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Dolbeau-Mistassini – The worst cities? — Don’t be so quick to judge! — Part 2 (#158)

In the last post, The worst cities? — Don’t be so quick to judge! — Part 1: Introduction (#157), I said we’ll take a closer look at Québec’s lowest ranked city in which to live:  Dolbeau-Mistassini.

As I said in the last post, the MoneySense ranking was based on a narrow range of statistics, and did not take into account numerous subjective factors or other points beyond their narrow range of statistics.

I’ll give you some information about the town, the region, and lots of links to allow you to judge for yourself.  From my perspective, Dolbeau-Mistassini doesn’t seem like such a bad place.  Yes, it’s a little far from Québec’s largest cities, and it is not very large (just over 14,000 people), but it seems to offer full amenities which larger communities offer, and its location makes it ideal for lovers of outdoor activities.

The region – Saguenay Lac St-Jean:

qc.ttl

The Saguenay Lac St-Jean region is one of the most well-known regions of Québec.  If you were to ask any Québécois to list four regions of Québec which first come to mind, chances are that Saguenay Lac St-Jean would be one of them.

If you were to ask them to list four things about Saguenay Lac St-Jean which first come to mind, likely the answer would include (1) the distinct local accent, (2) blueberries, (3) the Saguenay Fjord, (4) Lac St-Jean (Lake).

c

The word for a “blueberry” in Canadian French is a “bleuet”.  Because Lac St-Jean is associated so deeply with blueberries in the local food and culture, people from the region are called “des bleuets”.    A word of caution if you’re learning French;  In Canada, a blueberry is a “bleuet”, but in France it is referred to as a “myrtille”.  And in reverse, a “bleuet” in France is not a “blueberry”, but rather is a “cornflower” (I’ve been misunderstood before in France for using the Canadian terminology).  🙂

a

From Montréal, Dolbeau-Mistassini, it is a six hour drive Northwest through the forest (via the town of La Tuque).   From Québec City, it would be a four hour drive.

Despite being quite far North, it is situated in a micro-climate region.  The entire Sagenuay Lac St-Jean region is situated in a deep valley (wide enough wide that you cannot see the walls of the valley if you’re in Dolbeau-Mistassini).  Therefore, despite being quite far North, the low altitude in the valley floor traps warmer air, and makes for fertile farmland and deciduous trees (unlike the Canadian Shield climate outside the valley).   Temperatures and climate (in both summer and winter) would be more similar to places further south such as Québec City (and sometimes even Montréal).

b

The square insert from the first map above is shown in the map below:

qc.ct.rtng

The line on the map above is an elevation cross-section which is shown below to illustrate the valley micro-climate.

Lsj.clmt

The largest city in the Saguenay Lac St-Jean region is the city of Saguenay, 160,000 (one of Québec’s best known cities).  It has one of Canada’s largest airbases (with many of Canada’s CF18 fighter jets), and a diversified economy (university, aluminum production, numerous services, research & training, forestry, biomedical).

DOLBEAU-MISTASSINI:

Dolbeau-Mistassini is the region’s second largest community, and is a two hour drive to the West from the city of Saguenay.

Dolbeau-Mistassini’s economy is very much as a service hub for the surrounding areas (agriculture, forestry, service centre for other smaller communities).  It also has a large paper mill (AbitiBowater).   Although the community is located slightly inland from Lac St-Jean (a lake which is so large that you cannot see across it), the community is generally associated with the lake (which offers many outdoor possibilities).

At the risk of sounding like a promotional-brochure (which isn’t my intention)… if you’re a lover of four-season outdoor sports and activities, you’d likely be in heaven in Dolbeau-Mistassini.   Water sports, forest activities, hunting, fishing, skiing, ski-dooing are found in abundance.

d

The fact that the town has all the major services which large centres also offer, but with much more accessibility owing to its size, could be considered a major advantage.

As you saw from the MoneySense listing, housing prices are much cheaper than other Canadian communities, and as you’ll see below, there are many housing options.

Here is a promo-video for the town:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XSQ5RBIotn0

I’ve lived in many communities across Canada in five provinces (ranging in size from 250 people to agglomerations of over 10 million people, and everything in between).   That experience alone has given me the perspective to know that making friends is key to feeling at home wherever you live.  I’ve said many times before that even if I were to live in a high arctic town without trees, if I were to meet the best friends in the world there with whom I were always going out and doing things, then the community would probably be the best place in the world!

