Me and my gf hope to be coming to Canada for a year on a WHV, and that will include spending a winter there. My original thinking was to spend it in Vancouver, the one place in Canada I know, as it rather appealed during a previous February visit. The winter temperatures seemed to be bearable (Dutch-like), while there's still oodles of snow within easy reach, and plenty of inviting cafes and activities to make the days pass. Reading the lonely planet however, my gf has a preference for Toronto, mostly because of it being a much larger city with much more going on, and the winter there being more of a real winter. (Having previously spent a winter in Chicago, I fear that'll be exactly true.)
So let's have one of those epic city vs city threads in the style of Sydney versus Melbourne: what are the positive and negative sides of a winter in Vancouver versus a winter in Toronto? And if anyone wants to throw in a third city as an alternative, please feel free to do so too.
You are right about Vancouver and Toronto. I have been to both cities, but only the inside of the airport in Toronto, so it doesn't really count. All I know about the weather there is that they truly have a 'real' winter- lots and lots of snow. At least, that is what the national weather reports seem to say. It really depends on your desires, whether you want a white Christmas, or can settle for a brown Christmas that is really rainy.
So, I digress. Let's talk about Vancouver. It is a place I go back to again and again, always finding new things to explore. I haven't gotten bored of it yet. There are tons of things to do there: Granville Island, Gastown, Stanley Park, the Seawall along the Berrard Inlet, the extension bridge, the third best Japanese gardens outside of Japan (they are beautiful in spring), etc., etc., etc. Besides that, you are right that metro Vancouver is smaller than Toronto, but greater Vancouver is huge. There are a zillion suburbs surrounding the city, like White Rock with it's ocean front shopping and great restaurants. And Whistler is close by with world class skiing/snowboarding in the winter (not a suburb of Vancouver).
In my opinion, Vancouver would be a really great choice because it offers so much variety- lots of things to do, great nightlife, great restaurants . . . It is one of the most beautifully planned cities with its parks and archetecture. It makes you feel better just being there.
The downside to Vancouver is the rain. It rains cats and dogs. It rains elephants. In the winter with all of the grey skies it can get depressing. People I know who love rain and move to Vancouver positively loath it after a winter. Everyone leaves with a chip on their shoulder if they stay for a length of time. The rain can soak you to the bone; an umbrella is essential; wet cold is very different from the dry cold in Toronto; staying dry is essential or you will be miserable. So the good news is it is mild, like a Dutch winter, as you say. Toronto is much, much colder. It depends on how much cold that you can take.
Also, in Vancouver, you get the ocean on one side and the mountains which are practically on your doorstep on the other. You seemed to mention that you enjoy skiing. Well, the skiing near Vancouver is much better than the skiing around Toronto! The skiing in the Canadian Rockies is just spectacular. If not Whistler, try Kickinghorse or if you want to travel to the Banff/Lake Louise area for a week, Sunshine is always good, too.
So those are my two cents. Good luck!
I was born near Montréal, have lived near Toronto for 2 years, in Edmonton for 9 years, near Vancouver for 14 years. I don't do sports, but I'm a tourist & an advanced photographer, & I'm past the usual age of gf...
From your "story" I gather winter is a major interest. Vancouver's proximity to Whistler (1½-2 hours by car) makes it a good choice for that; Vancouver also has (almost) zero mosquitoes for the other seasons (only place in Canada for those other 9 months), lots of water attractions, and sports/restaurants, whales, etc.
Vancouver is ±2 hours - plus border crossing time - by car or bus to the Seattle in the US; there are accessible ski areas in Washington also. And then there's Vancouver Island... Whales, surfing, fishing, hiking, etc.
I would suggest 2 alternatives for Toronto for the winter interest: Montréal & Calgary.
Calgary is ±1hour drive (car or ski bus) to Banff (look it up - it's possibly more dramatic than Switzerlan) and the winter weather is usually bearable - Edmonton can easily/often go to -30c plus windchill in the winter & it's ±4 hours from Jasper ski areas.
Alberta (Calgary) sales taxes & income taxes & gas prices are noticeably lower than any other province in Canada. There are usually jobs in the oil patch as well as other conventional industries.
Montréal is about 90 minutes by car from the ski hills - some US ski areas are about the same distance, has more snow than Toronto, has an impressive night life, hundreds of outstanding restaurants, a renowned nite life (Ontarians & others from the US come to Montréal to play, eat, party). Montréal is different from anywhere else in Canada partly because of its French element, partly because of its age - ±400 years old (there are a few restaurants in buildings than are over 350 yo). I know... 350 year old buildings is not much in Europe but here that's an oddity.
Speaking French in Montréal is an asset but in most areas people are at least bilingual, often multilingual; off the island, French will be necessary in some areas - the further from Montréal, the more the need for French.
Summers are similar in Montréal & Toronto, muggy with mosquitoes. Calgary summers can be very dry with mosquitoes; all seasons in Alberta are sunny - arguably the sunniest province in Canada. Vancouver temperatures are more comfortable all year, though there are cloudy/rainy periods in all seasons that some people hate.
The size of each city, within its city limits, is about the same ±500,000; but they have very different regional or metropolitan sizes. In order of metropolitan size: Toronto, Montréal, Vancouver or Calgary, Vancouver or Calgary.
The geography/topography in each area is very different. Montréal is an Island in a huge valley, Toronto is on the shore of a Great Lake, Calgary is in the Prairies region & Vancouver is on the West Coast with Pacific Ocean on one side & the Rockies to the east.
If you don't like winter, like me, pick Vancouver... Whistler is also nice in the summer.
Thanks for the opportunity to reminisce... Now the tough job: deciding!
Have a great time in my country.
THe last 2 replies are pretty good and I don't have a whole lot of info to ad, but I thought I would let you know that I agree with all of the above ...
If you are into winter sports but not the cold, you can't go past vancouver. Unlike Calgary, Toronto and Montreal it's not bitterly cold and I personally can't stand being in a large city after it's snowed. Out in the countryside (Banff for example) is whole other story. STUNNING! and while Banff is a small town, it is packed with tourists for the whole winter and it's a real party town. (This means accommodation can be tricky)
So, Vancouver would be my recommendation. Beautiful scenery, good climate (if a bit wet) lots to do, lots of work opportunities year round ...
Winter would be worse in Toronto, but its not unbearable. If you check out the BBC website here, you'll see that average temperatures in the winter are just below freezing. You will get some cold snaps, but those usually only last a day or two before the temperature climbs back up. The big problem with winter in Toronto is that because the temperature bounces up and down around the freezing mark you get a lot of freezing and melting cycles, which means icy sidewalks and gray, slushy puddles. Chicago is similar to Toronto, but Toronto would be a little less windy, which helps it feel not as cold.
If you are interested in winter sports, then Toronto isn't your best bet. Vancouver has the best skiing very close. Montreal has good skiing, and lots of other snowy activities as well. Either would be better for winter sports, unless you do indoor sports like ice hockey or curling.
Depending on how much the "W" part of your WHV comes into play, I think you'd have a better shot finding work in Toronto than Vancouver.