Amazon’s annual list: Canada’s 20 most romantic cities, or its dullest ones?

To garner some publicity ahead of Valentine’s Day, Amazon produced last week its annual list of Canada’s 20 most romantic cities. As in past years, it included some odd picks. Cities like Montreal and Quebec City, known for their character and nightlife, were completely excluded from the list. Yet cities like Grande Prairie, Alta. and Burlington, Ont. — cities which even some locals might hesitate to describe as “romantic” — made the cut.

What gives? There’s a good chance that Amazon’s own methodology inadvertently results in a list of Canada’s dullest cities instead of its most romantic ones. As the online retailer described in its news release, the rankings are based on Amazon’s per capita “sales of romance novels (both print and Kindle editions), romantic comedies, relationship books, jewelry and sexual wellness products.”

Naturally, this would tend to produce a skew toward places where these things are not easily available in the community and must instead be shipped in.

So, if Abbotsford and Grande Prairie aren’t exactly Paris in the Spring, where might love be in the air in Canada? “Romance” is difficult to quantify, and a city’s romance factor can vary greatly between the inner city and the suburbs, so just for fun, let’s have a look at one basic metric: the percentage of the population age 15 and over who are available — that is, single (and not living common-law), separated, divorced or widowed.

Since 43 percent of Canadians aged 15 or older are “available”, one would expect that the areas where this percentage is far higher must have some sort of special appeal — to be the places where love, or at least sex, are in the air.

Fortunately, Statistics Canada allows us to focus on specific neighbourhoods now that they provide demographic statistics by Forward Sortation Area (FSA) — better known to most Canadians as the first three characters of our postal codes.

With that data available, which of Canada’s urban neighbourhoods have the highest concentrations of available people? A Top 10 list, with a few hard-to-explain surprises of its own:

1. Montreal, Que. H2X (Place-des-Arts/Ville Marie): This neighbourhood on the northeast side of downtown Montreal can claim to be the Singles Capital of Canada. Not only are 70 percent of its residents neither married nor in a common-law relationship, it’s one of those rare neighbourhoods in which the majority — 57 percent — are single. Credit at least in part a large university population, with McGill University and UQAM being in close proximity.

2. Vancouver, B.C. V6A (Downtown Eastside [!]/Strathcona): A questionable #2, admittedly. While Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (often abbreviated “DTES”) is somewhat notorious for being one of Canada’s most troubled neighbourhoods, at least the area can claim to have lots of available people, as 70 percent of residents were neither married nor living common-law as of the 2011 census.  Perhaps there’s a Skid Row effect at play here? Nevertheless, between the mountains and the sea, the City of Vancouver is at least a stronger contender than some of Amazon’s picks for “most romantic” status.

3. Saint John, N.B. E2L (City Centre): I’m not too familiar with foggy Saint John, N.B., but for whatever reason, the inner city has a disproportionately high concentration of available people, given that 68 percent are neither married nor living common-law, and nearly one-half are single. The city has become a popular cruise ship stop, so it must have something going for it.

4. Ottawa, Ont. K2P (Centretown/Golden Triangle): The nation’s capital attracts a lot of young people who work long hours for low pay as political staff. So, perhaps it should be no surprise that inner-city Ottawa, within walking distance of Parliament, has one of the nation’s highest densities of available people. Not only are two-thirds (68%) neither married nor in a common-law relationship, but the majority (53%) are single.

5. London, Ont. N6B (City Centre-Woodfield, south/east of Downtown): Another surprise. Unlike its British namesake, London, Ont. has a reputation for being rather dull. But it’s a university town, and that’s perhaps why its inner city has a disproportionately high number of available people (68%) and particularly of singles (48%). This particular area also has a number of high-rises, which in themselves tend to have higher concentrations of single, separated, divorced or widowed households than do neighbourhoods full of detached homes.

6. Toronto, Ont. M5B (Garden District): If you’re looking for nightlife, you can’t go wrong living in Toronto’s highrise-intensive Garden District, which includes Toronto’s busy Yonge St., Massey Hall, the Ed Mirvish Theatre and Ryerson University. That might explain why two-thirds of the area’s residents (67%) are neither married nor common-law, and 55 percent are single.

