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Canada’s retirement hot spots

Gail Johnson

Edmonton-based financial advisor and educator Jim Yih, whose goal is to "help people retire happy", has some advice for those seeking the ideal Canadian spot to spend their golden years. Before making a plunge in some faraway place you're not all that familiar with, dip your toes in first.

"Doing your research and practicing it ahead of time is so important," says the Retire Happy blogger and founder of The Think Box, a company that offers financial education programs in the workplace. "For example, if you want to move to B.C., you better try it out with extended stays before you put down a bunch of money.

"We just came from a 16 day holiday in Vernon and it was an amazing family holiday. We talked many times that we could live there and retire there. The reality is that the stay was artificial because we were on holidays during beautiful, 30-degree sunshine.

"What would it be like staying there during January or February? What if you had to leave your closest friends or your children or grandchildren? You'll only know if you practice."

Yih suggests using vacation time or even taking a leave of absence prior to retiring to see how you like a certain spot during an extended period of time.

Some factors to contemplate are access to medical care, shops and services, public transportation, volunteer and part-time work opportunities, and social and caregiving support. Crime rates are an obvious consideration. Plus, keep in mind the state of the home itself: can it be easily modified in case of disability? Does it have a yard that requires a lot of upkeep?

Keeping those aspects in mind, here are a few places that stand out as retirement hot spots:

Fredericton, N.B.
Like everywhere else in New Brunswick, housing prices here are among the lowest in the country. According to the Canadian Real Estate Association, the average housing price here is about $169,000, just slightly down from the provincial average of $170, 619 for residential homes. Atlantic Canada's riverfront city offers quick access to kayaking, a vibrant cultural scene, and a rich history. Next year, the World Curling Federation brings the World Senior Men's and Women's Curling Championships to town, at a new $30-million sports and leisure complex with Olympic-size ice surfaces.

Prince Albert, Sask.
Known as the Gateway to the North, the city sits on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River between aspen parkland and boreal forest. Saskatchewan's taxes and household charges are among the lowest in Canada and the personal sales tax, at 5 per cent, is the lowest of the nine provinces that charge a sales tax.

According to a 2008 Heart & Stroke Foundation of Saskatchewan report, the province has significantly purer air than its neighbouring provinces. Plus, the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation has programs to help low- to moderate-income households complete major house repairs and adapt their homes to changing needs. Just an hour north is Waskesiu, a lakefront town dubbed "Saskatchewan's playground" that draws visitors to its beaches in summer and its snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing trails in winter.

Owen Sound, Ont.
The Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) picked Owen Sound as one of the best places in Canada to retire thanks to inexpensive housing, a lively cultural scene, and easy access to the great outdoors. Situated on the shores of Georgian Bay in a valley below the rock faces of the Niagara Escarpment, it has a waterfront trail system, quick access to boating and fishing, 27,000 acres of public access to conservation areas, and a downtown that's been recently refurbished and reminiscent of the 1900s. Then there's the annual Springfest 55+ Games, seniors' competition during April and May with team events in everything from bowling to walking relays.

Comox Valley, B.C.
With Comox and Courtenay as the two major centres, this gorgeous area midway up Vancouver Island doesn't have the hefty real-estate prices of Victoria or Sidney (yet) but it does have an ocean view and mountains (Mt. Washington). There's also ferry access to Powell River as well as flights to Vancouver, Seattle, Edmonton, and Calgary. According to Royal LePage, the average cost of a single family home in 2012 for the Comox Valley is $353, 474; well below the provincial average of $503, 232 for a non-seasonally adjusted single family home. The mean daily temperature in December is a balmy five degrees. Then there's golf. Lots and lots of golf, all year round.

Canmore, Alta.
Flanked by the Rocky Mountains, bordering Kananaskis Country, and just a short drive from Banff, Alta., Canmore has earned a reputation as one of the best places in Canada to retire for people who adore the outdoors. With more than 70 kilometres of hiking trails within the town itself and access to skiing, hiking, kayaking, climbing, cycling, snow-shoeing, horseback riding and mountain biking, there's a lot for recreationalists and nature enthusiasts to love. The town, with its Bavarian and alpine architecture, has a strong business core and an even stronger sense of community. There's a lot of golf here too (but not during the winter, as B.C. retirees will remind you).