What is living in Hamilton, Ontario like? How easy is it to start a new life there? Is Hamilton an expensive city, and what are the career options like? These are all crucial questions if you are considering living in Hamilton.

The following guide will help you get some perspective on life in Hamilton, so that you can make the right choice for you. Don’t miss the rest of our Moving To Hamilton city guide for further research.

About Hamilton

Hamilton is a mid-size city of approximately 537,000 people in the central core. In 2001, several smaller towns were amalgamated into the new City of Hamilton, and the resulting metropolitan area has a population of over 747,000 — the third-largest metropolitan area in Ontario and the ninth-largest in Canada.

Hamilton doesn’t quite yet rival the diversity and multiculturalism of Toronto. Almost a quarter of Hamilton’s population is formed of permanent residents or naturalized citizens, and the number of newcomers settling in Canada each year has been steadily growing over the past few decades.

Thanks to both its proximity to Toronto and its relatively low rents, Hamilton has recently begun to attract a growing crowd of young people and creative professionals to the downtown core. As this community grows, so does the range of restaurants, stores, and creative pursuits available. From themed bars to specialty restaurants, niche artisan stores and collectives, Hamilton is becoming an impressive creative hub in southern Ontario.

Hamilton is Ontario’s fifth most-populous city, but it ranks 27th for population density. This means that there is plenty of space for everybody. Properties can be large, with plenty of garden space, and a large share of the population lives in dispersed suburbs around the downtown core. If you are looking to make a home in a spacious suburb with lots of room for kids and pets, living in Hamilton could fulfil that vision while providing vibrant and convenient amenities.

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Working in Hamilton

Hamilton was known across Canada as an industrial centre through the 20th century. Although production and employment declined dramatically in the 1990s, with many of those living in Hamilton at the time suddenly finding themselves out of work, the city has since been going from strength to strength in recent years, regaining its reputation as a major player in several sectors. In fact, the Conference Board of Canada recently ranked Hamilton as the top city nationwide for economic diversity — so you can be sure there are plenty of opportunities for a successful career in a wide range of fields.

Living in Hamilton: McMaster University

McMaster’s renowned faculty of medicine.

Hamilton still plays a critical role in Canada’s manufacturing industries, in areas such as agri-food, chemical engineering, steel, and construction. McMaster University, close to the downtown core, is an international-standard institution with leading teaching and research programs. Its faculty of medicine holds the number two spot on Canada’s top 40 research hospitals list.

The service industry is also experiencing an exciting boom as Hamilton gets a taste for increasingly diverse and innovative restaurants, boutique hotels, and specialty bars. While downtown was once a haven for dive bars and cheap beer – and rest assured, these options aren’t going anywhere – you’re now just as likely to find an Old Fashioned and a fancy taco truck to satisfy your cravings.

Where is Hamilton?

Hamilton is located in southern Ontario, about 75 minutes’ drive from Toronto and less than two hours from the border crossing with the United States at Buffalo, New York. The American states of New York and Michigan are to the southeast and southwest, respectively.

Situated on the shores of Lake Ontario, Hamilton has an extensive waterfront, and there are several conservation areas and activity centres to help people living in Hamilton and visitors make the most of the beautiful lakeshore.

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Living in Hamilton: Weather

Summers in Hamilton are warm, with an average July temperature of 22°C, but this warmth can quickly turn more intense when the humidity kicks in. Air conditioners are a smart investment, as you’ll likely get use out of one from June to September.

As in most of southern Ontario, Hamilton’s spring is fairly short and wet, acting more as a short melting period in between winter and summer. Temperatures get slightly milder, but nobody takes off their winter boots until about April, when the sidewalks are finally clear of slush and grit. Fall is longer and milder, giving plenty of time to enjoy the glorious changing colours of the foliage, both in the city and in the many nature trails and conservation areas surrounding the urban core. For most Canadians, including those living in Hamilton, fall is the last breath of fresh air before the long cold winter, and you’ll notice Hamiltonians getting outside and enjoying it to the fullest during from September to November.

If you’ve done any research at all about moving to Canada, you may have some idea of what to expect when it comes to winters. In Hamilton, as in most other Canadian cities, winters are long and cold – but those in southern Ontario can be less extreme than other regions of Canada. Hamilton typically sees temperatures at freezing or below for 129 days out of the year, but average temperatures rarely drop lower than -10°C.

Finding proper cold weather clothing will be one of the top priorities when your first winter in Hamilton is approaching, and it is worth investing in boots and a coat that will last for years. Several outlet malls in the Hamilton area and closer to Toronto begin to sell good-value winter gear in September and October. If you can bear the autumnal chill, hold out for deals around the end of November. Canada has seen a growing offering of ‘Black Friday’ sales, in emulation of the United States – where stores offer major price cuts on the third Friday in November, the day after American Thanksgiving – and this is a great time to get a bargain on winter clothing. See our winter in Hamilton page to learn more.

Hamilton neighbourhoods

Central Hamilton is made of up several neighbourhoods, each with particular characteristics. The downtown core is mostly comprised of businesses and corporate buildings, with some new condominium buildings. Radiating out from this business district, residential neighbourhoods comprised of early 20th-century family homes offer a charming neighbourhood atmosphere while remaining conveniently located. Living in Hamilton truly is the best of both worlds.

Local restaurants, shops, and amenities have sprung up in many of these neighbourhoods, and on streets such as James Street North and Locke Street hip eateries and cafes are nestled between family homes, giving a lively community feel.

Hamilton has undergone much change since 2001, when a major amalgamation brought local towns Stoney Creek, Ancaster, Flamborough, Dundas, and Glanbrook into the City of Hamilton. These towns have a lot to offer in their own right, and are popular with commuters.

