Vancouver Island’s second city (behind Greater Victoria) has always put in the work—zoning convenient giant retail outlets, allowing ferries to dock right in town and providing affordable house prices—while leaving the spotlight to BC’s capital in the south. But a funny thing happened on the way to under-the-radar livability: Nanaimo became a coveted hometown. It’s long had fresh air and wilderness, with the best air quality among Canada’s small cities (tied with North Vancouver), and top five for Parks & Outdoors, with massive city green spaces like the 90-acre Bowen Park right downtown and mystical mountain lakes a short drive, bike or transit ride away. As such, it tops Canada’s small cities in our vital Place category. The city’s population has grown by 35 per cent from 2001, resulting in the #1 spot for Relocation and #13 in Population Growth. New residents can’t help bragging how they can surf and ski in the same weekend just by getting in their car. (Tofino, Canada’s surf capital, is three hours away, while Mount Washington is half that.) The rise of work from home, combined with relatively affordable coastal real estate (compared with Victoria and Vancouver), bodes well. As does the proximity to Vancouver: just a ferry ride away.