Canada’s Top Retirement Destinations: Abbotsford, BC

With rural charm and all the conveniences of a big city, Abbotsford offers an ideal retirement site


By Wendy Haaf

Photo: Tourism Abbotsford.

For those who love the idea of rural charm but can’t imagine life without all the conveniences of a big city, Abbotsford offers an ideal retirement site. Located in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley, this green and pleasant city is surrounded by rich farmlands and beautiful parks, yet it has all the amenities you need for a happy and healthy retirement.

With a population of just over 141,000, Abbotsford is British Columbia’s largest urban municipality outside of Greater Vancouver, and the city offers an affordability (given the market) that has proven very attractive to the many seniors who are choosing to move there.

Housing has always been favourably priced in Abbotsford, says John Corrie, who has been a realtor in the city since 1977. “There are a lot of very nice new one- and two-bedroom condominiums being built that fall in the low $400,000 range,” he says. “You can sell your home in other communities closer to Vancouver, then move out here and be very comfortable. Lots of retirees are moving here because of the lower housing prices, but also because of the amenities that the city offers.”

According to the real estate website, asking prices for homes in Abbotsford have dropped 18.56% since March 2018 and the average selling price for a condo is $278,000, so if you’re not concerned about buying a new building, there may be even greater real estate bargains to be found.

Abbotsford also boasts a relatively new hospital, the Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre, which opened in 2008. Lonnie Harrison, who retired to Abbotsford in 2012, says that the access to healthcare is excellent. “We have one of the top cancer centres in Western Canada, if not in the country,” she says.

“If you’ve been referred, they follow up and don’t let the ball drop,” Corrie says. “I know very few people who ever need to leave Abbotsford for healthcare. Our hospital can deal with most issues that people face.”

Add to this malls, theatres, and multiplex cinema, and shopping areas with all the big box stores you could ever want, plus impressive recreation facilities. The Abbotsford Recreation Centre has an Olympic-sized rink, a 25-metre pool, gyms, a sauna, and a dedicated seniors’ recreation program. Another fantastic resource for seniors is the Chilliwack ElderCollege at the University of the Fraser Valley: anyone 50 or older can take classes in theatre, arts, technology, cooking, photography, and more, at a cost of just $15 a year for an ElderCollege membership. The city also has several art museums and galleries, each offering a range of programming and activities.

There’s a strong volunteer community in Abbotsford, and therefore plenty of opportunities to make friends and make a difference. Harrison, for one, volunteers as the secretary of the Abbotsford Social Activity Association, and also volunteers at several other organizations in the city. She says there are lots of seniors’ halls in the city that offer a wide range of activities at low cost—from bridge and line dancing to crafts and singalongs (each are two-hour sessions and cost around $4.50, with a discount for members).

“Added to that, we have two local theatre groups, and there are several choirs in the area, for whether you want to join the choir or go to watch a concert,” Harrison says. “There are always lots of events happening where a seniors’ rate is offered.”

If you’re looking for more than social activities, Harrison says, there are plenty of part-time jobs available in the ever growing city for those who want to supplement their pensions.

Living in Abbotsford, you’re only 63 kilometres (40 miles) from Vancouver (which Corrie says is an easy one-hour drive if you don’t go in rush hour) and only five kilometres from the Sumas border crossing into the United States, which is great for bargain-conscious locals who love to nip across to Washington State to fill up on cheaper gas and groceries. Abbotsford also has its own international airport, which is a hub for WestJet. “My clients love that they can be in Calgary in an hour to do business or visit family, plus there are direct flights to Mexico and sometimes Hawaii,” Corrie says.

Nature lovers will find plenty to adore in and around Abbotsford. You’re a short drive from glorious Cultus Lake Provincial Park, which is known for its huge warm lake, and there are many scenic trails to explore, as well as opportunities for boating, kayaking, and camping. Popular tourist spot Harrison Hot Springs is just an hour away, and it’s an easy drive up the Coquihalla Highway to get to the BC Interior. There are plenty of “U-Picks” where you can go for apples, pumpkins, and berries, plus a lavender farm and a vibrant farmers’ market that’s open spring, summer, and fall.

Harrison chose to retire to Abbotsford because that’s where her grandchildren are, and she says that as soon as she arrived, it became clear to her that Abbotsford was a friendly and welcoming city. “People say hello to each other on the street, and you don’t always get that kind of a reception in most places,” she says, adding that she wonders whether this is due in part to the cultural mix of the city (Abbotsford has the third-highest proportion of visible minorities in Canada, after the Greater Vancouver and Greater Toronto areas). “I feel
that the mix of cultures in Abbotsford is very conducive to working together and getting along. There seems to be a lot of
tolerance here in Abbotsford, and we love it.”