If you live in the Greater Toronto Area, there’s one place you’ve probably heard described with quiet reverence the likes of which few Southern Ontario towns receive. Those who know speak of the love of the land, its agriculture and the nutritious bounty of its produce, to say nothing about its employment prospects—especially if you’re a teacher or academic professional. They speak of Guelph. An hour southwest of Toronto, the city is home to one of the most specialized universities in Canada, where seven colleges conduct leading-edge teaching and research in the physical and life sciences, business, arts, social sciences, and agricultural and veterinary sciences. Guelph has always attracted young, brilliant talent, and today it ranks #13 among Canada’s small cities for Young Adults. The citizenry is also well-educated, ranking #12 in Educational Attainment—no surprise, given the scholarly fabric of the community and the ubiquity of the university in its programming, from concerts to placemaking.
But where a decade ago students would finish their degree and leave, today more and more are staying. Or, moving back to settle down in the bucolic, smart and special place they remember from school. The city is among the fastest-growing in Ontario (which means in Canada, too), with a five-year growth rate approaching 10 per cent—and so ranking in the top 20 in the country. Not surprisingly, over that same period house prices have nearly doubled, and even a humble detached house these days exceeds $800,000.
New and long-time residents come for the region, in the middle of some of the best farming country in Ontario and near the stunning Rockwood Conservation Area along the Eramosa River, surrounded by towering limestone cliffs, caves and glacial potholes, one of which is the largest in the world.
But it’s the city’s distinct urban identity that attracts and keeps people here. A sense of indie and DIY pervades everything from the booming craft beer scene to the United Nations of independent eateries and local festivals, which, finally, mercifully, are coming back after two-and-a-half years of the pandemic silenced the Royal City’s gregarious spirit.
Guelph ranks #6 among Canadian small cities in our Sights & Landmarks subcategory, anchored by its regal Victorian-era limestone buildings and the more than 20 churches in or around downtown, none more spectacular than the Basilica of Our Lady Immaculate, opened in 1883 in a Gothic Revival style and one of the finest works of famed architect Joseph Connolly. Framing the built environment is the confluence of the Speed and Eramosa rivers, whose aesthetic magic explains the city’s #4 ranking for Instagram Hashtags. That, together with top five Google Search and Google Trends finishes, elevates its overall Promotion category ranking to #5 in the country among small cities.