.
Available Healthcare Services
Ontario Province’s public health care system requires the use of the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP). If you’re new to the province, you can apply for the card after you’ve lived in Ontario Province for three months.
- Go to a Service Ontario centre,
- Complete the appropriate paperwork,
- Provide proof of identity (and residency)
Some of the services that are available to provide health care are:
- Mount Sinai Hospital
- Saint Michael’s Hospital
- Sunnybrook Hospital
- Toronto General Hospital
Health care services available include:
- Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario
- Ottawa Hospital
- Queensway Carleton Hospital
- University of Ottawa Heart Institute
Ottawa has specialty hospitals that Toronto doesn’t seem to have. If you’re concerned about having access to a variety of health care options, Ottawa wins this section.
Craving Some Culture
Do you think that you will have to forego your love of culture if you live in one city over another? That just isn’t the case.
Both cities have opportunities for:
- Art Galleries
- Hockey. It may not be fine arts, but it’s definitely part of Canadian culture.
Ottawa Also Offers:
- Tours of Parliament Hill
- The Difenbunker Museum
- The Canadian Museum of History
- The Canadian War Museum
- The Canadian Science and Technology Museum
Other Things to Do in Toronto:
- Ripley’s Aquarium
- The Royal Ontario Museum (Often referred to as the ROM)
- Tours of the Financial District
- The Art Gallery of Ontario (Commonly called the AGO)
- Toronto is also a city that is deeply ensconced in the film and recording professions. There are annual film and recording festivals with tickets available for purchase.
It seems the only difference here is the number of activities available. The cities tie on this point.
Go Out to Eat or Out for a Night on the Town
Both cities have their own claims to fame when it comes to pubs and eateries. A sampling includes:
- Bellwoods Brewery. If you’re looking for craft beer and a casual, inviting atmosphere, this is one of the favorites.
- Bar Isabel is your local hangout for Spanish fare. They also offer both vegetarian-friendly and vegan options to satisfy your dietary preferences.
- Camp 4 DJ is a club that serves pub fare, along with the cocktails and beer you would expect to have for a night of dancing and music.
- The Escobar Latin American Speakeasy is a campy, retro environment reminiscent of the underground clubs of the 1920’s.
- Miss Things will satisfy your craving when you want a taste of Polynesia. They offer Asian, Hawaiian, and Polynesian fare.
- If you want a different kind of spice, try some Cuban food at La Cubana.
- Richmond Station offers American, International, and Canadian food that will make your taste buds do their happy dance.
- Absolute Comedy Ottawa. If you want to catch a few laughs while you eat, this could be a great change in your routine.
- Vinyards Wine Bar and Bistro lets you sample some wines and beer on tap and listen to some cool jazz while you dine in a comfortable, casual environment.
- The Crazy Horse Stonegrill Steakhouse and Saloon. If you want a laid-back environment and a chance to listen to a great band, this would be the place for you.
- The Earl of Sussex is an Irish Pub where you can grab a pint and fish and chips or shepherd’s pie.
- Royal Oak – Bank at Gloucester. If you want a traditional English pub environment, this is the place for you.
- If you’re in the mood for Indian, Middle Eastern, or Pakistani food, The Curry Palace is your place.
- Maybe Greek and Mediterranean is more to your liking. If that’s the case, Cozmos Souvlaki.
- If you want to hit the raw bar, or maybe get some local meat, fish or pasta dishes, Supply and Demand will satisfy your desire.
- Want some Mexican food? Take some time to go off the beaten path for Ola Cocina Taqueria.
The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter which city you choose; you can find plenty of things to whet your appetite. Once again, both cities tie on this section.
According to Numbeo.com, cost of housing tends to be much more expensive in Toronto than it is in Ottawa.
From an economic point of view, that makes sense when you consider that there is more land available per person in Ottawa than there is in Toronto. Even so, here’s a general comparison:
|Average Monthly Housing Expense||Ottawa||Toronto|
|Inside City Centre:|
|1 Bedroom Apartment Rental in City Centre||C$1,510||C$2,250|
|3 Bedroom Apartment Rental in City Centre||C$2,615||C$3,528|
|Cost per Square Foot to Purchase an Apartment/Condo in City Centre||C$452||C$1,038|
|Outside of City Centre:|
|1 Bedroom Apartment Rental Outside of City Centre||C$1,200||C$1,820|
|3 Bedroom Apartment Rental Outside of City Centre||C$1,968||C$2,676|
|Cost per Square Foot to Purchase an Apartment/Condo Outside of City Centre||C$278||C$804|
If you choose to buy your home, you can plan on paying property tax to the approximate tune of:
- C$1,075 per C$100,000 of home value
- C$636 per C$100,000 of home value.
