The Hongcouver

Vancouver is the saddest city in Canada, but it’s a lot happier than living in China

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 April, 2015, 6:15am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 February, 2016, 11:49am

Is Vancouver really the unhappiest place in all of Canada? And if so, why do thousands of immigrants from mainland China and elsewhere continue to flock to this most miserable city?

Having lived in Vancouver for the past five years I feel qualified to make two observations. One: Some other Canadians don’t much care for Vancouver (or the Vancouver Canucks). Two: Vancouverites are too busy enjoying the greatest city on God’s green earth to care. They hate us cos they ain’t us, or so the conventional wisdom goes.

WATCH: How to be a Vancouverite

We Vancouverites have raised smugness to an art form, with near-constant digs at the poor saps living anywhere east of Abbotsford. Cue weather report showing the rest of the country shovelling out from under a blanket of snow, as Vancouver rejoices in the cherry blossom festival in glorious spring sunshine. Cue an annual wave of mock pity for long-suffering Maple Leafs fans.

Well, the good people at Statistics Canada did an excellent job this week of wiping that fake smile off Vancouver’s mug, with Tuesday's release of “How’s life in the city”, a comparative study of happiness across the country.

Vancouverites, it turns out, live in the least-happy city in Canada, ranking dead last for life satisfaction among the nation’s 33 census metropolitan areas. The rankings are pulled from the 2009-2013 results of the General Social Survey and Canadian Community Health Survey. Respondents (numbering 340,000 across Canada) were simply asked: “Using a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 means ‘very dissatisfied’ and 10 means ‘very satisfied’, how do you feel about your life as a whole right now?”

Cheery Quebecers dominated the top ranks, with residents of Saguenay the happiest in the country, averaging 8.2, while the nation as a whole averaged about 8. Last-placed Vancouverites averaged 7.8. That may not seem a huge spread, but the researchers point out that the 0.59 happiness range across Canada (including non-metropolitan areas, which tend to be happier than cities) is similar to the gap between married people and people who are divorced or separated; such a margin may seem small, but it’s significant.

Vancouver’s sad-sack status was also apparently confirmed by other measures. Vancouver also has the lowest proportion of lucky people who ranked their life satisfaction at 9 or 10 (34 per cent, compared to the national average 38 per cent). And when adjusted to take into account “individual level characteristics” (for instance, age, employment and health status), Vancouver was still the unhappiest city in the country, on average.

And yet: Tens of thousands of people flock to live in BC and Vancouver every year. There were 37,451 immigrant arrivals in BC in 2013/14, according to BC Stats, and the vast majority of those (32,192, or 86 per cent) ended up in greater Vancouver. The biggest single component of that flow came  from mainland China, accounting for 24 per cent of international arrivals. They seem quite happy with life in Vancouver.

And why wouldn’t they be?

The 2013 World Happiness Report, based on the same 0-10 life-satisfaction question employed by Statistics Canada, ranks Canada the sixth-happiest country on Earth, with an average rating of 7.477.

(The World Happiness Report and the Life in the City reports aren’t perfectly comparable: Although they employ the same question, they use different data sets, resulting in different average results for Canada. Coincidentally, a new World Happiness Report is due out later this week)

To put Canada’s ranking into perspective, China was ranked 93rd by the World Happiness Report, with a happiness rating of 4.978. India, which provides the second-biggest component of immigration to BC, was the 111th happiest country in the world, rating 4.772; the Philippines, third-biggest immigration provider to BC, was 92nd, rating 4.985. And so on. Hong Kong was ranked 64th, rating 5.523.

Vancouver might be the saddest city in Canada, but it’s a lot happier than living in China. Or anywhere else that provides significant international immigration to the city, for that matter.

Interestingly, Vancouver has recently been suffering net outflows to other provinces and elsewhere in BC (although not enough to offset international inflows). Vancouver used to enjoy consistent net inflows from other provinces, but that reversed three years ago. In 2013/14, for instance, there was a net loss of 1,097 residents from greater Vancouver to other provinces, and a loss of 3,455 residents who left the city but stayed in BC.

The lesson here is that there’s a lot to be happy about in Vancouver if you used to live in, say, China or India. But many other Vancouverites appear to be deciding they’d be happier living elsewhere.


The Hongcouver blog is devoted to the hybrid culture of its namesake cities: Hong Kong and Vancouver. All story ideas and comments are welcome. Connect with me by email [email protected] or on Twitter, @ianjamesyoung70.