The benchmark for liveability is constantly changing. While there are always certain constants that are universally valued, liveability is highly subjective and relative to the socioeconomic climate of a particular time.

The global pandemic has hugely impacted the perception of liveability. Lockdown measures have changed the way Canadians work, socialize, and spend their leisure time, forcing many to rethink their norms and ideals. According to a Fall 2020 Liveability Survey by RE/MAX, the pandemic has spurred a greater desire for more space in and around the home, access to parks, better walkability, and proximity to local amenities. Meanwhile, RATESDOTCA’s recent Livability Report revealed that affordability, proximity to scenery, economic and job growth, and access to outdoor activities were of the top deciding factors for Canadians contemplating a move.

For Canadians looking to relocate within Ontario, Sault Ste. Marie fits today’s distinctive bill of liveability. The important transportation hub ranked 39th out of 166 cities in RATESDOTCA’s Livability Report, making it the fourth most liveable city in all of Ontario. Moreover, Sault Ste. Marie’s economy is very much up-and-coming, so while it has the small town appeal that has become increasingly important to Canadians, it also touts a strong, flourishing economy, boding well for the city’s population, job market, and real estate market in the years to come.

Below, we examine how Sault Ste. Marie stacks up to today’s definition of liveability, as well as what the future holds for the budding Northern Ontario city.

 

Liveability in Sault Ste. Marie: Key takeaways

  • While cost of living is rising in cities across the country, Sault Ste. Marie has remained an affordable place to live. The average home price in Sault Ste. Marie is $257,955, compared to $385,034 in Sudbury, $291,204 in Thunder Bay, and  $1,097,565 in the GTA.
  • Sault Ste. Marie neighbours three of the Great Lakes, including Lake Superior, the Boreal forest, the St. Lawrence forest, and the Canadian Shield mountains. Sault Ste. Marie also encompasses hundreds of campsites, provincial parks, fishing spots, hiking, biking, and skiing trails, and plenty of open water to accommodate a variety of water sports.
  • Unemployment in Sault Ste. Marie stands at 5.4 percent, up from the pre-pandemic rate of 5.1 percent. That’s compared to Ontario’s unemployment rate of 9.1 percent. Prominent sectors for employment include manufacturing, information technology, finance, engineering, skilled trades, and government-run vocations, including the provincial Ontario Forest Research Institute (OFRI), the federal Great Lakes Forestry Centre (GLFC), and the Ministry of Natural Resources.
  • Sault College offers a world-renowned Natural Environment and Outdoor Studies program. Sault College also offers training for students looking to pursue careers in alternative energy.
  • Infrastructural highlights in Sault Ste. Marie include public transportation enhancements, hydropower facilities, solar and wind power developments, and recent designation as a foreign trade zone (FTZ) point, which will bolster public trade and allow for exemptions from duties, tariffs, and taxes for businesses that import and export goods to the US and global markets.

 

Affordability 

In Canada, the ongoing pandemic is expected to put upward pressure on the cost of necessary expenses in the years to come. According to information from RBC Economics Research, costs associated with food, gasoline, travel, and other goods are all forecasted to rise in 2021 as the country recuperates from the effects of COVID-19. As for housing, the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) predicts that the national average home price will rise by more than nine percent to $620,400 in 2021. RE/MAX is predicting a four to six percent increase and Royal LePage is forecasting a 5.5 percent increase.

While cost of living is rising in cities across the country, Sault Ste. Marie has remained an affordable place to live. As of March 2021, the average home price in Sault Ste. Marie was $257,955. That’s compared to $1,097,565 in the GTA. Sault Ste. Marie’s average is also lower than those of its Northern Ontario neighbours such as Sudbury ($385,034) and Thunder Bay ($291,204). Historically, Sault Ste. Marie has also been one of the least expensive cities in Canada for renters.

Sault Ste. Marie’s affordability is bolstered further by local sources for water filtration and electricity. According to the city’s website, it generates most of its electricity from clean, renewable sources like solar, wind, and hydroelectric, resulting in lowered costs for utilities, such as water and sewage, for city residents.

 

Employment & Academic Opportunities

Employment is an aspect of liveability that will always be of foremost importance because of the explicable link between employment and livelihood.

