Up and coming Canadian university towns

From Abbotsford to Fredericton, these under-the-radar student destinations offer high-quality education and small-city charm.

Abbotsford, BC

Adjacent both to bustling Greater Vancouver and the United States border, this city along the Fraser River boasts a prime location and mountain scenery, with a lower cost of living than nearby Vancouver. As such, it should come as no surprise that Abbotsford is a growing destination for university students, along with emigres from other parts of the country and around the world. With one major university and a handful of smaller career, trade and religious schools, this fast-growing city offers a wide array of educational opportunities in a beautiful setting. In addition to being one of BC’s largest South Asian communities, Abbotsford is also situated in S'olh Temexw, the traditional, unceded territory of the the Stó:lō nation, giving the city a cultural identity all its own.

Saskatoon

The largest city in Saskatchewan, nicknamed “the Paris of the Prairies,” Saskatoon has long been a destination for university students from the region, and it has recently expanded to cater to the needs of a growing and diverse student population. Saskatoon’s largest university was founded in 1907 and claims nearly 25,000 students alone, while polytechnic, technological, and religious schools round out its other post-secondary offerings. New arrivals in Saskatoon quickly discover there’s much more to this city than agriculture, thanks to a robust cultural calendar featuring farmer’s markets, folk and fringe festivals, along with events celebrating Saskatoon’s thriving indigenous population. Wintertime does little to diminish the options for recreation, thanks to cross-country ski trails and a speed-skating oval.

Waterloo

Consistently ranked among Canada’s fastest-growing cities, and singled out as the epicentre of Canada’s tech sector, Waterloo has a lot to offer students who choose to study here. As home to two of Canada’s most respected post-secondary institutions and a number of associated colleges, Waterloo caters to a diverse student population across many fields of study, with a special emphasis on computer technology. As home to respected institutions devoted to physics, quantum computing and government, as well as home bases for some of the world’s leading tech companies, students pursuing related fields here have access to some of Canada’s leading minds, along with compelling opportunities for internship and employment. Home to many German immigrants in the early 20th century, the city’s famous annual Oktoberfest celebration is just one of a long list of annual festivals, including the popular Winterloo festival each January.

Fredericton

This city on the St. John river is the capital of New Brunswick, and home to a sizeable student population. In addition to two large universities, Fredericton also boasts specialized post-secondary schools, including a craft college and a forestry school. As a place to live, it combines small-town charm with cosmopolitan amenities. Popular local craft breweries fill their patios in the warmer months, while an extensive network of hiking, biking and cross-country skiing trails offer residents easy access to outdoor recreation year-round. The city is also home to the St. Mary's First Nation, the home of Wolastoqiyik and Maliseet bands whose traditional territory extends along the St. John River. Each spring St. Mary’s First Nation hosts an annual powwow, a two decade-long tradition celebrating indigenous music, dance, food and culture. With job opportunities in government, education, forestry, healthcare and fisheries, Fredericton makes an enticing place to live post-graduation as well.

Winnipeg

Western Canada’s first university was founded in Winnipeg in 1877, so it’s by no means a newcomer to the ranks of Canadian university towns, but the city’s reputation for brutal winter weather has made it something of a hidden gem. Anyone who chooses to attend Winnipeg’s large provincial university or one of its several smaller colleges will soon discover a city whose history, culture and charm make up for its famously chilly weather. Among its biggest selling factors is a thriving local arts scene fed by an extensive roster of annual events, including a fringe festival, a jazz festival, a large folk festival and the Festival du Voyageur, a wintertime celebration of Winnipeg’s French heritage. It is also home to Canada’s oldest public art gallery, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and a symphony orchestra. In addition to such highbrow attractions, Winnipeg is famously devoted to its CFL and NHL teams, as well as its many minor league sports clubs.

Jeremy Freed is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. His writing about fashion, travel, food and design appears in Sharp, Harry and re:Porter magazines, among many others.

Jeremy Freed is a paid Sonnet spokesperson.

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