If you are thinking about moving to Alberta, Calgary and Edmonton are most likely somewhere on your list as the two biggest cities in the province. Calgary and Edmonton are both great cities with lots to offer their residents. So how to decide between the two?
In this article, we look at life in the two cities, including the cost of living, the property market, education, transport, and what to do with your free time that hopefully will help you with your decision.
What is Alberta Like as a Province?
Alberta is one of the ten provinces in Canada and borders Saskatchewan to the east and British Columbia to the west. It also shares a border with the Northwest Territories to the north and Montana in the United States to the south.
Together with Saskatchewan, Alberta is one of the two landlocked provinces in Canada. The province has the fourth biggest population in Canada. The climate in the south and north is very different, with the winters in the southern parts noticeably warmer than in the north. In the north, there are boreal forests while the south is mainly prairie lands.
Alberta has one of the lowest costs of living and the highest average household incomes in Canada. It is a great province for anyone who loves the outdoors, with plenty of stunning scenery and recreational opportunities. The province also gets more sunshine hours than any other province.
Calgary vs. Edmonton – The Basics
Edmonton is the capital of Alberta. However, it is not the largest city in the province. That title belongs to Calgary with a population of 1,386,378. Edmonton has a population of 1,061,793. As the capital, Edmonton is the political and industrial centre in Alberta, while Calgary is the commercial centre. It is also the oil capital of Canada, with many of the Canadian oil companies’ headquarters located there.
Edmonton has a smaller downtown area than Calgary and has several large suburbs. In Calgary, the city is centred around the large downtown area. Many residents in Calgary commute into the downtown for work whereas in Edmonton, more of the work life is based in the suburbs, reducing the need to commute.
Calgary is the more cosmopolitan of the two cities, while Edmonton has a more small-town community feel. Edmonton is said to have a more relaxed atmosphere than Calgary.
Cost of Living
One of the most important factors to consider is the cost of living. According to WOWA, the monthly cost of living for a family of three is $4,672 in Calgary and $4,373 in Edmonton, showing that the average cost of living is slightly higher in Calgary.
However, the average household income is also higher in Calgary at $87,000 compared to $84,000 in Edmonton.
According to Numbeo, consumer prices excluding rent are 0.37% higher in Edmonton compared to Calgary. With rent, the consumer prices are 4.98% lower in Edmonton. Eating out in Edmonton is more expensive than in Calgary, but groceries are cheaper in Edmonton.
The Property Market
Both Calgary and Edmonton have cheaper homes than, for example, Vancouver or Toronto, so it is easier to get on the property ladder. However, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association, Edmonton is considerably cheaper than Calgary.
The average house price in Calgary was $551,300 in July 2023, having gone up 5.6% in a year. The average house price in Edmonton rose by 2.8% and was $409,986 in July 2023.
Both cities have plenty of places to go shopping. In Edmonton, the residents do most of their shopping at indoor shopping malls and chain stores, while Calgary has more unique shopping opportunities. Residents in Calgary can find an eclectic mix of speciality shops, boutiques, and restaurants at Stephen Avenue Walk and Eau Claire Market.
However, Edmonton has the West Edmonton Mall, which is a shopping complex that covers over 5.3 million square feet. The mall is not just a shopping destination as there is also a water park, a skating rink, multiple cinemas, an underground aquarium, indoor midway rides, and two hotels within the complex.
Other than the territories in the north, Alberta has some of the coldest and longest winters in Canada, especially in the northern parts of the province.
Residents of Calgary benefit from the effect of the Chinook winds that blow through the city. The Chinook is a warm wind that blows from the west and can bring the temperatures up as much as 15 degrees Celsius. There are approximately 25 Chinooks each winter.
The winters in Edmonton are colder and the city gets more snow than Calgary. There are on average 88 days of snow in Edmonton compared to 65 days of snow in Calgary. The spring, summer, and fall temperatures are similar in both cities.
Alberta is not known for its nightlife, but residents in Calgary and Edmonton will have more options than those living in the smaller cities and towns of the province. Edmonton has plenty of great pubs and bars, while Calgary has a more diverse range of nightclubs. Calgary also has a more cosmopolitan feel.
While many immigrants to Canada choose Ontario or British Columbia for their new home, plenty of people have chosen Calgary and Edmonton, too, bringing with them their cultures and cuisines. As a result, food lovers will find anything from global fusion foods to traditional Canadian treats in both cities.
Residents in Calgary benefit from 8,000 hectares of parkland, 8,000 kilometres of multi-use trails, and the Canada Olympic Park where you can ride bikes, jog, luge and zipline. The centre of Calgary is less than an hour away from the Rocky Mountains where there are four downhill skiing resorts. There are also two national parks about a two-hour drive away.
