Is Toronto or Montreal Better for Students?


When it’s time to choose a university, there are a lot of options for both international and domestic study. Whether you’re a Canadian citizen who wants to stay in-country or an international student, you may be trying to choose between two culture-rich cities in Canada: Toronto and Montreal. 

Is Toronto or Montreal better for students? While Toronto and Montreal are both cities with top-ranked universities, they differ in several ways. Montreal is more affordable, both in the cost of living and tuition. Conversely, Toronto has a larger population, is slightly more multicultural, and has a sizeable international business sector. 

The remainder of this article will compare life in Toronto and Montreal for students. We will focus on five categories: 

  • Universities
  • Cost of Living
  • Culture
  • Healthcare
  • Things to Do

While this choice ultimately comes down to your priorities and area of study, these five categories could help you decide where you want to go.

Toronto vs. Montreal: A Brief Comparison

Canada’s two largest cities, Toronto and Montreal, are attractive places for young people in which to live and study. Both towns boast diverse communities, unique cultural blends, high-quality of life, and beautiful natural settings. 

Toronto is the larger of the two, with a population of around 5.5 million inhabitants, compared to Montreal’s 3.8 million. Due to its size, you will likely see more progressive attitudes and diverse cultures in Toronto. However, larger size also means more traffic.

Many students, especially those studying internationally, may not have a car, so traffic would not be as much of a concern. Besides, public transportation in both cities is relatively robust, like Montreal’s subway. However, Toronto takes the cake here with its cool streetcars. Either way, you should be able to get most places you need to without a car.

Weather-wise, they are both similar in climate being located on the southern edge of Canada. However, Montreal, being farther north, gets colder during the winter while Toronto winters are closer to New England’s. The summers are warm and humid due to the cities’ proximity to water.

French and English are the national languages of Canada. While it is encouraged to learn French wherever you’ll be in Canada, Toronto may be easier to navigate for non-French speakers. It is English-based, with many other languages represented in the industry. 

Montreal, part of the region of Quebec, has stricter French-language requirements since this area is populated by French Canadians, descendants from the original French colonists. 

Factors Students Should Consider

As a student, you may have different requirements in a city than a young professional or a retiree. It’s important that the city you choose contains a university that offers your field of study. If you’re looking at continuing to an advanced degree, like a Master’s or Ph.D., it may also be essential to attend a high-ranked school. 

Tuition and costs of living are also important factors for students who have limited income since they may only be working part-time or not at all while they pursue a degree. We also want to note the availability of healthcare should something happen while you’re at school.

Lastly, students tend to be fairly active outside of school hours, so the city should have an enjoyable culture and lots of activities to do. After all, everyone needs to have a little fun!

Universities

Both Toronto and Montreal have high-ranked universities as well as other, more specialized ones. A high ranking means the university has a record of superb academic performance and an excellent employability rate. 

These Canadian universities even compete with top US and UK universities, giving you a varied range of education and degree levels. Most popular fields of study can be found in either of these cities, and all degree levels (from BA to Ph.D.) are offered.

Below is a table from Top Universities listing the 2015 internationally-ranked universities in both cities:

Montréal vs. Toronto in the QS World University Rankings® 2014/15
Top Universities in Montréal Top Universities in Toronto
McGill University (21st) University of Toronto (20th)
Université de Montréal (83rd) York University (421-430)
Concordia University (461-470) Ryerson University (701+)

 

Tuition varies for these schools and cities, but the yearly average amount of tuition for residents of Montreal is USD 14,300. This is compared to a slightly higher number in Toronto at USD 21,700 per year.

Universities in both of these cities also have top-rankings in various faculty areas, according to the chart below (also from Top Universities). It seems that the universities in Toronto are more varied in their top-ranking subject matter, but Montreal universities have some high ranks as well. 

Montréal vs. Toronto in the QS World University Rankings by Faculty 2014/15
Faculty Area Top Universities in Montréal Top Universities in Toronto
Arts & Humanities McGill University (26th in the world); Université de Montréal (116) University of Toronto (14th in the world); York University (145)
Engineering & Technology McGill University (59th); Université de Montréal (151) University of Toronto (35th)
Life Sciences & Medicine McGill University (25th); Université de Montréal (80) University of Toronto (15th); York University (391)
Natural Sciences McGill University (44th); Université de Montréal (174) University of Toronto (22nd); York University (289)
Social Sciences & Management McGill University (43rd); Université de Montréal (131) University of Toronto (34th); York University (170)

 

In addition to these top-marks, most Canadian universities focus on research and allow their students time in the field to give them case-study experience. Therefore, if researching for that next ground-breaking technological device is of interest to you, you may find it at one of the large universities in these cities. 

Cost of Living 

While the cost of living in Canada varies widely between urban and rural areas, and between the cities themselves, it is generally understood that Toronto is more expensive than Montreal. Recently it tied with Vancouver for the number one slot of the most expensive city in Canada. 

