Montreal and Toronto are two of Canada’s best known cities. Both are attractive cities with much to offer and both provide a wealth of things to do and experience. However, they each have their own distinctive characteristics. While Toronto is a big metropolitan city with skyscrapers and a busy lifestyle, Montreal is a slower paced city with a strong European feel thanks to its cultural heritage.
There are significant differences in living costs as well as in the way of life between the two places.
Which city is for you largely depends on your preferences. Both cities offer great opportunities to grow and make a living with the biggest differences being cultural ones. To make the decision easier, learn more about the similarities and differences between the two cities below.
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People have lived on the site of the city of Toronto for over ten thousand years. Etienne Brule, a Frenchman, was the first European to reach the area in 1615, but there wasn’t an European settlement until around 1750 when the French established a trading fort in the area called Fort Rouille.
Following the Seven Year War (1756-1763), Britain gained the control of Canada and in 1793 the first governor of Upper Canada, John Graves Simcoe, founded a new town. Originally, the town was called York. When it was incorporated as a city in 1834, the name was changed from York to Toronto to distinguish it from New York.
Toronto grew rapidly in the 1800s with many immigrants arriving from Britain. Despite setbacks, such as a cholera outbreak in 1832 or a fire in 1849, the city continued to flourish and in 1867 Toronto became the capital of Ontario. Its population grew from 30,000 in 1851 to 180,000 by 1891, with more and more immigrants from Europe arriving and choosing Toronto as their new home.
Today Toronto still appeals to many new arrivals and is a major financial centre. In 2020, Toronto’s population was 2.9 million. It is the fifth-largest city in North America and continues to grow steadily.
Montreal is located at a site originally inhabited by the Iroquois who lived in Quebec for thousands of years. A French explorer, Jacques Cartier, was one of the first Europeans to arrive on the island in 1535. Together with his man they climbed the mountain on the island, claimed the land for France and named the mountain Mont-Royal. The city, however, was originally named Ville Marie, until Paul de Chomeday Maisonneuve officially founded the city of Montreal in 1642.
When the British defeated the French, Montreal, too, came under the Great British Empire. Despite of this, the French inhabitants stayed on the island and continued to flourish as the majority alongside new arrivals from England, Scotland and Ireland.
The population of Montreal continued to grow with people arriving not just from France and Great Britain, but from other parts of the world, too. By 1951, the city’s population had reached 1 million and today there are 1.7 million people living in Montreal, making it the second largest city in Canada after Toronto.
Interestingly, Montreal has held the title for the capital city of Canada and so has Toronto. It wasn’t until 1857, when Queen Victoria made Ottawa the permanent capital of Canada.
Because Toronto and Montreal are only about a six-hour drive from each other, the weather in the two cities is very similar with Montreal having slightly colder winters out of the two.
Toronto’s climate is continental with cold winters and warm summers. Located in the country’s south, Canadians consider Toronto to be a relatively warm city. Because the city is exposed to different types of air masses, jumps in temperature are frequent.
The coldest month of the year is January, with a mean average of 5.4°C and the warmest is July, with an average mean of 21.8 °C. Precipitation occurs steadily all year round, but in the colder months from mid-November to March it comes down mainly as snow.
Montreal, which is in the south-east of Canada, also has a continental climate. The temperature in winter is freezing, because of the cooling effect of the North American landmass.
The winter months in Montreal are a little colder on average than in Toronto with the mean average for January being -8.9°C. Summer temperatures are very similar and the July mean average for Montreal is exactly the same as in Toronto. Also, similarly to Toronto, precipitation occurs all year round with snow in the winter.
Cost of Living
Although neither of the cities is cheap, Montreal is cheaper than Toronto. It is estimated that Montreal is 20-25% cheaper overall than Toronto. The biggest difference is in the price of accommodation, but there are also difference in food prices, cost of public transport and in going out.
When it comes to finding a place to live, Toronto has more high-rise buildings, whereas Montreal has more houses converted into flats. You are also more likely to find a place with outside space in Montreal. In Toronto, having a garden usually comes with a large price tag.
The transport system in Montreal is cheaper, too as is the average price of groceries and going out.
However, residents in Montreal pay higher taxes than residents in Toronto. The income tax in Quebec is the highest out of all the provinces in Canada.
You can compare the cost of housing, transport, groceries and going out using the information below.
