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Students walk on a painted sidewalk at the University of Winnipeg on Nov. 3, 2022.Shannon VanRaes/Globe and Mail

Winnipeggers are used to defending the city they live in. Many Canadians have negative perceptions of Central Canada in general: that it’s bitingly cold, desolate and mostly rural.

But late last month, a comprehensive analysis by The Globe and Mail, in partnership with Environics Analytics Group Ltd., ranked Winnipeg the most livable city in Canada for raising children, and the third most livable city in the country overall.

This has put the city in unfamiliar territory. “When we’re asked to defend ourselves, Winnipeggers rise to the occasion ... But in accepting praise? We’re a little more challenged to do that,” said Jino Distasio, a professor at the University of Winnipeg and director of its institute of urban studies.

The Globe ranked 439 communities across the country, using categories such as transportation, housing, climate and amenities. It calculated scores by using specific variables within each category.

In ranking the best communities for raising children, The Globe placed increased emphasis on affordable housing, quality education and proximity to child care.

Prof. Distasio said Winnipeg’s relative isolation may be part of the reason it scored so highly. It has no other major population centres near it to drive up demand for housing, or to add to lengthy commute times. But it’s still a city of roughly 750,000 people – only a bit smaller than other major centres such as Edmonton. As a mid-sized city, it has amenities and community programs that residents don’t have to fight to access, and desirable neighbourhoods that aren’t outrageously expensive, in comparison with those in bigger cities.

“You get to take part in things that you maybe wouldn’t otherwise be able to in a larger city, like playing sports, using the rivers, having access to close schools and communities and all the sorts of amenities families look for,” Prof. Distasio said.

“That includes the affordability of a range of housing that might not be an option for Canadians in other cities.”

He noted that $400,000 to $500,000 buys a comfortable home in Winnipeg, whether it’s one located in a trendy central community, or one farther out of the core with more space.

The Globe spoke to residents who described a relaxed lifestyle that lends itself to spending time with family.

Although wages in the city are generally lower than in Vancouver and Toronto, 23-year-old Jappan Behl said the cost of living is so much lower in Winnipeg that getting ahead doesn’t feel like a rat race.

That, he said, is why he plans to stick around and start a family in Winnipeg after finishing school.

He said some of his older friends had the option of working in Vancouver or Toronto after graduating, but chose to stay in Winnipeg because of the work-life balance the city offers.

Winnipeg does face some challenges, including an economic divide that has left some parts of the city with high rates of poverty and crime, according to Prof. Distasio. It has been criticized for its fraught relations with its Indigenous community. And, for newcomers, adjusting to the Prairie town’s culture and landscape can take time.

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Winnipeg's Main Street on Nov. 24, 2023.Shannon VanRaes/The Globe and Mail

And then there’s the obvious drawback: Winnipeg is cold. Among the communities ranked by The Globe, it had one of the highest numbers of days each year when temperatures dropped below -15 degrees.

But locals don’t always see the cold as a negative.

“It’s not like in the winter we’re all just huddled up in our houses,” Mr. Behl said.

He added that people band together during the colder months, and take part in outdoor activities, indoor sports and other events.

Prof. Distasio agreed. If anything, he said, the cold is part of the city’s culture, and what makes Winnipeg the community that it is.

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Illustration by Kathleen Fu

Canada’s most livable cities for raising kids

1. Winnipeg, Man.

2. Regina, Sask.

3. Brandon, Man.

4. Victoria, B.C.

5. Mont-Royal, Que.

6. Saskatoon, Sask.

7. North Vancouver, B.C.

8. Calgary, Alta.

9. Burlington, Ont.

10. Tecumseh, Ont.

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