7. Ottawa, Ont. K1N (Byward Market/Lower Town/Sandy Hill): With the University of Ottawa within its boundaries and Parliament Hill being just a 25-minute walk away, this area of Ottawa, heavy with apartments and condos, can’t help but to have its share of available people. Sixty-one percent are neither married nor common-law, and 51 percent are single.

8. Toronto, Ont. M5T (Chinatown/Kensington Market): Located west of downtown Toronto and made famous by the ‘70s TV show King of Kensington, this area of the country’s biggest city adjacent to Queen’s Park and the University of Toronto is not a bad place to look for love: 66 percent are neither married nor common-law, and 50 percent are single.

9. Halifax, N.S. B3J (City Centre): If you’ve ever been to Halifax, it’s not hard to see how its city centre could be conducive to a bit of romance, with the harbour on one side and the Citadel on the other. A large university population — Dalhousie and Saint Mary’s universities being nearby — help account for the fact that fully 58 percent of the area’s residents are single. Add in the divorced, separated and widowed, and the availability rate rises to 66 percent.

10. Montreal, Que. H2L (Gay Village): Perhaps it should be no surprise that a neighbourhood simply known as the Gay Village has a population that is 66 percent available, including 52 percent single. Located northeast of downtown Montreal, the neighbourhood is close to both UQAM (ostensibly boosting the student population) and to the nightlife, for which Montreal is famous, along Rue Saint-Denis and in the Quartier des Spectacles.

Winnipeg falls just short of the Top 10 list, with R3B — north of Portage from the University of Winnipeg to the Exchange District — being good for a #11 finish, as 65 percent of residents aged 15-plus were neither married nor living common law in 2011, including 45 percent who were single. While this includes some sketchy areas — a moonlight walk along Cumberland Ave. is perhaps not the safest thing to do — the presence of the university and the development of the Exchange District quite likely helps.

At the extreme opposite end of the list, the hunt for love is not likely to be harder than in Ingolf, Ont. P0Y. Not only is the population small — just 63 people — but only 17 percent of residents aged 15 or older are neither married nor living common-law. But if we once again exclude the most thinly populated areas, Canada’s most “settled” neighbourhoods — the bottom five — include:

5. Calgary, Alta. T3L (Tuscany/Scenic Acres): These two outer suburbs in northwest Calgary start off this list, with just 29 percent of those aged 15 or over being single, separated, divorced or widowed. Not much to do for fun out that way, except perhaps to go for a coffee at the Starbucks in the strip mall parking lot.

4. Winnipeg, Man. R3X (Island Lakes/Royalwood): Way out on the edge of town, with virtually nowhere to go for fun locally, this suburban area is Married-With-Children country. Seventy-one percent of the area’s age-15-plus population is either married or living common-law, leaving just 29 percent available.

3. Bedford, N.S. B4B (Bedford/Hammonds Plains): This deeply suburban area on the western outskirts of Halifax offers little to see or do, except perhaps a walk in the woods. Not surprisingly, this has one of the country’s lowest proportions of single, separated, divorced or widowed people — just 28 percent.

2. Whitby, Ont. L1M (Brooklin): Brooklyn, New York might offer a lot for the single, separated, divorced or widowed to do; but Brooklin, Ont. — politically part of the city of Whitby, but physically separated from it by a freeway and open land — certainly does not. Strictly suburban Brooklin doesn’t even have a town centre; just a mall called the Brooklin Towne Centre where you could look for love at the Tim Horton’s, or perhaps at Dollarama. For more excitement, downtown Toronto is just 45 minutes away — by freeway.

1. Calgary, Alta. T3M (Cranston/Auburn Bay): What could be more romantic that the cul-de-sacs of the most far-flung subdivisions of a city defined by sprawl? Just about any other neighbourhood in Canada, really. The Cranston and Auburn Bay neighbourhoods, on Calgary’s southeastern edge, are the most settled of Canada’s urban neighbourhoods: three-quarters of its residents aged 15-plus are married or living common-law, leaving just 26 percent up for grabs.