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Moving to Calgary?

Updated on August 20, 2014

Quick Facts

1. Non-Skilled Wage: $12/hour

2. Certifications Rule

3. A Car is a Must

4. Local Culture is Lacking

5. People Here Take Their Time

Things Nobody Told You About Calgary

1. You won't get $25/hour to pour coffee at Tim Hortons. It's more like $12/hour.

2. All jobs here require some type of certification, on top of experience - even a job like administrative assistant.

3. A car here is a must, because the city is one giant suburb. There's transit, but the buses are few and the C-Train is somewhat limited.

4. Calgary is far behind Canada's other big cities in terms of local culture; including art, restaurants, design, environmentalism, architecture, night life, music, etc.

5. People here take their time, so if you're used to living in a big city, you might find yourself getting pretty impatient.

$25 an Hour to Pour Coffee!

Sorry, bud, nobody pays anyone $25/hour to pour coffee.

The wage for such a non-skilled job here in Calgary is maybe higher than it is in other Canadian cities, but not much higher.

$12/hour to pour coffee is what you can expect.

$10/hour to do some type of non-dangerous labour work.

If you've got a diploma or a degree in a field that is useful to the oil industry, however, you can certainly expect that big paycheque. Where is the big money in Calgary?

- Petrochemical Engineer (4-year degree)

- Electrical Engineer (4-year degree)

- Petroleum Geologist (4-year degree)

- Energy Asset Manager (2-year diploma)

- Welding Inspector (2-year diploma)

- Manager of an energy company (education + experience)

The above jobs would all start you off at around $60K per year and go up after each successive year of experience. You could maybe expect $100K per year if you worked hard and had multiple years of experience.

There are also other jobs that could get you a $60K starting salary, but they all require you to take a multi-week training course and work up north in the oil fields (in situ, as it's called). Did I mention they're dangerous and it's really, really cold outside in the winter?

- Rock truck driver (12-week course)

- Derrick hand (on-the-job training, but must live up north)

So, yeah, don't think you're just going to be able to come to Calgary and make $25/hour doing the easiest job in the world...

Downtown Calgary from the east.
Downtown Calgary from the east. | Source

Certification, Certification, Certification

Normally, when you apply for the job of Administrative Experience, you know it's a job that anyone can do. Not only that, even if you've never touched a piece of paper in your life, you can be easily trained for these sorts of tasks.

Not in Calgary, though. No matter how ridiculously easy the job is, they prefer candidates with at least a diploma (that's two years of college) for this sort of job. It's not saying that you can't get such a job without the diploma, but 99% of Calgary employers prefer that you wasted two years in school for a diploma in paper pushing... errr... business administration.

Aside from these junior jobs, if you want to make the big bucks, you certainly have to have some type of certification. The great thing about Calgary and its oil industry, then, is that lots of companies will hire someone with a diploma in a specialization that is in-demand in the oil industry; such as petroleum engineer, energy asset manager, electrical engineer, etc. These are the types of diplomas that allow you to hit the ground running in your career and then possibly go back to school to upgrade them to university degrees. And most probably, on the company's dime. With these jobs, you can expect to make $60K to start, with pay raises each year, topping out at over $200K per year (after several years of experience and expertise).

The other types of certifications that are needed for big bucks in Calgary are technical certifications. These are simply two-year college courses that get you into a money-making apprenticeship. So, perhaps you can be a millwright (mechanic for machines), a welding inspector, power engineer (steam and boiler person), etc. With these two-year technical certifications, you can get apprenticeships and start climbing the ladder of expertise. After the one year of apprenticeship, you'd be looking at at least $50,000. With a couple years experience and hard work, you'd be looking at a low 6-figure income.

Dearth of Culture

After having grown up in Toronto, lived in Vancouver, and being a frequent visitor to Montreal... Calgary is honestly a desert when it comes to local culture. Yes, there are oasis here and there... but mostly, it's a desert.

If you're into the outdoors - camping, off-roading, snow-mobiling, skiing, hiking, etc. - then Calgary is a great place. But if you're into city life and the arts and all the cool stuff that are found in cities like New York, London, Paris, Tokyo, Taipei... you're going to find Calgary to be pretty lacking.

When you go to a big city in the summer, you'll see people hanging out on the streets, enjoying the outdoors and doing all sorts of other things. In Calgary... if you're downtown in the summer, all you'll see are people leaving their offices to go home. Aside from one street that has a lot of bars and pubs, you won't see any other sort of thing going on downtown. There's no outdoor pedestrian mall, no boutique-lined streets, no buskers performing for crowds...

The Weather

Although weather affects us all in not only a physical way, but also in many mental ways, people don't often consider the impact this will have on their lifestyle when choosing what city to move to. It's also pretty hard to judge the type of weather you'll experience when living in a city based on information you find online. Even if you look at a climate map of a city, it's still hard to tell.

Thus, all I can give is my personal opinion, as someone who has lived in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary.

