This morning, MoneySense magazine came out with their annual ranking of the best places to live in Canada. The number-crunchers at our sister magazine looked at house prices, weather, jobs, crime rates, hospitals and culture (both sports and the arts), then tallied it all up.
I have to say, I was really surprised by which province dominated the top spots for best small city, best city overall and best place to raise kids.
According to MoneySense, Calgary is the winner of the “where to raise kids” category. Their average monthly daycare cost is $726, and 48 per cent of the families there have kids. One in five people in Calgary are under age 15.
Also in the top five for raising kids were Blainville, Quebec; St. Albert, Alberta; Strathcona Country, Alberta; and Lévis, Quebec.
At the Today’s Parent office, the where-to-live debate is inseparable from the question of what kind of community (be it the country or the suburbs or a bustling city) is best for child rearing. We have lots of moms on staff who commute in from the suburbs, and we have moms who live in condos downtown. Our editor in chief takes the train, or drives, more than two hours each way from her historic home in small-town Ontario. We also have a blogger who moved her family from Winnipeg to be a stay-at-home mom and pursue a simpler life in a rural community. Everyone’s making it work in their own way.
In our April issue, executive editor Kerrie Lee Brown, a city slicker turned devoted country mom, faces off against Lori Kittelberg, a mother who’s proudly raising her son in downtown Vancouver. If you haven’t picked up a copy, read the debate here. We could easily have included a parent with a third perspective — the suburban one.
After years of moving around — from New York to Toronto to Winnipeg and back to Toronto — my husband and I purchased a house last year, firmly cementing us as downtown city dwellers. Although we were reluctant to put down roots, we’re getting used to the idea of staying put (and it doesn’t look like we’re leaving anytime soon). Our home is in a gentrifying neighbourhood, and I feel incredibly lucky: we have a small but lush backyard with a plum tree and hammock, four bedrooms, and a view of the CN Tower from our bedroom window. We’re across the street from close friends, so we can still borrow sugar or milk if we need it. I take a bus and then the subway to get to work in 35 minutes; my husband bikes to office 15 minutes. Two blocks away we have a very walkable strip of new, trendy restaurants, a farmer’s market in the local park, and kid-friendly cafés and activity centres. It’s our version of Main Street.
But when we have kids, I know we’ll yearn for more space. It’s not about the lack of storage — it’s about the room to run around and just be a kid. We’re both small-town people, and sentimental about our rural childhoods.
I grew up on a dirt road, in a town of less than 1,000 people, with one flashing yellow traffic light. We didn’t even have a high school. (We did have a hardware store, general store/gas station and two churches.) My husband is a West Coast guy, born and bred. He grew up in a fishing and logging community in coastal BC, and put himself through school by operating a feller-buncher north of Prince George. As a kid I played in the woods behind our house, building forts out of fallen trees. (Don’t tell my parents, but there was also a rusted-out old car beyond our stonewall, and I liked playing in there, too! It was a different era.) I picked wild blackberries and lemon sorrel from the yard. In winter, my dad sculpted a kid-sized luge run out of snow and froze it solid with water from the hose. Snow days were glorious, with puffy snowsuits and hot chocolate and warming our wet socks on the hearth by the woodstove. In summer I remember playing in a neighbour’s cornfield, where a buddy and I found some half-eaten ears of corn, and then set up our own “detective agency” in his dad’s woodshed to try and solve the Great Mystery of the Stolen Corn. (I was a big fan of both Carmen Sandiego and Nancy Drew books. An animal tracks book helped us determine the culprit was probably raccoon.) In mud season, when the dirt roads got too mushy for cars, we’d park where the pavement ends and my parents would actually drag my little sister and I home on blue plastic sleds.
When I close my eyes and picture an idyllic childhood, this is what I see. (Even the mud!) I can envision raising an infant or toddler in a city, where being around other young mums, and being able to go for strolls with your baby, is a major plus. Babies are small and, for the first little while, relatively containable. And I think being a country mom might be isolating during the early years — it’s such an ordeal to get everyone in the car and leave the house. But as kids grow, they need places they can explore freely, letting their minds wander. (Are you allowed to build forts in city parks? I really don’t know.)
Maybe the longer we stay in the city, the easier it will be to picture a growing family, right where we are. Or maybe there’s a tipping point? Several urban moms I know have started fantasizing about buying weekend country homes or cottages, so they can have it both ways. (This plan, however, might require winning the lottery.)
Let us know in the comments where you’re raising your kids, and why. Is it what you’d always planned for your family?