Thinking of moving to Calgary? People, culture, and work

Moving to Canada is a big change, wherever you’re from. You have to think about the cost of living, the difference in culture, and likely speaking another language, among other things. Here, we will break down some of the things you should think about before moving to Calgary, so you can decide if Calgary is the right home for you and your family.

Key Information

Canada is a large, diverse country, with unique landscapes, climates, and cultures. Most immigrants move to one of Canada’s larger cities, such as Toronto, Montréal, Vancouver, or Calgary. With a projected population of 1.5 million, Calgary is a quickly growing city. At the Calgary Immigrant Educational Society, we have students and clients from over 75 different nationalities walking through our doors each year.

Downtown Calgary at night.

Calgary frequently receives awards for being one of the most livable cities in the world with its high quality of life and excellent driving conditions. Calgary is home to exciting new restaurants that serve food from a variety of cultures and a strong arts community. It also has three major sports teams: the Calgary Flames (Hockey), the Calgary Stampeders (Football), and the Calgary Roughnecks (Lacrosse). Calgary is located less than 2 hours from world-class tourist destinations Banff and Lake Louise in the Rocky Mountains, and 90 minutes from Drumheller, home to some of the most impressive dinosaur fossils in the world.

Calgary is a young and vibrant city – founded in 1875, it has grown through waves of settlement. Today’s Calgary is a blend of global influences in a city that still strongly retains its self-sufficient cowboy culture; a place where families of every nationality can find reflections of their homeland.

Calgary’s population is also very young, with the median age being just 36.4 years old (compared to the national median of  40). As a whole, the city has Canada’s fastest growth rate, with the population expected to grow to 1.7 million by 2023.

For a detailed infographic breaking down Calgary’s population, click here.

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges you will face in Calgary is the weather. Because of its location near the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Calgary is known for its quickly changing weather. You will likely find that the air in Calgary is very dry, especially in winter – the lack of precipitation or nearby large bodies of water means that many Calgarians use extra moisturizer or install humidifiers in their homes to help combat dryness. On the bright side, Calgary has the most sunny days of any major city in Canada.

Spring (March – June)

Spring usually brings warmer temperatures and longer days to Calgary. During this time, snow melts and the temperature is usually 4 degrees C to 16 degrees C. Surprise late season snowstorms can still happen however, so don’t put your winter jacket away just yet!

Summer (June – September)

Summer is a beautiful time in Calgary, where temperatures often range from 24 degrees C to 32 degrees C. Most of Calgary’s rain falls in early summer, but the end of summer can be very hot and dry. Due to the nearby Rocky Mountains, rainstorms often turn into hailstorms, with ice falling from the sky. Severe storms damage crops, gardens, and in some cases, your car or home. In these situations, seek shelter indoors.

Fall (September – early December)

This is a striking time to be in Calgary, as leaves on the city’s trees turn bright with color. Here, the daily highs drop from 18 degrees C  in September to 3 degrees C or lower in December. September brings the city’s first frosts and it’s not unusual to have a few days of snow, which quickly melts. Increasing snowstorms toward the end of October signal the approach of winter. By November, the snow is likely to stay until spring.

Winter (December – March)

Winter can be quite cold in Calgary, with daily temperatures ranging from -5 degrees C to -30 degrees C. However, Calgary is in the path of occasional warm Chinook winds which push warm air into the city. When a Chinook arrives, temperatures rise very quickly and snow and ice melt. It’s not unusual for temperatures to rise from around -20 degrees C to +10 or 20 degrees C within hours. The arrival of a Chinook wind is often accompanied by a distinctive cloud formation, called a Chinook Arch, which hangs over the city as long as the Chinook is blowing (pictured below).

Because winter weather can be so harsh in Calgary, it’s important to dress properly for the weather. For ideas on how to dress yourself and your family for winter, read our original blog post here.

Working in Calgary

Calgary is among the largest of Canada’s economic centres and is a major international hub for the Energy industry. The city we know today had humble beginnings in the early 1900s as an important ranching and agricultural centre. These industries still have major presences in present-day Calgary. This is seen when we celebrate the Calgary Stampede every July and through the city’s nickname, “Cowtown”. However, it was drilling for oil and natural gas around Turner Valley in 1914 that began Calgary’s largest industry: Energy.

Bronco riding at the Calgary Stampede.

Since then, Calgary’s economy has grown to become largely dependent on the price of crude oil in international markets. As such the city’s economy and growth can be tied to a series of “boom” and “bust” periods. Travelling throughout Calgary today, you can often tell when the city was experiencing a “boom” (prosperous) period by studying the architecture of the buildings around you. Notable “boom” periods for Calgary include 1912-1914, the 1940s – 1960s, 1970 – to the early 1980s, and the mid-1990s to 2008.

These oil derricks pump oil and natural gas from reservoirs thousands of feet below the surface.

Though oil and gas remains one of the largest employers in Calgary, the city has begun to diversify its economy. Calgary has put renewed emphasis on its other large industries, which include Renewable Energy, Financial Services, Technology, and Agribusiness. Smaller industries also receiving higher investment include Film & TV and other creative fields, Real Estate, Transportation & Logistics, and Manufacturing.

The hundreds of distinct cultures practiced by its residents influence Calgary. Over time, the city has developed certain values which many citizens appreciate and which many Canadians recognize as distinctly Calgarian.

Calgarian, and by extension, Canadian, workplace values may include:

  • Being punctual and on-time: Canadians value their time and appreciate when others do too. Arriving on time (or even 5 minutes early) for your appointments is appreciated and often expected.
  • Individualism and self-sufficiency: Canadians value hard work and reward those who work on their own to teach themselves new skills. Employers often appreciate employees that take initiative. This spirit of independence drove Calgary’s early economic success and remains valued in the present day.
  • Willingness to work hard: Closely related to the point above, all Canadians value hard work and commitment. Most employees think nothing of staying extra hours at work to finish their tasks or get ahead. In fact, this is usually the expectation in industries such as oil and gas and finance.
  • Emphasis on equality and equal opportunity: Canadian workplaces value diversity and work hard to practice it. Equitable hiring ensures that all job candidates have a fair shot at a position.
  • Shaking hands seals the deal: in Calgary, the old saying “a man’s word is as good as his handshake” rings true. A handshake between two individuals often cements a deal and that both parties will honour it.

CIES Guides are a volunteer-led project made possible through contributions from the community.

Thanks to Whitney Loewen for help with this guide. If you want to suggest a correction to this guide, or want to submit one of your own, please contact us.