The extensive covered skywalk that runs through most of the downtown core also makes it possible to run all year round in Calgary. The area is great for hiking and biking in the summer and cross-country skiing in the winter.
Edmonton doesn’t have as easy access to big skiing resorts. However, there is one local skiing resort that is great for families and beginners. In the summer, people in Edmonton have better access to boating and lakes. There are more extensive and cleaner lakes in the area compared to Calgary.
The River Valley in Edmonton is an extensive stretch of urban, connected parkland. There are over 100 kilometres of trails in the area.
How easy it will be to find work in Edmonton or Calgary depends on your line of work, as certain jobs are in high demand in both cities. There are opportunities within the oil and gas industry in both cities, but the number of jobs can rise and fall together with the oil and gas prices.
There are similar opportunities in healthcare and education in both cities. Calgary has more jobs in business, finance, engineering, and consulting.
Alberta often gets a lot of bad press for the state of its roads. Edmonton has some very poor roads and in the summer, you will find “under construction” signs around many roads. Residents need to be prepared for detours and longer commutes because of this.
Calgary also has a bad reputation for driving even though the traffic is not as bad as in Montreal or Vancouver, for example. The condition of roads and the infrastructure in Calgary are not great and often lead to bad congestion during rush hours. While the city has benefited from new residents, the road network has not been able to keep up.
There is good public transport in both cities. Calgary has invested a lot in green public transport with its wind-powered transit system. The C-train in Calgary covers all four quadrants of the city and there are also supplemental bus routes running through most neighbourhoods.
Edmonton also has a light rail system. It runs partially underground and connects with the Edmonton Pedwalk, which is 13 kilometres of skywalks and tunnels. There is also an extensive bus service. In Calgary, there is an 18-kilometre skywalk system of enclosed walkways in the downtown area.
Both cities have international airports, with Calgary’s airport being bigger and offering more destinations. Edmonton has better connections by train and it is on the Toronto-Vancouver train line.
Compared to many other cities of similar size, both Calgary and Edmonton are very clean cities. In 2014, Calgary was on the Mercier Global list of the cleanest cities in the world thanks to its clean sewage systems, good drinking water, low air pollution, and excellent recycling programs.
Unique Events and Activities
Every year Calgary hosts the biggest and the longest-running outdoor rodeo, the Calgary Stampede. There are chuck-wagon races, country music, and pancake breakfasts.
Edmonton has been nicknamed the festival city of Canada because the city has more festivals than any other in the country. There are festivals that celebrate arts, culture, drama, and world cuisine. The K Days in Edmonton is a ten-day festival with midway fun and a country fair atmosphere that rivals the Calgary Stampede.
The level of crime is higher in Edmonton than it is in Calgary at 51.75, compared to 38.74. The level of people worrying about their homes broken into and things stolen is 33.5 in Calgary and 38.72 in Edmonton. In Calgary, the level of worrying about being mugged or robbed is 27.94 and in Edmonton 35.83.
Most crimes in Calgary are breaking and entering and theft of $5,000 or under. In Edmonton, most of the crime is gang and drug-related. While that sounds worrying, most of that crime does not affect the general public.
Canada has one of the best education systems in the world and that applies across the country.
However, the schools in Calgary are overcrowded. While the population of the city has kept growing, the city has not been able to provide new school places fast enough. As a result, class sizes in many schools are above the provincial guidelines and your children may not be able to attend school in your neighbourhood.
In Edmonton, you have three different school systems to choose from and school places are more easily available. Edmonton also has one of the top universities in Canada, the University of Alberta.
With the cost of living and average household incomes being fairly similar in both cities, the decision is likely to be based on other factors. New residents in Calgary can enjoy a vibrant nightlife, but those with children can expect overcrowded schools. Calgary is well suited for young professionals looking for a more cosmopolitan lifestyle.
The education system is less populated in Edmonton and there are great higher education options. The city is a great choice for families with many family-friendly festivals and the urban park network system. However, the nightlife is not as vibrant and the winters are tougher than in Calgary.
We hope the information in this article has helped to clarify your thoughts on Edmonton versus Calgary. However, if you are considering a move to one of the cities, it is always best to visit both places if possible and speak to some locals.
Frequently Asked Questions
Calgary is the safer of the two cities, with Edmonton having a higher crime rate. People in Edmonton are more likely to worry about being robbed or mugged.
Yes, Calgary is more expensive than Edmonton, with the average house price over $100,000 more in Calgary.
The spring, summer, and fall temperatures are similar in both cities. However, winters in Edmonton are colder. The Chinook winds bring warmer weather from the south to Calgary, making some winter days significantly warmer than in Edmonton.
A Chinook is a dry and hot wind that blows from the Pacific Ocean over the Rockies. They are frequent in Alberta’s southern regions.