According to Transfer Wire, the cost of living for one person, without rent is CAD 1,038 monthly or CAD 12,464/year in Toronto. Compare this to Montreal, where one person can live (without rent) for about CAD 944/month.  

If you are going in as a full-time student, these costs may be even cheaper. In Toronto, you’d be looking at CAD 879/month without rent or CAD 675 in Montreal. The more significant difference here is because students in Montreal are not required to pay the same high taxes as residents are. 

Housing is also key in determining how much money you will need to live. As a student, you will likely be renting a dorm room, which is around CAD 550 in Montreal or CAD 600 in Toronto. 

While products and services may be higher or lower than their US counterparts, you can expect to pay a higher price overall in Toronto than in Montreal. 

To compare the cost of living between these two cities or even the city in which you currently live, check out this cool converter on Numbeo.

Culture

The quality of life in Canada is overall very high, and that is no different in either Toronto or Montreal. They are both multicultural and cosmopolitan, with a rich history and varied populace. While you won’t be bored with things to see or do in either of these cities, each one has a unique cultural feel, with its own quirks. 

Language


Montreal and Toronto are considered the centers of “two cultures” in Canada: that of the English and French colonists. This difference comes out most notably in the idea of language purity. 

While Toronto is primarily an English-speaking city, it also supports a lot of multilingual infrastructure due to the large number of immigrants that reside there. Because of this, navigating through the city is easy for many people.

Montreal, on the other hand, is the second-largest French-speaking city in the world after Paris. Due to this, or as a result of, the people there hold onto the concept of “language purity.” While not required, there have been past attempts from the governing body to require all inhabitants of Montreal to learn French. 

And even for students who are living there temporarily, they will have a much better experience if they did learn the language.  

The Feel of the City

The personality of each city’s inhabitants also differs considerably. Some call Toronto “New York if it were run by the Swiss,” meaning that Torontonians retain a prim and reserved character as opposed to a Montrealer’s joie de vivre. 

Montreal’s feel is more reflective of that of France, the motherland of the French Canadians’ ancestors. While Toronto has an international, professional vibe, you will find more melding of European and North American culture in every aspect Montreal: from architecture to food to entertainment. This also gives Montreal a deep and vibrant nightlife, unlike anywhere else in Canada. 

Food

The culinary legacy of France lives on in Montreal, where there “are more restaurants per capita than anywhere else in Canada,” and second only to New York in North America (Top Universities). Since food culture is so pervasive in the city, and you have so many options, you are sure to find a fantastic French restaurant in your price range. 

Toronto’s status as the largest city in Canada lends itself to an even wider variety of food cultures than that of Montreal: those of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, as well as Europe. A blogger from Cities Journal in their article Top 21 Reasons Why Toronto is Better Than Montreal states that eating in Toronto is like:

“…the United Nations of food. You want pho? You got it. Are you craving some delicious Uzbekistani treat for dessert? No problem, here’s the address of a restaurant.”

Toronto is also a better place for street food, which is a popular dinner choice for young people, especially students. Portable-food stands abound in Toronto and are as varied in flavors as their brick-and-mortar counterparts. On the other hand, Montreal is only now beginning to see a rise in food truck vendors due to a 66-year-old ban, which was lifted in 2013. 

To read more about exploring these two cities in terms of this cultural divide, check out this article by Lee Foster of Foster Travel Publishing. 

Healthcare

We already know that healthcare in Canada is pretty great. Canada has some of the best medical care in the world with regard to coverage and availability. Being publicly-funded, it covers all Canadian citizens. As a student, you will be required to have healthcare, and some provinces or colleges will set this up, allowing you to take advantage of the Canadian healthcare system. 

If you have to see the doctor during your studies, you may need to wait longer in Montreal than in Toronto. For the last couple of decades, Montreal has seen a shortage of doctors as many have moved to Toronto or gone outside of the country. However, once you do get in, the quality of healthcare will be about the same in both cities.

Things to Do

Finally, as a student, you should also consider the various things to do around each city; after all, your studies won’t take place 24/7!

Architecture

Montreal was named a UNESCO City of Design in 2006 and is now one of five design capitals of the world. Contemporary architecture melds with European influence offering old-world charm and the energy and appeal of a modern North American city. 

Conversely, Toronto is all modern with shiny skyscrapers and sleek public spaces. As it is also an economic center and center for international business, the city has a clean and professional feel. The most notable feature here is the sky-splitting CN Tower, built in 1974 to be the tallest building in Canada. This building is the most striking feature of Toronto’s skyline.  

Toronto also has culture-rich historic neighborhoods interspersed with the modern, that contain Victorian and Post-Gothic structures.

Theatre & Concerts

Toronto is a stop on the road for most big-name theatres and concert performances as they make their way through North America. You’ll find most of the large entertainment venues in the Distillery District, along with many local studios for dance, theatre, and music.