So, while your home will cost significantly more in Toronto, you will generally pay less in property tax.
That’s not really a surprising fact since Ottawa is working on increasing the reach of their public transit systems.
When everything is taken into consideration, Ottawa wins this point.
General Cost of Living
Based on the cost of housing, you would expect that the overall cost of living is going to follow suit. Overall, that’s accurate, but that isn’t always the case. There are a few instances where Toronto can offer daily items for less than Ottawa. Here’s a sample from numbeo.com:
|Three-Course Meal at a Moderate-Level Restaurant||C$80||C$87|
|Pint of Domestic Beer||C$7||C$8|
|Local Transport One-way Ticket||C$3.60||C$3.25|
|1 Gallon of Gasoline||C$4.38||C$4.46|
|Toyota Corolla Sedan (or Equivalent Make/Model)||C$23,000||C$25,700|
|Basic per month for 915 square foot apartment/condo (Electric, Water, Garbage)||C$153||C$146|
|Monthly, Private Preschool or Kindergarten for 1 Child||C$1,128||C$1,532|
|Annual, International Primary School for 1 Child||C$13,111||C$26,135|
|Monthly Gym Membership||C$58||C$55|
|1-hour Weekend Tennis Court Rental||C$29||C$30|
|Going to the Mall or the Movies:|
|Cinema for 1 Seat (International Release)||C$14.50||C$15|
|1-pair of Nike Running Shoes (Mid-range)||C$101||C$110|
|Going to the Market:|
|1-Dozen Regular Eggs||C$3.17||C$3.49|
|1-Gallon of Milk||C$10.16||C$11.80|
|1-Pound of Chicken Fillets||C$5.97||C$6.59|
As these comparisons indicate, Ottawa has an overall lower cost of living with the exception of the:
- One-way public transportation passes
- Basic housing utilities
- Gym memberships
Ottawa wins again.
Depending on which side of the coin you reside, this has to do with either:
- Your income
- Your business expense to hire employees
We won’t go into the total compensation picture of adding various benefits because that varies wildly by company. From a base salary perspective, however, Toronto seems to have higher salary levels.
That makes sense when you consider that there’s many more people there. The more people there are in a population centre, the stronger the competition for good talent.
Numbeo.com, suggests that, after taxes, the average monthly net salary is:
- C$4,013 in Ottawa
- C$4,049 in Toronto
These numbers are a bit misleading. The problem with averages is that they throw the really high salaries and the really low salaries together in the same bucket. When you consider that Toronto has three times as many people as Ottawa, the math would prove that it takes fewer really good salaries to make up for many more low level salaries.
One thing about working in Ottawa is that most jobs require bilingual skills. If you’re not fluent in French and English, you will either need to quickly become proficient in both French and English or have to dig a little more to find a job that only requires one of the languages.
Here is an example of an Office Administrator job in both cities:
- According to neuvoo.ca, a Bilingual Office Administrator position in Ottawa is generally offered at an annual gross salary of between C$45,000 – C$50,000. That translates to a monthly gross (before deductions) salary of between C$3,750 and C$4,167
- The similar job in Toronto listed on indeed.ca (not requiring bilingual abilities) pays an annual gross between C$40,000 and C$56,100, or a monthly gross of between C$3,333 and C$4,675.
Note: The Toronto job has a wider salary range than the Ottawa job, which means that it’s likely they will hire closer to the lower end of the range than the higher.
The bottom line here is that you are unlikely to earn enough difference in your salary to make up for the cost of living difference. Ottawa wins.
Ontario Province is Home to Both Ottawa and Toronto
Ontario is the Iroquoian word for:
- Beautiful lake
- Beautiful water
- Big body of water
Considering the large number of lakes in the Province, that makes a lot of sense.
Generally, Ontario is an English-speaking province, but there are several places, including Ottawa, where Ontario and Quebec originally started as the same province but were split in 1867. Ontario is the second largest province in Canada covering about 1-million square kilometers and is home to about 2/5ths of Canada’s entire population.
It is a wonderfully multiculturally rich environment that offers:
- The chance to attend exciting festivals throughout the year.
- A variety of landscapes and topographies.
- The ability to experience all four seasons.
- Over 250,000 lakes, which include the five Great Lakes, provide about one-fifth of the fresh water for the entire world.
- Interesting contrasts in industries and professions.
- French is also fluently spoken.
Ottawa is the Better City
This analysis has demonstrated that Ottawa is the better choice between the two cities. It will provide a more balanced lifestyle.
The only exception is that if you’re in the film or music industry, you’re more likely to migrate toward living in Toronto. The sad part about this is that most who are starting in the industry are going to have to have at least three roommates to be able to afford to live there.
Ottawa is a great multicultural city you will definitely enjoy.