“Why We Decided to Live in Edmonton” is a post by Adina J in which she explains the seemingly inexplicable.
January is the longest, cruelest month… especially in northern Alberta. I’m pretty sure that last month was at least six weeks long, and ended on a particularly low note: 37 degrees Celsius below zero, to be precise. It is at moments like these (exhausted, dispirited, cold), that my thoughts turn to a recurrent, simple question: we decided to live in Edmonton, but why?
The simple answer is pragmatism. My parents chose to come to Edmonton nearly two decades ago, because the cost of living here was cheap, there was no provincial tax, and engineering jobs were plentiful. After living in large European capital cities, Edmonton was a cultural (and meteorological) shock. But they stuck it out, and built their own version of the Canadian success story, in no small part because of those very considerations and strengths-of-character that brought them here in the first place. For my part, I toyed with the idea of leaving Edmonton numerous times during my university career for shores both proximate (Toronto) and distant (California). Ultimately I calculated the same math as my parents and stayed put.
The biggest impetus to leave didn’t arise until 2008, when the time came for my then-boyfriend (now husband) and me to discuss our future plans. Having lived in Vancouver for over 4 years while pursuing his Masters degree, my husband was a fervent proponent of life on the West Coast. I was more reticent, having already built a post-university life in Edmonton by then, but still very much open to the idea; after all, no one who’s ever visited Vancouver can avoid being enchanted – even the teensiest bit – by the idea of living there full time. We debated (and downright argued) back and forth for months, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that this was one of the toughest spots in our relationship. The hockey lock-out had nothing on us.
Well, based on the title (if not a passing knowledge of my story), you know how this played out. We chose to stay in Edmonton. And, January-blues aside, we have never come close to regretting it. Here’s why we decided to live in Edmonton:
Reason #1 that we decided to live in Edmonton: Job Prospects
Back in 2008, I was lucky enough to have a job that could have been transferred to Vancouver with no loss of income. On the other hand, as a new graduate in a competitive field recently decimated by the U.S. economic meltdown, my husband’s job prospects were poor. Most of his classmates who’d graduated before him were either still struggling to find jobs, or working minimum wage positions as interns. Although the job market in Edmonton in his particular field was also somewhat uncertain, the overall job market and prospects for jobs in related fields were very good.
As it turned out, a couple of months after moving back here, he was able to get a job making $20-30K more per year than a lot of his former classmates. Additionally, my own income has risen much more quickly than it would have, had I remained in my old position and moved to Vancouver.
Reason #2 that we decided to live in Edmonton: Cost of Living
I loved traveling to Vancouver to visit my husband, but was it always a shock to the wallet! Unless you live out in the suburbs (and don’t let anyone try to tell you that it’s anything like living in Vancouver proper!) and have access to big-box stores like Walmart, the cost of everything is higher. Dining out may be the exception; you can get amazing food at ridiculously low prices if you don’t mind eating at some random hole-in-the-wall sushi joint or diner. Back in 2008, B.C. had their P.S.T. at something crazy like 13%, almost double Alberta’s G.S.T. So even if I had made the same amount of money as I did back in Edmonton, my purchasing power would have suffered. Combine that with my husband’s much lower income prospects, and we would have had a much harder time paying off his student debt and getting ahead.
Reason #3 that we decided to live in Edmonton: Keeping Up With the Joneses-itis
There is a saying: no one moves to Vancouver to make money; people move to Vancouver to spend money. And, boy, do people ever spend! If you’re living in or adjacent to any of the swankier neighbourhoods (Gastown, Yaletown, North Van, etc.), you are awash in affluence. And we’re not talking about Alberta-style affluence, either. People in Vancouver (not necessarily native Vancouverites) have a flair for blowing money like it’s, well, blow – and Vancouver offers limitless opportunities for doing so in super fun ways. Which is to say: Vancouver is a great place to live when you’re for-real rich. It’s not as much fun when you don’t have tons of money to spend or, worse, your weak psyche is susceptible to aspirational spending. Now, I know that in a place like Edmonton – where affluence is reflected in jumbo SUVs and massive houses – I’m relatively safe from this disease. In Vancouver, where the local Holt Renfrew is like a Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory for shopaholics, I am infinitely more vulnerable.
Reason #4 that we decided to live in Edmonton: Housing
I admit it: my husband and I were house-horny in 2008. We knew we wanted to buy a house… and we also knew we would never be able to afford a house in Vancouver. We talked about moving out to Burnaby, but our hearts weren’t really in it. As a student, my husband rented a large-ish apartment in downtown Vancouver (in a rent-controlled building), a block from the beach. It was an area we both adored, but one where houses were scarce, not to mention exorbitantly priced. The same was true for our other preferred location, Kits. Our only other option would have been to buy a condo, most likely for the same price (or higher) as a house in Edmonton. In the end, we just couldn’t envision ourselves raising a family in 700 square feet.
As it turned out, we were right. On our last visit to Vancouver, back in May, we stayed at our friends’ condo – a spacious (by Vancouver standards) two bedroom, 800 square feet apartment on the edge of Yaletown. Our son’s stroller barely fit through the door, and took up the entire hallway; the living room area was approximately the same size as his play-pen back home. Nope, we definitely don’t know how people raise families in Vancouver condos, but we’re pretty sure we can’t do it!
Reason #5 that we decided to live in Edmonton: Family
I’ve left this one till the end, mostly because it was one of the considerations to which we gave the least weight back in 2008. I know — we were so young and foolhardy!
As an only child, I am very close to my family, and the thought of being thousands of kilometres away from them – in a city where I had few close friends – was a big drawback for me. My husband felt less strongly about the distance from his own family, but in both cases, we were looking at it from the wrong angle. We were both thinking about the impact of the distance on our relationships with our respective families, rather than the impact on our own family. When our son was born, we quickly came to appreciate what it means to have close family living nearby. With both sets of (hands-on) grandparents less than a 15 minute drive away, we have never lacked for impromptu baby-sitters, nor has my son lacked for attention or affection from a multitude of adults wrapped around his little finger. (OK, that one may come back to bite us in a few years. Sigh!) We are also fortunate to have a family member (my mom) willing to stay home and care for our son while we work. From a financial perspective alone this has been incredible, and not one we would have gotten had we chosen to move away from Edmonton.
All in all, we decided to live in Edmonton mostly for the same pragmatic reasons that our parents chose to come to Edmonton years ago. That is not to say that there aren’t other reasons to live here — Edmonton is far more vibrant than people, including residents, give it credit for – but those reasons are the first to pale when the temperature dips below zero. Family and finances, though, trump the weather any day… including January.