The Country’s Best Cities

The Best City?

East River, New Glasgow

As a resident of Ottawa for over 20 years, yet someone who still calls New Glasgow, Nova Scotia home, I recently read with confusion an article titled, ‘Canada’s Best Places to Live’.  Therein, my home city of Ottawa ranked as Canada’s best place to live.  Number 1 of 180 – Very nice!  On this point, I would agree that it is certainly up there with some of the great cities in North America.  Ottawa is blessed with natural beauty, a relatively safe environment and it accrues all the benefits (financial, social and reputational) of being the Nation’s Capital.  I would also say it is home to Canada’s best College.

Unfortunately, this same magazine proclaimed my hometown of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia as the worst place in the Country to live.   That is, according to Roger’s MoneySense magazine, this blue-collar town is Number 180 of 180 in terms of something called ‘liveability’.   As this magazine espouses its wisdom, I feel obliged to share my unique perspective of having spent ½ my life in both cities.

Wait a Minute…

As the summer months come to a close, and life in Canada’s national capital settles into its regular routine as a government city, I reflect back on the time spent away from Ottawa (in New Glasgow) and wonder what is it that makes a city great.  (There is something ironic in knowing that part of Ottawa’s greatness is due to the taxes paid by those in cities where livability is deemed so low).   I also think about the rankings and what is behind this interesting data.

Like similar rankings, this publisher benefits from the increased sales that accrue through these musings.  However, in this case, I am conflicted.  That is, while it seems reasonable that Ottawa is deemed one of the great cities in Canada (certainly with the best hockey team), it has its challenges as well.   So therefore, what really is it that ‘makes’ it great (beyond the ability to ride a bike to work and other suspect criteria)?

Some days I wonder if it is the excess that makes a city great?  Like the $4 million bridge in west Ottawa linking Kanata to Stittsville.  The Carp swamp once had a lowly $5000 metal culvert that allowed for the creek’s water to flow (New Glasgow has many culverts, maybe that is its problem)?   Perhaps it is the new $2.0+b light transit solution that will sustain our greatness.  Albeit, some have raised concerns about this project as well (New Glasgow only has Cliff’s Taxi, maybe that is its problem).

A Different Kind of Wealth

Melmerby Beach

Melmerby Beach, Pictou County

Yet, I really believe it is how we define liveability.  Clearly, our Toronto-centric writers have never had the joy of walking along Melmerby Beach on a warm summer evening or of watching neighborhood kids skate on one of the outside rinks during a cool winter afternoon.  Described as a perennial loser by our learned writers, perhaps the authors might visit New Glasgow to better understand the real value of joining old friends at its annual summer retreat (Riverfront Jubilee) where the eclectic sound of fiddles and Scottish music fills the air. Does it not matter that one can simply walk home after midnight knowing you are completely safe in doing so?

Clearly, New Glasgow could benefit from greater economic activity (governments of all political stripe have failed on that account over the past 30 years).  Yet the spirit of hard working fishermen, ironworkers, loggers and mill workers continue to amaze me.  The human spirit is more alive there than perhaps even here… Why would that be?   How is it that Frank Sobey’s humble meat delivery business is now able to take on the grocery titans of Upper Canada?

As we settle into another winter in our great city of Ottawa, I am also proud to continue to call New Glasgow my hometown.   It is a wonderful place to raise kids, a great place to spend a summer vacation and one of Canada’s best-kept secrets.

As I toss the magazine aside, I am comforted remembering the advice, “if you torture the data long enough, it will confess to anything”.   My advice:  If you have a chance, plan on a visit to New Glasgow, Nova Scotia in beautiful Pictou County.  Before long, you too will know that the expert publishers are simply not that at all.   My goodness, these are the same people who’s parent company has allegedly been pining to buy that dreadful hockey team in Toronto!  How much can they really know?



About kentmacdonald

President and Vice Chancellor Professor, Faculty of Education St. Francis Xavier University
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