It’s for these reasons that I consider community activities and hobby/interest activities to be key to feeling you can happily make a place home.   If you live in the largest of cities, but everyone sticks to themselves and do not mix, chances are you may not enjoy it too much (believe me, I’ve been in that situation before too).  But if you live in a small community, and everyone is always mixing, engaged in community volunteer activities, and the same groups of people constantly run into each other during community events, you will likely come to feel that the community is not only is super friendly, that it is easy to make friends, but that the community becomes a default family (I’ve lived in those types of places too, big and small).

I’ve never lived in Dolbeau-Mistassini before, but the activities and community events it offers seem to be just the types of activities which are conducive to the latter positive situation I just described.

I couldn’t find much online with respect to Dolbeau Mistassini’s economic plans (tax credits, corporate property taxes or rental / purchase rates, etc.).  But I noticed there are a couple of industrial parks.  Usually centres such as this, when a little further away from larger centres, are ideal for businesses which do not rely on major population bases, or which can be conducted online (or by phone).   In this sense, such centres are perfect for lovers of outdoor activities.

Community events:

The community has Saguenay Lac St-Jean’s region’s finest performing arts theatres.   Some of Québec’s  biggest names in Québec pop-culture come to town to offer performances: http://www.comitedesspectacles.com/

The town features numerous annual events and cultural poles which offer ample opportunities for volunteer activities and opportunities to become involved in the community :

There are a ton of photos of Dolbeau-Mistassini online, but I couldn’t find many which were not copyright protected (something I wish to respect as much as possible in this blog).  Therefore, the best way to allow you to see the town yourself is likely through Google Streetview links.

Choose the parts of town you’re interested in seeing, click on the links (below), and happy touring!!

Main street, Dolbeau-Mistassini

Waterfalls & Rapids downtown :

Full service, large hospital:

Schools:

Large supermarkets like any city:

Sports complex (ice arena, fitness facilities, indoor swimming pool):

Cultural centre:

Public outdoors swimming complex:

Various types of housing options, including several condo complexes (often the first choice for newly arrived immigrants or singles):

Municipal library:

Fair grounds for various annual events:

Major box stores, like any larger centre:

Older distinct regional housing styles (with two-story square balconies):

Medium aged housing districts:

Newer housing districts (many of which are waterside):

Town’s major employer (AbitibiBowater paper mill):

Local ski hill on edge of town:

Jogging paths all around town and on the water’s edge:

Scenic drive around town (cliffs & river):

Fly fishing just 3 minute drive from downtown:

City drive along the lake:

Drive along the river:

City hall: 

Salle de spectacles (performing arts centre):

Forests on the edge of the city for outdoor activities (hiking, camping, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, quading) :

PANORAMIO PHOTOS

All-in-all, I’d say that Dolbeau-Mistassini doesn’t look like such a bad place after all.  I’ve seen many other places across Canada which don’t have nearly as much to offer.  Ranking it at the bottom of the pile is quite harsh if you ask me.    But at the end of the day, I think you have to look at the rankings from the perspective that there is not much of a difference between communities ranked in 50th spot, 100th spot, or 200th spot.   The differences are small, and such rankings should not be held against any one town or city.   There are thousands of communities across Canada after all, and Dolbeau-Mistassini is definitely not one of the worst ones!

It goes to show you should always take such rankings with a grain of salt (if not a huge block of salt!).


SERIES: THE WORST CITIES??  SERIOUSLY??  DON’T BE SO QUICK TO JUDGE!! (5 POSTS):

The worst cities? — Don’t be so quick to judge! — Part 1: Introduction (#157)

I skipped a few days of posts while I was out of the country (I just arrived back to Canada).  I’ll hash out a few posts to make up for it (on a topic I have wanted to write for quite some time).

What would be Québec’s supposed « worst » city to live in?   And what are my thoughts regarding this ranking?   Would you like to know a bit more so you can make up your own mind?   I will say upfront that if the “worst” truly is the worst (and I’m not convinced it is), then we’re doing pretty good!!

Every year, the Canadian magazine “MoneySense” puts out a list of the 201 best / worst Canadian cities to live in (you city is arguably the best if you’re in the top spot, or the worst if you’re in the bottom spot).