  • Calgary is sunnier than Vancouver, but I would say that Toronto is just as sunny.
  • In the summer, the sun sets at like 10:30 pm, as it does in Vancouver.
  • Calgary can be hot during the summer, but at night it cools right down. Vancouver and Toronto, on the other hand, stay fairly warm at night.
  • Calgary is very dry and arid, which equals a lot of dust gathering on everything. Park your car for two days and it's covered in dust. Items in your house gather dust really quickly. This type of dusty, dry air is no good if you're sensitive.
  • In the winter, Calgary is as cold as Toronto, but there are what's called the Chinook Winds, which can see winter temperatures as high as 12 degrees Celsius for a couple of days.
  • The Chinook Winds give Calgary a couple of warm days every couple of weeks during the winter. This also means that the city doesn't bother plowing non-major roads, because the Chinooks are just going to melt the snow anyway. What happens, however, is that snow is melted into water... but then it gets cold again and everything freezes. Ice is everywhere in the winter and people always slip and fall.

Why Did I Choose Calgary?

My wife and I were moving back from overseas to Canada and we were in debate over whether to choose Vancouver or Toronto. She wanted Vancouver, and I wanted Toronto.

I had a friend in Calgary, however, and he convinced us that it was a really great place to be. There was lots of money to be made. Also, he'd kindly put us up for a couple weeks until we found our own place.

After I talked to many other people and did some online research, it seemed that Calgary would be a good choice. I could make over $50,000 per year doing something unskilled. $50,000 wasn't even considered that much money in Calgary. Everyone was making at least $50K!!! The streets were paved with oil and the rivers were filled with gold. Tim Hortons paid $25/hour to pour coffee!!!

Unfortunately, that was not the case and we somehow regret choosing this giant suburb.

I got an entry-level job in my field, but it unfortunately only pays about $30,000 per year. Where is my $50,000? Not in Calgary. I had previously made $37,000 per year at an entry-level job in Toronto... so... it seems that I was making more money in Toronto.

Rent here is slightly cheaper than in Vancouver, but I really do feel that it's comparable to Toronto. Buying real estate is undoubtedly cheaper in Calgary; however, I am pretty sure that Montreal is cheapest of all.

Gas is cheaper in Calgary, with it being about 15% cheaper than Toronto and 20% cheaper than Vancouver.

Electricity is cheaper in Vancouver, though.

Food in Calgary is unarguably more expensive than in any of Canada's other big cities. Groceries here cost more and eating out costs a heck of a lot more. If you go to a food court in Toronto or Vancouver, you can expect to spend around $7.00 each... in Calgary, expect to spend about $10.00 each.

I have heard that climbing the corporate ladder is faster in Calgary, and it certainly feels like it, so although Calgary is missing a lot of things that we enjoy and love... we're going to stick it out here for at least a couple of years.

My Personal Feelings

I'll probably get a lot of resistance to this personal opinion, but to be fair, it's simply my completely personal, honest opinion on the merits of choosing Calgary as the Canadian city you'll live in.

I was born and raised in Toronto and also lived in Vancouver. I've lived in Calgary for about eight months now.

Basically, if you were to ask me to advise you on which of Canada's big cities you should choose as your home, I would not advise Calgary. The hot trend right now is for people from all over Canada to move to Alberta (and mostly Calgary) for jobs. Alberta's economy is booming, mostly because of the Oil & Gas industry, which is why jobs here are easier to find. Will it be a good job? Depends on your training, skills, qualifications and experience.

To me, Calgary is one giant suburb. There are tall buildings downtown, but that's only one definition of a downtown. A downtown needs to attract people not only for work, but also for play. Calgary's downtown fails in that respect. If you like suburban or country living, then hey, Calgary may be the place for you. I, however, find it to be extremely dull and somewhat depressing.

I also dislike the weather here. The winters are frigid, but there's also the Chinook winds, which warm things right up to about 12 degrees for a couple days at a time. The snow melts, you can take your jacket off... but then when the Chinook is gone, the melted snow freezes into ice (people always fall), and it's hard to drive a car that is not meant for off-roading on smaller roads. The summers here are absolutely frigid! I'm writing this on August 20, 2014 and today's high was 15 C - it's even colder right now since it's night. Moreover, even when it's 30 C during the day in Calgary, it can still be a cool 16 C at night. My fondest memories of growing up in Toronto were hanging out with friends on warm summer nights...

The last of my gripes is the lack of culture here. Yes, there is some amount of what we usually term "culture"; such as museums, festivals, artistic communities, etc., but honestly, Calgary is seriously behind the other Canadian big cities. And by a long shot. There isn't even the tech culture and community that normally exist in big cities; everyone here is so focused on making oil & gas money that it seems tech talent is not attracted here. I thrive in an environment where people discuss the latest lectures from TED, you see people reading Wired magazine, people on the street playing music, hanging out in coffee shops on their tablets... Calgary seems to lack this!


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