Learn more about Hamilton’s neighbourhoods in our dedicated Hamilton Neighbourhood Guide.

Living in Hamilton: Transit

Residents and visitors alike can agree that Hamilton is a city for drivers. While the public transit system (quaintly named the “Hamilton Street Railway”, or HSR, in reference to the good old days of streetcars) covers a broad swathe of the city, its ridership is low and locals resoundingly find cars more convenient. Street parking is correspondingly plentiful, and most houses and apartment buildings have driveways or parking spaces for residents.

There are a couple of car-sharing initiatives in Hamilton. If you want to find out if car ownership is useful for you, or if you can get by without it, you could try a car-share first before taking the plunge into buying a vehicle. Taxi alternatives Uber and Lyft also operate in Hamilton and the surrounding area.

Nevertheless, public transit options do exist. Within Hamilton there are a number of bus routes, but many of these have limited hours of operation, and may not run on weekends. The HSR uses the PRESTO card system – the same system as Toronto – to collect fares, but you can also use cash on buses.

As of 2018, a monthly pass in Hamilton costs $105.60 for an adult (with discounts for students and seniors) and can be bought online or at a HSR service outlet – find out more here.

Like most larger cities without a high-speed public transit infrastructure, Hamilton is planning to build one – in this case a light rail transit system – but there is no confirmation yet that this will happen.

The regional GO transit system runs buses and trains to several stops in the Hamilton area, making the journey to Toronto in about an hour depending on where in Hamilton you start from. Hamilton is serviced by the Lakeshore West train line, and the network also expands further up into Ontario, going as far as Barrie in the north, Oshawa in the east, and Kitchener in the west.

Hamilton also has a public bike share, SoBi, which extends through the downtown area and west into Dundas. With wide streets and sidewalks, Hamilton can provide a pleasant biking experience, but bear in mind that cycling is still not very common in the city streets, and drivers may not be looking out for bikers. Bike lanes are rare and you’ll be sharing the lane with cars, so at the risk of sounding like your mother, it is particularly important to ride carefully and wear a helmet.

However, getting a bike in Hamilton might still be a good idea as there are miles of trails aimed at bikers. Biking is extremely popular as a leisure and fitness pursuit in the area, but less common as a way to get from A to B.

Dining out in Hamilton

Hamiltonians take their food seriously, and the city’s culinary scene is growing. Many focus on locally-grown ingredients from the fertile soils of southern Ontario, but there’s also a huge variety of cuisines from around the world. Even Torontonians have started to take note, as blogs like Narcity and Blog.TO have featured Hamilton restaurants worth making the drive for – only they’ll be on your doorstep.

Particularly popular areas for dining out include James Street North, King William, and Locke Street, where brunch, lunch, and dinner options are plentiful. You also don’t have to head downtown to get a great meal. Nearby towns such as Dundas and Ancaster feature many hidden gems to discover.

If you don’t feel like heading out, delivery aggregates like Door Dash and Skip the Dishes have a presence in Hamilton.

Living in Hamilton: Nightlife

Many Hamiltonians of all legal drinking ages (it’s 19 in Ontario) head to bars for a night out, although there are also many nightclubs to try as well and the city hosts touring DJs and bands regularly. Closing time for bars in Hamilton is 2 a.m.

If you’re heading downtown, Augusta Street has many popular bars to choose from, offering anything from cheap beers to fancy and obscure cocktails – the street is especially known for its British Pub District where British-style gastropub classics crowd the menus of cosy pubs with names like “The Pheasant Plucker”.

Most locals would tell you to avoid nightclub district Hess Street unless you’re looking for a little too much fun. Popular with younger partiers, it’s not uncommon to see a strong police presence keeping an eye on proceedings on Friday and Saturday nights.

With its proximity to Toronto, Hamilton is also a common stop on the touring circuit for indie bands, in addition to having an enthusiastic local music scene. Hamilton has a strong indie underground that might take a bit of digging to find – locals don’t hang out much on TripAdvisor – but if you’re not afraid to strike up a conversation with your neighbour at a show or bar, you could discover some great communities.

As a city with a smaller nightlife scene, Hamilton doesn’t have the sort of defined queer Village that has developed in larger cities such as Toronto and Montreal. Nevertheless, it is an open and welcoming city, with many venues stating explicit safe space policies for LGBT patrons. Some venues and pubs hold dedicated queer nights, such as Gallagher’s on Augusta Street. Check out Queer Events for more information, and not just about nightlife.

What you need to know about Hamiltonians

Hamilton manages to combine a small-town feel with a metropolitan infrastructure, so while it may seem like a big bustling city, locals living in Hamilton can be disarmingly friendly. Be prepared for every shop assistant and restaurant server to greet you like a long-lost friend. It might seem awkward at first, but you’ll soon get used to it.

Many Hamiltonians have lived in the area their whole lives and remember a time when the city experienced rapid economic decline and job losses. The recent regeneration of the city is in large part a result of local communities making changes at a grassroots level, and you’ll probably notice people are passionate about their city in a way that isn’t as common in bigger, more populous cities.

Want more help getting settled in Hamilton?

A great life could be waiting for you in Hamilton, but there’s a lot of information to process to help you make the right decision. Moving2Canada is here to help all those new to Hamilton, or planning a move to the area. See our complete Hamilton City Guide for more information.

Are you wondering how to immigrate to Ontario? For a detailed overview of Ontario’s most popular immigration options, check out this video we produced in partnership with Deanne Acres-Lans, founder of Canada Abroad, an immigration consultancy based in Ontario, and one of Moving2Canada’s trusted partners:

If you are living in Hamilton and want to suggest an addition to this section, please contact [email protected].

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