The rankings come out every March, therefore the 2015/2016 rankings have not come out yet. However, the 2014/2015 held some surprises for me – considering I personally know many of the cities on the list (I would have ranked some places higher, but in other cases I would have ranked some places lower).

Before we go further and look at the specific cities, I’d like to mention a few points:

  • The legal definition of the “city” varies from province-to-province (sometimes you have to meet a minimum population to be considered a city). Therefore, the “cities” in this ranking list vary from 12,000 inhabitants, to millions.
  • The ranking is for the best places to “live” (which is quite different than the best cities to “visit”). The rankings do not take into consideration tourist attractions.
  • Likewise, scenery is not taken into consideration. Example: The fact that Canmore, Alberta is physically set in one of Canada’s most breathtaking sceneries counts for absolutely nothing for this ranking.  Canmore’s scenery, outdoors lifestyle, and proximity to a large city (Calgary) are arguably its most attractive features. But its rapid growth has resulted in other issues (higher prices, infrastructure pressures, etc), and thus it doesn’t rank any higher than 54th place – whereas I would have personally ranked it in the top 10 in Canada (Canmore, incidentally, is one of Alberta’s most Francophone cities with 3000 Francophones out of 12,000. Here is a video, in French, about Canmore and it’s Francophone community https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOI9hPLSnNA).

Factors which MoneySense did take into account when they compiled their ranking included:

  • Access to medical care (example: a shortage of doctors, medical facilities, etc.),
  • Crime rates,
  • Good public transportation (example: would you have difficulty getting around without a vehicle, or if you were challenged with a disability?)
  • Nice weather (example: do you have to endure an average of -10C for 8 out of 12 months?   Hence why we will never see “Alert” at the North Pole figure in the rankings), or does it rain 5 out of 7 days, every single week of the year? Thus, poor rankings for Prince Rupert, B.C.).
  • Affordability: MoneySense makes the point of stating they placed the emphasis on affordability, since, for many families, this is a very important point for quality of life and where to choose to live.  Personally, I could easily argue with MoneySense regarding how much weight “affordability” should be accorded. If this is one of the most important considerations for how families chose to live, then why the heck do we see hundreds of thousands of immigrants as well as Canadians from elsewhere flocking to cities like Vancouver and Toronto – arguably Canada’s most unaffordable cities, not only in Canada, but in the entire world!! And yet they flock to these cities despite lower employment prospects, terrible transportation and life-convenience factors, and a plethora of other issues.  Hence, my point is that much of a person’s choices come down to individual’s “perceptions”. Sometimes those perceptions are not correct – which is why we see immigrants and other Canadians come to Vancouver and Toronto, stay for a few years, and then pack their bags and move elsewhere once they realize their preconceived notions did not reflect reality.  Or they chose to stay because other factors, not related to affordability, are more important to them other than the cost of living).
  • Other factors MoneySense considered are themselves components of the “affordability” factor:  Are housing prices well-proportioned to a community’s income levels and employment rates?  Are local prices less or more affordable compared to other cities?  And can a person’s ease of finding good employment overcome affordability challenges
  • Tying into the above, how long would it take to pay off a home based on current salaries?
  • What are property taxes like?

I agree that the above are important considerations. But there are many other factors which were not taken into account in the ratings, which people consider when deciding where to

  • raise a family,
  • start and run a business,
  • enjoy sports or hobbies,
  • become involved in volunteer and community activities (which certainly help to acclimatize and make friends),
  • have ample access to all the services to live comfortably,
  • and most importantly, to simply enjoy life.

I want to introduce you to a couple of “underdogs” in this list, and to relate these underdogs to “other intangible” factors I just mentioned. I’ll make some comparisons, use some of my own experiences as references, and present a little bit of the other side of the story.

If you’ve never been to Québec before (or if your Québec experiences have mostly revolved around its major cities), these next posts will help you to learn a little bit more about the province, communities beyond its larger cities, and matters which are often overlooked by most people when they tend to think of Québec.  Hopefully you’ll come to view Québec from a different angle.  (In a somewhat related fashion, I received emails from Francophones after I published the post on my own hometown, Vegreville, Alberta.  The general feedback was that people in Québec often forget – or don’t even realize – that Alberta is much more than just Edmonton or Calgary… so hopefully you’ll come to the same realization about Québec after these next few posts).

