The city with the smallest population in our top 25 has some of the biggest natural attributes of any city—large or small—in Canada. And, increasingly, urban ones, too.
Start at the urban gateway to the city, in Lower Lonsdale, North Van’s downtown—today a magnetic gathering place that has absolutely blossomed over the past decade, with some of Metro Vancouver’s most open, accessible and walkable public spaces forged from and woven into a historic and authentic working waterfront. The five-year-old Polygon Gallery—a new incarnation of a 40-year-old mainstay—is the largest non-profit photography gallery in Western Canada, and the recently opened Museum of North Vancouver (or MONOVA) finally gives a home to the region’s rich but underreported history, with a much-needed focus on the Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish) and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations peoples, stories and knowledge—as well as on the future ahead.
The scenery is immersive and enveloping as you stand on the public pier jutting out into Burrard Inlet. To the south is one of the best big-city views in Canada, with Vancouver’s glassy spires flanked by Stanley Park to the west and the orange cranes of the Port of Vancouver to the east. Wheel around and, past the new residential towers and two hotels, you’ll see verdant mountains—snow-capped more often than not—looming to the north.
The proximity of this edge-of-the-wilderness location to the vast built environment cannot be overstated: downtown Vancouver is a mere 15 minutes by one of the most spectacular modes of public transit on the planet—the Seabus. Actually, there are three Seabuses, which sail from first light to midnight and allow commuters who depend on the big city for the #6-ranked Household Income in the country among small cities to avoid the two vehicle bridges that, should there be an accident, turn a 25-minute jaunt into a half-day affair. No wonder North Van commuters rank #4 for cycling to work.
But biking here transcends traffic jams. This is the birthplace of North Shore mountain biking, after all, forged in the 1980s when a group of conservation-minded trail builders were given tools and lumber and left alone in the mountains to build boardwalks, bridges and other rideable terrain. Their work has spawned the global North Shore riding movement, replicated from Dubai to Denver but all rooted here, in a place tied for the best air quality among Canada’s top small cities. And also a place where, even if two-wheeled daredevilry isn’t your thing, skiing and snowboarding at Grouse Mountain, Seymour or Cypress are also never more than 30 minutes away. No wonder locals rank #1 in our Self-employed subcategory. Who could stick to a 9-to-5 with the great outdoors calling daily?