Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

People walk along the water at Burloak Waterfront Park in Burlington, Ont., on Aug. 15, 2022.Cole Burston/COLE BURSTON/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

There’s no getting around it: Burlington, a mid-sized city located about an hour’s drive southwest of Toronto, is a bedroom community. Those kinds of cities generally don’t top livability rankings.

But a comprehensive analysis by The Globe and Mail, published late last year in partnership with Environics Analytics Group Ltd., found that Burlington is Ontario’s most livable city, and the fifth most livable in the country. Burlington scored particularly highly for its access to amenities, such as gyms and parks, and also for its proximity to health care, education and transportation.

Asked to explain Burlington’s appeal, McMaster University professor and Burlington resident James Dunn described the city as a particularly idyllic version of a bedroom community.

It has a scenic waterfront and is surrounded by parks – including the Mount Nemo Conservation Area – that are relatively easy to access. Prof. Dunn, who studies the relationship between urban environments and health, said the city relies more on taxing commercial properties than residences, meaning families get decent value in exchange for what they pay into city coffers. And it’s fairly easy for residents to get to Toronto, especially if they live near one of the city’s GO Transit stations.

Prof. Dunn said he wasn’t completely surprised that Burlington had ranked so highly in The Globe’s analysis. He said he had largely ignored the city before moving there, but soon learned that it has a strong sense of community, and that a surprising number of local festivals and events take place in its waterfront district.

”It’s a bedroom community that’s done a good job of creating a quality of life that’s not just day to day, but that also has events and attractions,” he said.

He admitted that it’s possible some people might find Burlington sleepy, but he pointed out that there can be benefits to living in a smaller city. Prof. Dunn is a lap swimmer, and he said he doesn’t have any trouble getting access to his local pool or other recreation programs. In Toronto and other dense urban areas, booking those kinds of amenities can be competitive.

Katie Rebelo moved to Burlington with her husband in 2019, after living in the Hamilton area for most of her life. She agreed that the city offers great quality of life.

When she was comparing Burlington to other options near Toronto, such as Oakville, she found it to be cheaper, and full of young families.

“We do see more younger families in our neighbourhood, and I still think Burlington has a pretty good mix of people,” Ms. Rebelo said.

“I don’t find it to either be too young, like a college community might be, or too old for what we want out of our living area.”

She said her family was able to buy a home with a decent backyard, conveniently located just three minutes from the Burlington GO station for easy occasional visits to Toronto.

Burlington has grown much more expensive in the five years since Ms. Rebelo arrived. She isn’t sure she could afford to move to the city if she had to purchase a home today.

This is one of the city’s weak spots: Burlington ranked near the bottom of The Globe’s livability ranking in housing, a category that considers factors such as the proportion of people that spend more than 30 per cent of their incomes on their homes.

Prof. Dunn said Burlington became a target for people who were suddenly able to move farther away from Toronto after the pandemic ushered in a wave of retirements and opportunities to work remotely. Home prices rose dramatically as a result.

“Burlington was probably a recipient of those folks, and those people have what we call supercharged demand,” Prof. Dunn said.

“They have a lot of home equity, cheap financing available, and they were happy to overbid for houses in places like Burlington.”

Canada’s most livable cities in Ontario

1. Burlington

2. Ottawa

3. Pickering

4. Oakville

5. Vaughan

6. Hamilton

7. Guelph

8. Tecumseh

9. Lincoln

10. Markham

Are you a young Canadian with money on your mind? To set yourself up for success and steer clear of costly mistakes, listen to our award-winning Stress Test podcast.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe