At the end of 2016, my wife and I left our apartment in Red Deer, Alberta for the greener pastures of Peterborough, Ontario. But before I jump into my thesis of why we chose Peterborough, first I need to give some context.
WHERE WE CAME FROM
When I finished my graduate degree at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario at the end of 2011, I had zero job prospects, anywhere (what do you do with a degree in rainbow trout behaviour and physiology?). As such, I packed up my basement apartment to move into my parent's luxurious basement (having someone do your laundry counts as luxurious, right?) in Red Deer.
I left my then girlfriend/future wife behind where she was in her final year of dental school in London and we did long distance until the Rocky Mountains started calling her name. I would like to think she moved to Red Deer for me but she’s a hardcore downhill skier so the epic slopes of Lake Louise brought her to Alberta. I didn’t mind.
Siam Grobler pictured at The Silver Bean Café in Peterborough
The following three years, we worked hard and played hard. Most weekends in the summer, we were hiking and camping in Rockies, and in the winter we skied like possessed people. It was a great situation being 90 minutes away from the mountains.
With a population of 100,000, we had every amenity available to us, and could move across the city fairly quickly. Plus, Edmonton and Calgary were equally far away, meaning we had two international airports to choose from. Not to mention my immediate family was near-by (parents in Red Deer, my sister and her husband in Edmonton) and most importantly for us, the Rockies were accessible. Like I said before, it was a great situation and we were very happy.
Like most places in Alberta (especially at the end of 2013 when she moved), development in Red Deer was at an all time high due to the high crude oil prices. It felt like the city was bursting at the seams with people moving from across the country for work. Entire neighborhoods were being build at break-neck speed which resulted in cookie cutter homes, small property lots and tiny trees.
This development also lead to a lot of big box stores and chain restaurants popping up on every corner. Optimism regarding life was at an all time high with the perception that high crude prices were here to stay for the next 10 years (this was the conservative estimate).
Having people move to a city for just work means that there is nothing binding them to the community. A common perception was: “I’m here to work because there is no work where I would actually want to live.” While not everyone who moved to Alberta has this opinion, it was common enough that most people would be living two simultaneous lives: a work life where they put their noses to the grind stone, and a relaxing/enjoyable life, where they would go home.
At this junction, let me just say I love Red Deer and Alberta. Not only is the place easy on the eyes, provides opportunity in spades and is home to my beloved Oilers (my man crush on Connor McDavid is slowly fading due to the fact that I can’t stay up that late to watch him produce magic and that hurts my soul), Alberta is also a welcoming and progressive place.
We both loved our time there so much that when we decided it was time to think about expanding our family and try another city, Banff was a serious contender. Only Peterborough topped Banff.
Siam visiting High Falls near Peterborough
WHY PETERBOROUGH WON
Since my wife is a dentist, she can work almost anywhere in Canada. And so, once it was decided that we needed a change of location, we tackled the challenge of where to move in Canada with scientific rigor and patience, coming up with lots of pro and con lists for each potential place in this beautiful country. Here are the six main reasons we picked Peterborough...
1. Beautiful. Really beautiful: As far as the eye test is concerned, there aren’t many places as scenic as Peterborough. Having lived in multiple provinces (and countries for that matter) and driven across the country several times, I am convinced that Peterborough is a beautiful gem. The city has hills, a river that runs through it, a lake, big trees and old homes. When I tell new acquaintances that I meet in Peterborough that this was the main factor for us choosing this city, they are surprised. I guess if you have been here for awhile, you take the beauty for granted. And just outside the city, you have rolling farm land and cute towns.
2. Excellent for work-life balance: To go along side the beauty, Peterborough has a lot of green space that is easily accessible to pedestrians and cyclists. This is a big draw for young couples wanting to expand their family. These trails are good for our souls, good for our health. I don’t think people here understand how special Jackson Park and the Parkway Trail is. Lots of places around the globe are figuring out how to incorporate more green spaces into their communities but Peterborough already has it. This city-wide pedestrian trail makes Peterborough very unique.
Siam pictured at The Silver Bean Café with Otonabee River as backdrop
3. Did I mention water?: With the Otonabee River running through the city and Little Lake being in the middle of the city and the multitudes of other lakes in the area, there is no shortage of water access. My wife grew up on Lake Scugog so being close to water was always important to her. No matter how often I told her, “Man, we could live in the Rockies!” her reply was always the same: “Yeah, but it’s not water…” We haven’t bought a canoe or kayaks yet, but have gone canoe-camping in Algonquin and Kawartha Highlands and I must admit, being on water is freakin' sweet.
4. Lift Lock (Lock 21): I almost forgot the Lift Lock. Here’s how I describe the Lift Lock to anyone out West: "So there’s the LOOOONG canal (called the Trent-Severn canal) that was built in the 1900s to take ships from Lake Ontario into the interior of Ontario and the canal passes right through Peterborough. At one section (which is in the city), the canal is 20 meters above/below you depending on which direction you are going, and there is a Lift Lock to get you to the other side. This Lift Lock is TWO GIANT BATH TUBS THAT MOVE HYDRAULICALLY DUE TO GRAVITY WHEN THE TOP TUB IS FULL OF WATER, PUSHING THE BOTTOM TOP UP. It’s so cool. And the Trent-Severn Canal system is part of The National Parks System, which is also freakin' cool."
Sian's view doing work at the Silver Bean Café
5. Established: Since I did not grow up in the area, the above mentioned points I noticed when we drove into Peterborough to visit my wife’s Aunt and Uncle many years ago. What was also obvious at that time is that Peterborough is its own thing. It stands on its own. It is self-sufficient. Sure, you can get to Toronto if you have to but Peterborough is far enough away that it has its own identity and heart. This appealed to me as it is not influenced by the Big Smoke. It is its own community. It is Peterborough.
6. Big Town: Coming from a place that has a fairly large population (100,000 in Red Deer versus 80,000 in PTBO), we knew the benefits of choosing a town of similar size. Firstly, you are not in a large city which is great. Secondly, it is large enough that you have access to every amenity and there are lots of places to eat and drink. There is life and activity and action. Thirdly, since it isn’t so extremely large, it feels like a town where people know and care about each other.
7. Family: My wife’s family is nearby, which was important in our decision to move. This isn’t to say that her family is better than my family; it’s just that her parents are still on Lake Scugog with the rest of her family close by. My family in Red Deer rocks, too (just so that everyone knows).
SOME THINGS I HAVE LEARNED ABOUT PETERBOROUGH
In the few months that we have been in Peterborough, I have learned a few additional things that were not obvious at first glance:
-> The entrepreneurial scene is strong and booming: There are so many organizations that help nurture and develop small businesses in town that I still do not fully understand and comprehend the network. All I know is if you want to start your own business, Peterborough has amazing people that will go out of their way to help you be a success.
-> People want to help: This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point but I cannot stress it enough. Instead of local businesses being cut-throat towards competitors, everyone is supportive of each other. I know this as I have had many informational interviews with the cities’ business people and they recommended that I go speak with someone else—sometimes even their direct competitor. It has been a fantastic experience so far.
-> There are a lot of restaurants: There are so many fantastic places to eat. It is going to take us a long time to eat at all of them… Also, the downtown core is bumping!