If you’ve decided to move to Canada on a Working Holiday work permit, then you’ll likely have heard or read plenty of discussions that go something like ‘Where should I go, Toronto, Vancouver, or maybe Calgary?’. However, there are plenty of alternatives to the usual Working Holiday destinations, and if you’re still unsure of where to go or looking for somewhere off the beaten track, this article covering 10 alternative Working Holiday destinations in Canada is for you.
To be clear, this isn’t an anti-Toronto, Vancouver, Whistler or Calgary post – these amazing destinations offer a wealth of opportunities for newcomers to Canada. However, given the sheer size of this diverse country, it would be remiss not to shine a light on some of the lesser-known delights in the Great White North!
1 – Montreal, Quebec
As well as being one of the oldest and most beautiful cities in Canada, Montreal is also the country’s second-biggest city. It’s also often credited with being Canada’s cultural and artistic hub with many musicians, artists, and writers calling the city home. Oh, and lots of people speak French here. Montreal is the largest city in Quebec – Canada’s only predominantly French-speaking province – and some newcomers are surprised to see Arrêt rather than Stop on road signs here. That said, Montreal is very much a multilingual city that is home to multiple generations of immigrants from all over the world, and you’ll hear plenty of English as well as French.
One of the biggest perks of living in Montreal is affordability. Unlike Toronto and Vancouver, rent and the general cost of living in Montreal is significantly lower. This, allied to the excellent standard of living enjoyed by many Montrealers, as well as a burgeoning visual effects and tech industry, and it is easy to see why it is such an attractive destination for many IEC working holidaymakers, especially those with a desire to improve or learn French.
Advantages: Affordable cost of living, very multicultural, feast of festivals and a diverse population. Need we say any more?
Potential disadvantages: Not speaking any French may make things a little challenging, and the winters are very cold!
Useful resource: Moving2Canada Montreal city guide
2 – Victoria, British Columbia
If you subscribe to the belief that the west coast is, in fact, the best coast, then Victoria may be the perfect Working Holiday destination for you. Located off the west coast of mainland Canada, and a short ferry ride from Vancouver, this relatively small city on the southern tip of Vancouver Island is undoubtedly one of the best places to visit and even live in all of Canada. From the quaint and subtle architecture in the provincial capital – to the wild and roaring surf of Tofino and Ucluelet, Victoria and all of Van Island, as it is known locally, has so much to offer. As a newcomer to Vancouver Island, you may find that your best bet in terms of finding work lies in the retail and tourism sectors. However, forestry, agriculture, and manufacturing are also popular careers and offer a range of employment opportunities for the right candidate. So, if you want an alternative to the hustle and bustle of Vancouver but would like to stay west, Victoria on Vancouver Island should be top of your list.
Advantages: A wide array of incredible landscapes, small-town living, relaxed way of life.
Potential disadvantages: Lots of rain (maybe even more than in Vancouver), potentially fewer job opportunities, and a more low-key nightlife.
Fun fact: With a total land mass of over 32,000sq kilometres, Vancouver Island is the biggest island off the west coast of North America.
3 – Halifax, Nova Scotia
Halifax is the capital of Nova Scotia, situated on Canada’s Atlantic coast, ,is the biggest city in all of the Maritime provinces. Home to the prestigious Dalhousie University as well as some of the oldest and most important state buildings in Canada, Halifax is a medium-sized city that consistently punches above its weight. Newcomers to Halifax can expect to move to one of the most beautiful cities in Canada. While seafood lovers are in for a treat as Halifax is a culinary hub for lobster and fish of all varieties. In terms of employment, those looking for roles in agriculture, fishing, engineering, and mining are in luck, while Halifax is also home to three of the largest law firms in all of Canada. The cost of a one bedroom in Halifax city centre in 2019 was approximately $1225 per month, making it cheaper than Vancouver and Toronto but slightly pricier than cities in the Prairies and Montreal. All in all, the balance of work and play is pretty favourable in Canada’s ocean playground.
Advantages: Medium-city living offers the best of both worlds for those who want to be in a city but not immersed in a rat-race.
Potential disadvantages: Considering it is much smaller than Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal, the cost of living in Halifax is a little higher than many people expect.
Fun fact: NHL superstar Sidney Crosby was born in Halifax and grew up in nearby Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia.
4 – Ottawa, Ontario
Somewhat unfairly described by some as the “town that fun forgot”, Canada’s capital city is actually a lot more interesting than many people believe. As well as being home to the beautiful Parliament Hill, the Rideau Canal and nearby Gatineau Park make Ottawa one of the best places to visit in Canada.
But what about living in Ottawa? Well, if you’re interested in great Vietnamese and Lebanese food, or like nothing more than a competitive quiz (they call it trivia in Canada) in a cosy pub then Ottawa is a great place to call home. What’s more, the plethora of museums and political and historical artefacts make Ottawa a great place to wander on a crisp Autumn day (they call it Fall in Canada). In terms of work, Ottawa abounds with government and NGO jobs, but is also home to tech giants, such as Shopify. Ottawa isn’t for everyone, there’s no doubt about that. It doesn’t have the same nightlife as Montreal or Toronto and can’t offer the serenity or coastal fun of Halifax, Newfoundland, or Vancouver Island, but it is an interesting place to live and one that shouldn’t be overlooked for those on a Working Holiday visa.
Advantages: Family-friendly city with lots of employment opportunities, but without the costs associated with Toronto.
Potential disadvantages: If you’re looking for a cosmopolitan city filled with nightlife, then maybe you’d be better off trying Toronto or Montreal.
Useful resource: Moving2Canada’s Ottawa city guide
5 – Squamish, British Columbia
Nestled conveniently as a centre point between Vancouver and Whistler, Squamish is a small town that thinks big when it comes to making the most of the beauty available on its doorstep.
If you are an outdoor enthusiast who isn’t too fussed about following the crowd or being close to the nearest kombucha-inspired cafe, then Squamish might be the perfect place for you to set up base during your Working Holiday in Canada. After all, they don’t call the area around Squamish the “Sea-to-Sky Corridor” for nothing. On an average day, you could go glacier skiing in the morning, have a kite-surf back in the afternoon when the wind picks up, and be back in town for a craft beer or two over dinner. Most of the job opportunities in Squamish are in the tourist, hospitality, and outdoor pursuits sectors. However, the commute to Vancouver is only around an hour and you could conceivably work in the city (especially in North Vancouver) and be back on the slopes or trails before dinner. And to be fair, this is no ordinary commute. The drive from Vancouver to Squamish is truly jaw-dropping and would make you want to do it every single day.
Advantages: A happy balance for those who want to be close to the city but still enjoy all that beautiful BC has to offer, and for a lot less rent each month.
Potential disadvantages: Fewer job opportunities for those not interested in working in the retail, tourism, or hospitality sectors.
Fun fact: The Coast Mountains have risen two kilometers in the past five million years and continue to rise today.