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Vancouver has stolen Calgary's crown as the city with the highest net worth.

In a soon-to-be-published database that looks at how Canadians handled their wealth during the rapid change of fortunes that marred 2008, Environics Analytics exposes profound changes in the way people approach their wealth.

Canadians have seen their nest eggs shrivel, beefed up their savings, scaled back their borrowing, and embraced caution, an abrupt change in attitude that will likely persist, says Catherine Pearson, vice-president of Environics Analytics in Toronto.

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Generally, the research, which crunches and dissects numbers from 80 different sources and goes into deep local detail, found that the richer Canadians were, the harder they fell.

"The more money you have, the more you have to lose," Ms. Pearson said.

In Calgary, net worth fell as the value of household investments plunged and debt climbed.

In Vancouver, though, consumers saved more and real estate fared better last year.

Net worth, which measures someone's assets minus debts, dropped 6.2 per cent for Canadians as a whole last year. But Calgary residents saw their wealth plunge 12.3 per cent, while Vancouver's residents were able to hang on to much of their riches. There, net worth fell just 3.1 per cent between December, 2007, and December, 2008.

Now Vancouver's residents have taken first place for household net worth, while Calgary has fallen to second place.



Calgary has oil. Toronto is finance. Here, there's a lot of creativity. I'm amazed how some people make money here




Vancouverite Sebastian Albrecht rode that Pacific wave. He has a lot of his money tied up in real estate. And it's these investments - with prices down less than 10 per cent from their peak last year - that has made the city surrounded by mountains and ocean the richest in Canada, supplanting the country's energy capital Calgary.

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Mr. Albrecht bought his first condo a decade ago, after university. He stretched himself - and slept in a sleeping bag on the floor for a couple months in the unfurnished home.

A decade later, he lives in a $600,000 home that he bought two years ago for $500,000 and also owns - and rents out - a $350,000 town home and a $300,000 condo. He has some money in stocks, but only about 10 per cent of his net worth.

Born in the city, an entrepreneur at heart, the 34-year-old worked in IT and then started a clothing import-export business and dabbled in real estate - until he became a realtor himself three years ago, a perch from which he sees a cross-section of Vancouver and the people who generate the city's wealth. From movie makers to junior mining players, it is a diffuse mix.

"The difference in Vancouver is it's more diverse than a lot of areas in Canada," Mr. Albrecht says. "Calgary has oil. Toronto is finance. Here, there's a lot of creativity. I'm amazed how some people make money here."

Vancouver's net worth per household is an average of $575,826, while Calgary's is $569,926, the research shows.

Compare that with Newfoundland, where household net worth is typically $140,706, or even to Ontario, where average household wealth is $354,968.

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Most of Calgary's losses stemmed from a plunge in the value of investments held by households, such as stocks, bonds and mutual funds. At the same time, Calgarians took on large liabilities in the past year, and Calgary is now the home of the most heavily indebted people in Canada. Albertans in general have 30 per cent more consumer debt than the average Canadian, the research shows. And the mortgage debt of many young people has soared.

"Perhaps they simply haven't realized the fact that the heady boom days are now over," the researchers said in their analysis.

Vancouver residents, on the other hand, were able to mitigate their exposure to the ravages of the recession by increasing savings, and by benefiting from more stability in the housing market in 2008.

The survey doesn't cover 2009. In the first six months of this year, prices for existing homes were down 8.6 per cent in Vancouver from the same period of last year, and 9.8 per cent in Calgary, resale statistics show.

Perhaps because they're less wounded than the rest of the country, British Columbians are piling back into the stock market faster than elsewhere.

But people in Quebec and Ontario are gun-shy, and are stashing away any extra money they have in safe places. Quebec households in particular have low credit card debt, and boosted their holdings of sure-thing guaranteed investment certificates by 5 per cent over the course of the year. Deposits in banks and credit unions have risen 4.9 per cent.

People in Ontario, where the recession has hit hardest, increased their term deposits by 15.3 per cent and increased their debt loads by just 3.0 per cent - much less than the national average increase of 8.1 per cent.

"Hats off to Ontario households for being fiscally responsible," the researchers said.

Still, Ontarians were paying dearly for such debt. Residents were using 7.1 per cent of their disposable income to pay interest charges - 20-per-cent higher than the national average of 6.3 per cent. In Alberta, servicing non-mortgage debt ate up just 6.1 per cent of discretionary income, despite the rising debt loads.

Indeed, Albertans' discretionary income was higher than anywhere else in the country, at $53,237 per household. That was 29-per-cent higher than second-place Ontario.

The oil-rich province may have been hammered by the global recession, but households still have plenty of wealth. "Alberta's got the spending power," the researchers conclude.

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About the Author
National correspondent, Vancouver bureau

David Ebner is a national correspondent based in Vancouver. He joined The Globe and Mail in 2000 and worked in Toronto and Calgary before moving to Vancouver in 2008. He has reported on a wide range of stories – business, politics, arts, crime – and has covered sports since 2012. More

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