1. Economics
August 8, 2014

Chart: You’ve probably never heard of Canada’s richest cities

By City Monitor Staff

When Canadian Business magazine released its annual list of Canada’s richest neighbourhoods last month, it wasn’t much of a surprise that Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto – Canada’s biggest metropolitan areas – dominated. (Appropriately enough, an area of Winnipeg called South Tuxedo also made the top 25.)

But when we look at the income in metropolitan areas as a whole, Canada’s biggest cities don’t fare so well. Instead, the five wealthiest cities are smaller and less well-known. All five, though, have something in common: the presence of large, highly productive and largely future-proof industries.

Top 5 wealthiest metropolitan areas out of 32 metropolitan areas in Canada. Share (%) of households with income above $100,000 (USD). Source: CityMetric Intelligence.

Take Oshawa, a city of 141,590 people in in Ontario: it’s home to the Canadian HQ of General Motors, and its major industry is cars. Most jobs in Ottawa-Gatineau, meanwhile, are in either hi-tech industries or the federal government.

But the main predictor of whether a Canadian city will be rich is what is in the ground beneath it. The mining industry in Sudbury, Ontario, began in 1833 after railroad workers found high concentrations of nickel-copper ore while blasting rocks on the edge of the Sudbury basin. In 2012, just over 7.5 per cent of Greater Sudbury’s 160,000 residents had a household income of more than $100,000 per year.  (All figures are in US dollars.)

But the wealthiest cities in terms of both household income and GDP per capita are a pair of cities in the western province of Alberta. In both Calgary and Edmonton, the major industry is energy: that means high salaries, and data taken from tax returns shows that both have median family incomes of over $88,000. This is a slightly different metric than household income, but nonetheless, it shows that this isn’t a case of a minority earning over $100,000, while the majority struggle to make ends  meet: salaries are high across the piece.

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Some of these cities experienced a slight dip in 2006-2008, probably as a result of the global financial crisis, but all have since recovered. The worst affected was Greater Sudbury, due to a drop in global metal demand, but even there salaries are now running well ahead of pre-recession levels. The world won’t stop needing nickel or oil any time soon. 

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