Before we take a closer look at specific communities, I will give you the rankings.

The complete 2014/2015 Canadian rankings (including Québec’s cities) can be found at MoneySense’s website here: http://www.moneysense.ca/canadas-best-places-to-live-2014-full-ranking

MoneySense’s Québec specific rankings are as follows (from best to worst):

  1. Boucherville — (#6 rank in Canadian total)
  2. Québec City —- (#10 rank in Canadian total)
  3. Lévis — (#12 rank in Canadian total)
  4. Gatineau — (#15 rank in Canadian total)
  5. Rimouski — (#18 rank in Canadian total)
  6. Repentigny — (#20 rank in Canadian total)
  7. Blainville — (#21 rank in Canadian total)
  8. Brossard — (#38 rank in Canadian total)
  9. St-Georges — (#46 rank in Canadian total)
  10. Saint-Hyacinthe — (#52 rank in Canadian total
  11. Terrebonne — (#53 rank in Canadian total)
  12. Victoriaville — (#57 rank in Canadian total)
  13. Sherbrooke — (#60 rank in Canadian total)
  14. Châteauguay — (#62 rank in Canadian total)
  15. Saint-Eustache — (#68 rank in Canadian total)
  16. Laval — (#69 rank in Canadian total)
  17. Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu (#82 rank in Canadian total)
  18. Joliette — (#83 rank in Canadian total)
  19. Rivière-du-Loup — (#86 rank in Canadian total)
  20. Sorel-Tracy — (#95 rank in Canadian total)
  21. Trois-Rivières — (#101 rank in Canadian total)
  22. Baie-Comeau — (#104 rank in Canadian total)
  23. Granby — (#115 rank in Canadian total)
  24. Dollar-Des-Ormeaux — (#117 rank in Canadian total)
  25. Rouyn-Noranda — (#118 rank in Canadian total)
  26. Longueuil — (#127 rank in Canadian total)
  27. Saint-Jérôme — (#140 rank in Canadian total)
  28. Mascouche — (#142 rank in Canadian total)
  29. Saguenay — (#151 rank in Canadian total)
  30. Mirabel — (#152 rank in Canadian total)
  31. Alma — (#154 rank in Canadian total)
  32. Thetford Mines — (#155 rank in Canadian total)
  33. Drummondville — (#156 rank in Canadian total)
  34. Sept-Îles — (#157 rank in Canadian total)
  35. Cowansville — (#161 rank in Canadian total)
  36. Amos — (#163 rank in Canadian total)
  37. Val-d’Or — (#167 rank in Canadian total)
  38. Montréal — (#169 rank in Canadian total)
  39. Salaberry-de-Valleyfield — (#176 rank in Canadian total)
  40. Shawinigan — (#192 rank in Canadian total)
  41. Matane — (#197 rank in Canadian total)
  42. Lachute — (#199 rank in Canadian total)
  43. Dolbeau-Mastissini — (#200 rank in Canadian total)

As you can see, the above ranked cities, when placed on a map of Québec, are quite spread quite far and wide across the entire province.

qc.ct.rtng

What I find particularly interesting about these rankings is that the Québec cities occupy slightly less than ¼ of Canada’s overall top 201 rankings.  Québec’s population is also slightly less than ¼ of Canada’s overall population. Thus, on the whole, this shows that Québec’s cities generally fall within the Canadian “average” with respect to what constitutes the spread of Canada’s best & worst cities (we would have a problem if Québec’s cities only constituted 1/8th or 1/6th of Canada’s 201 best cities).

This is also an important point to emphasize from the point of view of tearing down pre-conceived notions relating to the Two Solitudes:  Québec’s cities are very much representative of what Canadian cities are as a whole, coast-to-coast;  No worse, no better — and very representative in terms of affordability, crime, medical care and weather.  Across the country, major factors which determine our lifestyles are quite similar.  When it comes down to the basics of how we live (which directly relates to who we are as a people), the differences are not so different after all. 🙂

Now that we have laid out the rankings, the next post will introduce you to the lowest-ranked city: Dolbeau-Mistassini. You’ll likely learn about a region of Québec you may have never otherwise known – and you’ll likely find much in common with other areas of the country you may also come from.


SERIES: THE WORST CITIES??  SERIOUSLY??  DON’T BE SO QUICK TO JUDGE!! (5 POSTS):