Average House Price (April 2020): $870,000
Public Transport per month (regular fare): $156
Milk per 1 litre: $3.90
Loaf of Bread: $3.49
Dozen Eggs: $3.40
Restaurant three course lunch for two without alcohol: $90
Cinema Tickets for two: $31
A cocktail in a bar: $15
Average House Price (April 2020): $435,000
Public Transport per month (regular fare): $90.5
Milk per 1 litre: $2.51
Loaf of Bread: $2.84
Dozen Eggs: $3.35
Restaurant three course lunch for two without alcohol: $70
Cinema Tickets for two: $28
A cocktail in a bar: $18
Based on finances, despite the higher taxes, Montreal is the better option.
What to do in Toronto and Montreal?
Both Toronto and Montreal offer residents and visitors a whole host of activities to choose from.
While Toronto is a modern city filled with skyscrapers and high-rise buildings, Montreal is rich in history with cobbled streets and old monuments.
Both cities host festivals and fairs all year round and you can find museums and art galleries to visit in both. Hockey is popular in both cities with Toronto being home to Maple Leafs and Montreal to the Canadiens who have won the Stanley Cup more times than any other Canadian team.
Toronto and Montreal both have vibrant theatre and performing arts scenes. The world famous Cirque du Soleil hails from Montreal and the city also hosts multiple film festivals and dance competitions. As the biggest and most cosmopolitan city in Canada, Toronto has a vibrant and diverse arts scene. There are plenty of world-renowned festivals, galleries and theatre performances to see. The city’s film and music festivals showcase both Canadian and international films and artists.
There are also excellent opportunities for recreational activities in both cities, whether you are into running, cycling, hockey or hiking.
Below is a list of five recommended activities in each city.
1. View Toronto from above by visiting the CN Tower, one of the most iconic monuments in Canada. The tower is over 1,800 feet high, giving visitors a wonderful bird’s-eye view of the city below since it opened in 1976.
2. Visit the Niagara Falls, which are a magnificent example of the power and beauty of nature. You can choose to go on a boat tour to get closer to the falls, but be prepared to get pretty wet.
3. Have a laugh at the Second City, a world renowned comedy theatre which has helped the likes of Mike Myers and Gilda Radner to find fame. The mission of the Second City is to pile the laughs in high doses.
4. Visit the Distillery Historic District to eat, shop and learn about Canada’s whiskey-based heritage. It is one of the most unique places to visit, even if you have no interest in whiskey, with an excellent range of shops and restaurants to explore.
5. Take a trip to Centre Island. Toronto actually has thirteen islands which are all worth visiting. However, Centre Island has the most to offer. You can explore the beautiful gardens, have a picnic or enjoy a day at the beach and the Centerville Amusement Park is a great place to visit with the kids.
1. Visit the Old Town with old cobbled streets and crammed with shops, museums, bistros and sidewalk vendors. It also has the Basilique Notre-Dame de Montreal, which receives over 11 million visitors per year, only slightly less than the Notre Dame in Paris.
2. Explore the Quariter des Spectacles, an arts and entertainment district in downtown Montreal. It is home to galleries, museums and film conservatories and Place des Arts, a performing arts centre.
3. Go underground. The Underground City of Montreal is a huge network of corridors that link together shops, restaurants, bus terminals and metro stations stretching for 20 miles. It is the biggest pedestrian complex in the world.
4. Enjoy the green spaces, colourful landscapes and year-round activities in the Mount Royal Park. This gigantic park is on the volcanic rock cluster that is Mount Royal and includes playgrounds, picnic sites, hiking trails, tobogganing hills and lakes for rowing boats.
5. Take a ride in La Ronde Amusement Park. The park was built in 1967 and still mixes old fashioned rides with newer attractions. Between the newer constructions, visitors can still find wooden roller coasters and hand-painted carousels.
Employment Prospects and Salaries
How likely you are to find employment is always an important factor to consider when choosing a place to live.
Both cities offer good opportunities for people looking for work. Both Toronto and Montreal have companies that focus on life sciences, healthcare technologies, financial services and cybersecurity. There are also good opportunities within fashion and retail businesses.
As you can see from the table below, residents of Toronto enjoy higher salaries than residents of Montreal. However, when considering the salary differences, it is also important to remember that living costs in Montreal are lower than in Toronto, which evens out the field.
Software Engineer: $52,127
Hardware Engineer: $62,004
Sales Manager: $54,183
Fashion Designer: $32,528
Software Engineer: $57,673
Hardware Engineer: $62,548
Sales Manager: $59,519
Fashion Designer: $39,376
Despite being in such close proximity to each other, Toronto and Montreal are two very different cities. While Toronto has a modern city feel with a fast-paced life, Montreal is more subtle with an European feeling. However, both are vibrant, cosmopolitan cities with a lot to offer.
When it comes to choosing between the two cities, in the end, it comes down to lifestyle and personal preferences. Do you enjoy the faster pace of Toronto or the more chilled-out way of life of Montreal?