Montreal provides a rich array of theatre, including the world-famous Cirque du Soleil. One of the greatest cultural exports out of Montreal, Cirque du Soleil is a new take on the traditional circus. Cirque combines a love of dance and that Montrealer joie de vivre with several circus upgrades:

  • Traditional animals are replaced by acrobats in colorful costumes and stunning makeup
  • Red-nosed clowns disappear for subtly humorous and sarcastic comedians
  • Standard circus acts are upgraded to even riskier gravity-defying, high-wire, whirlwinds 

You can also occasionally find traveling Cirque du Soleil shows in a major city near you. 

Heritage Sites


Those who enjoy museums, art galleries, and other heritage sites will not be bored in either of these cities. From the Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal to the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, you are sure to find pieces that awe and inspire. 

Here is just a short list:

Montreal

    • The McCord Museum of Canadian History: contains permanent and rotating exhibits about Canada’s history both pre- and post-European settlement. 
    • Montreal Botanical Garden: the world’s second-largest with a variety of themed gardens and exhibitions

 

  • Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Sacours Cathedral: one of the oldest churches in Montreal
  • Notre Dame Basilica: the interior is among the most dramatic in the world and regarded as a masterpiece of Gothic Revival architecture

 

  • Montreal Biodome: four ecosystems, ranging from polar to tropical rainforest, under a single roof

Toronto

 

  • Art Gallery of Ontario: One of the largest art museums in North America 
  • Ontario Science Center: the largest science museum in Toronto
  • Casa Loma: Gothic Revival style mansion and garden in midtown Toronto
  • Royal Ontario Museum: museum of art, world culture and natural history
  • Toronto Zoo: largest zoo in Canada

 

Festivals

Street festivals are popular among students because of the usually lower cost of entrance and a varied number of activities, food, and goods for purchase. Both cities quite enjoy their festivals, both outdoors and inside. 

Montreal has a vibrant annual cycle of festivals. You can start the summer with the International Fireworks Festival. Following that, you will be able to experience a wide range of celebrations, including jazz, movies, and comedy. 

Toronto, as well, boasts many festivals during all times of the year, such as the popular Toronto International Film Festival. You will also find the largest street festival, Caribana, in North America and the second-largest Pride Festival both in Toronto. Caribana, specifically, celebrates the Caribbean and West Indies culture. 

Even during the holiday season, you will be able to enjoy fun outdoor events such as Toronto’s Santa Clause Parade. 

Sports

Both Toronto and Montreal enjoy their sporting events. The most popular sport in Canada is unsurprisingly, ice hockey. However, Canadians enjoy other sports as well, such as:

  • Lacrosse
  • Soccer
  • Baseball
  • Cricket
  • Tennis
  • Rugby
  • Basketball
  • Curling
  • Golf

In terms of the number one sport, Montreal has the nation’s best ice hockey team: the Canadiens. However, Toronto has more skilled teams in nearly every North American major professional league, including:

 

  • MLB: Toronto Blue Jays
  • CFL: Toronto Argonauts
  • NBA: Toronto Raptors
  • MLS: Toronto FC 
  • NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs

 

The Hockey Hall of Fame is also housed in Toronto so, if you’re a diehard sports fan, Toronto may be your choice! 

Getting Outdoors


If you have an active personality, you would be in luck with both these cities. A rural adventure such as hiking, biking, horseback riding, and skiing is only a short hour or so away. 

You can also enjoy beautiful outdoor spaces in both cities, from parks to water-front promenades, which will give you a chance to enjoy the outdoors and beautiful seasons closer to home. Specifically, in Toronto, you can visit High Park, a nature reserve with 130 acres of trails.

Shopping


If you are looking for upscale shopping similar to Paris or Milan, look no further than Toronto. It is said that Torontonians shop like it is their job. Whole neighborhoods are devoted to one type of good or another, and the huge Eaton Center sees over a million shoppers each week! Toronto is also a great place to shop if you enjoy vintage jewelry and antiques.

Conversely, in Montreal, the fare is more eclectic and moderately priced, which appeals to young adults. Due to its bitter cold winters, the city has developed 20 miles of underground businesses. It is said that there are enough services provided here that one could live their entire life without ever going above-ground! While no one has actually done that, these underground malls are an excellent place to escape the winter and spend it in leisure. 

Conclusion

Ultimately, whether you choose to study in Toronto or Montreal, will depend on the college and its offerings, and the culture, nightlife, and cost of living of the city

If you are interested in a vibrant European/North American fusion and know French or are intent on learning it, then Montreal would be a better pick. On the other hand, if you wanted to experience a large, modern, and international metropolis with top-rated schools and a focus on international business, Toronto would be the place for you. 

Thais R

I moved to Canada in 2016. This was the best decision that I ever made. I created this website to share what I’ve learned with anyone who’s thinking of moving or travelling to Canada.

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