In spite of the pandemic, employment numbers in Sault Ste. Marie were relatively steadfast. Unemployment in the city stands at 5.4 percent, rising from the pre-pandemic rate of 5.1 percent. That’s compared to Ontario’s unemployment rate of 9.1 percent. And according to Algoma Workforce Investment Corporation (AWIC), some sectors, including food service and health care, actually benefited from the pandemic.

Some other standout sectors for employment in Sault Ste. Marie include information technology, finance, engineering, skilled trades, and government-run vocations, including the provincial Ontario Forest Research Institute (OFRI), the federal Great Lakes Forestry Centre (GLFC), and the Ministry of Natural Resources. Sault College also offers a world-renowned Natural Environment and Outdoor Studies program. In addition, Sault College offers training for students looking to pursue careers in alternative energy.

Meanwhile, for entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial hopefuls, Sault offers quality talent and expertise at an affordable rate, low operating costs, and low costs for land and real estate. Additionally, the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre, the Millworks Centre for Entrepreneurship, and StartUP Sault all exist to support entrepreneurship in the city.

Looking towards the future, Sault Ste. Marie’s manufacturing sector, which is already a cornerstone of the city’s economy, will be positively impacted by the global commodity and electric vehicle boom. Manufacturing operations set up in Sault Ste. Marie will not only stimulate the city’s economy, but expand the job market in the coming years.

 

Scenery & Outdoor Activities

According to RE/MAX’s Fall 2020 Liveability Survey, 68 percent of Canadians said that they would like to see more public green spaces and 64 percent would like better walkability in their community. This is especially true amongst young Canadians under the age of 35. More granularly, in Ontario, 74 percent of people surveyed said that they wanted to see more public green spaces.

Sault Ste. Marie is surrounded by scenic landscapes and is rich in natural beauty. It neighbours three of the Great Lakes, including Lake Superior, the Boreal forest, the St. Lawrence forest, and the Canadian Shield mountains. Some of the city’s renown attractions, including the Parks Canada Canal, Chippewa Falls, the steep cliffs off of Alona Bay, and the Agawa Canyon, have earned Sault Ste. Marie a spot on Expedia’s rundown of the 34 most breathtaking cities in North America.

Sault Ste. Marie also encompasses hundreds of campsites, provincial parks, fishing spots, hiking, biking, and skiing trails, and plenty of open water to accommodate a variety of water sports.

 

Public Infrastructure

Investments into a city’s public infrastructure are investments into the city’s future liveability. Public infrastructure powers businesses, facilitates trade, connects people to employment, enables health care, and builds community, amongst much more.

One vital aspect of public infrastructure is public transportation. According to RE/MAX’s aforementioned liveability survey, 49 percent of Canadians would like to see more public transit options available in their neighbourhood. And in Ontario, 53 percent would like to see the same.

As part of the Draft Transportation Plan for Northern Ontario, geared at expanding highways and transit services in Northern Ontario, the Sault Ste. Marie area is slated for bus fleet enhancements. Additionally, Sault Ste. Marie Transit Services is in the process of rolling out a route optimization plan. As part of that plan, a northern transfer point located in front of Sault College will be offered starting May.

Some other infrastructural highlights in Sault Ste. Marie include hydropower facilities, solar and wind power developments, and recent designation as a foreign trade zone (FTZ) point, which will bolster public trade and allow for exemptions from duties, tariffs, and taxes for businesses that import and export goods to the US and global markets.

Looking towards the future, Rick Van Staveren, who is Sault Ste. Marie’s new director of economic development has spoken of plans to utilize the city’s existing FutureSSM program as a means to improve upon the city’s environment and liveability aspects in the years to come.

 

What will liveability look like in the future?

It’s clear that COVID-19 has indelibly changed what Canadians want and need from their cities. According to a survey conducted by Leger on behalf of RATESDOTCA, 23 percent of Canadians who relocated or are planning to relocate since April 2020 cited COVID-19 as a reason for their move. Meanwhile, 21 percent of those who moved or are planning to move are relocating from a major metropolitan area to a smaller town or rural area. 

With that said, the COVID-19 vaccine rollout means that there is finally an end to the pandemic in sight, so who knows what the definition of liveability will look like in the future. What we do know is that smaller markets like Sault Ste. Marie are being recognized as great places to live because of how affordable they are to live and do business, because their job markets and opportunities for academia are so promising, and because investments are being made into public infrastructure and into future liveability. These types of attributes not only make a place liveable by today’s unique standards, but universally.

 

Feature photo courtesy of Northern Ontario Travel