Sunshine Coast vs Vancouver Island

What's the difference between the two? 🤔

This post was written using a transcript from the above video. It’s been edited for clarity.

PAUL: Rightly or wrongly, the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island often times get lumped together as being one-in-the-same thing. We want to discuss whether that is a fair comparison to make and what the differences between the two communities really are.

VAL: Yes, there's differences and there's similarities and a very interesting conversation to have.

Geography and population

PAUL: If we look at a map of Canada, you can see that the Sunshine Coast is geographically close to Vancouver Island. If you went outside and you looked around, I think the uninitiated would be forgiven for saying that they look similar. Both have oceans, both have mountains, both are very pretty. But the truth is that when we're comparing the two, Vancouver Island is a big island with 800,000 or 850,000 people living on it. It’s made up of big cities, small villages, and everything in between. On the other hand, BC’s Sunshine Coast is a relatively small region on the west coast of Canada spread across 100 or 120 kilometres. The Sunshine Coast is made up of small, rural communities. The biggest community would be the District of Sechelt with a population of about 10,000 people. But those 10,000 people are spread over a wide big geographic area and includes smaller communities like Davis Bay and Tuwanek.

VAL: Vancouver Island is actually an island and the Sunshine Coast is part of the mainland. There is a ferry that goes to each so that's why sometimes people will think that the Sunshine Coast is an island. The ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island is an hour-and-40-minutes. The ferry ride to Langdale on to the Sunshine Coast is a 40-minute ferry ride. It's a little more than twice as far to take a ferry and get to the island.

PAUL: The biggest difference, in my mind, between the two is the size and the variety of communities. Like we touched on, communities on the Sunshine Coast are small and rural. If you're into that, then the Sunshine Coast might be a great fit for you. If that’s not your thing, then Vancouver Island's maybe a better fit because you could live in a small city like Victoria or Nanaimo or Courtney/Comox.

PAUL: I also think our lifestyle is more homogeneous on the Sunshine Coast compared to Vancouver Island. If you decide you're going to live in Hopkins Landing or you're going to live up around Halfmoon Bay, there are differences between those two communities on the Sunshine Coast, but largely, you’re going to have a similar experience.

PAUL: But if you live in Victoria on Vancouver Island, you’re going to have a specific type of experience that’ll be very different than living on the north end of Vancouver Island in Port Hardy. But here on the Sunshine Coast, you don't get to choose between living in a city or a smaller town.

Housing costs

PAUL: Vancouver Island is somewhat famously known for having a high cost of living, and I think that a lot of Vancouver Island residents will probably disagree when I say this, but I think our cost of living on the Sunshine Coast is far higher than it is on Vancouver Island. Buying a home in Victoria is very expensive. But if you were relocating to BC from another province and you were on a set budget for housing, you’d find a larger variety of choice and prices on Vancouver Island compared to the Sunshine Coast.

VAL: Yes, Vancouver Island has a wider variety of choices, for sure. A bigger range of prices. On the Sunshine Coast? Not so much. For example, in Gibsons, the price for an average family home is around $920,000. But on the Island, you can still find a detached home for half that amount.

PAUL: If you’re planning on moving to BC and a major consideration is being able to afford a home, then you're probably looking at Vancouver Island. If your budget is $400,000 for a detached house, you’re pretty much out of luck on the Sunshine Coast. On Vancouver Island, you're probably out of luck in larger cities like Victoria, but then as you move up coast on Vancouver Island, prices will drop accordingly and your dollar will go further.

Growing pains/infrastructure

PAUL: The other thing currently happening on the Sunshine Coast is that we're just starting to experience some of the growing pains that Vancouver Island has probably been dealing with for a long time. These growing pains, while they're new and frustrating to us, I think a lot of communities on Vancouver Island have already dealt with them, or at least have a plan to deal with them. The Sunshine Coast is still trying to figure out what kind of a community we are and want to be.

PAUL: I think that in decades past, life in Gibsons was rural and it was clearly rural. You had a blue collar job, you lived and worked on the Sunshine Coast, and you didn't really go to the city unless you absolutely had to. I don't think, commuting back and forth to Vancouver was as common 20 years ago as it is now. But as more people leave big cities to move to the Sunshine Coast, they’re also bringing the expectation of an urban lifestyle with them. I think the Sunshine Coast is still trying to figure that out that part of population growth and that a lot of places on Vancouver Island have made those kinds of decisions.

PAUL: Will Gibsons evolve into a small city? Or will its population swell while the community hangs on to its small-town-ness? There's a lot of hand-wringing about what our communities will look like in 10 or 20 or 50 years. In one way, that uncertainty could be a benefit of choosing Vancouver Island instead of the Sunshine Coast. On Vancouver Island, you more or less know what you're getting into. Whereas the Sunshine Coast might have a dramatically different vibe 10 or 15 years from now.

VAL: I agree with that. Gibsons is trying to figure itself out. Are we a small little community? Are we becoming a larger urban centre? How do families, tourists, and everything else fit in to this future, and how much do we allow development? How much do we spread out that development? How much do we build density? Lots of questions that don’t have answers right now.

PAUL: I think this type of angst is common in lots of communities across Canada. Towns and cities all go through this, to varying degrees. These aren’t questions that are unique to the Sunshine Coast. But in the seven or eight years we've been here, the change we’ve seen has been seismic. And I imagine it’s going to progress the same way going forward.

VAL: We ended up focusing more on Gibsons, but let's go back to the similarities or differences between the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island. Highway-wise, Vancouver Island has the big Island Highway, in addition to other highways. The Sunshine Coast only has Highway 101. It runs all along the Coast and is a busy highway, with your average speed ranging from 60 to 80 kms/hr. But it's not a big freeway. It's not four lanes. It's two lanes. There are residential driveways that line the highway. There are little intersections everywhere. Ideally, the Sunshine Coast would have a second highway like the Island does, but we don't.

PAUL: Vancouver Island is just more mature in that respect. Their infrastructure is just further along. They’ve been dealing with this growth for a long time and we're only now realizing that we’ve outgrown our single highway and that it won’t cut it for the next 20 years. When will we recognize that we need to have a bypass, or at least a wider highway? Two years from now? Fifteen years from now? I think that there's no doubt that a second highway is eventually built but what does it look like between now and it actually happening? If that type of uncertainty is a turn-off, you know that on Vancouver Island, you’ll have four-lane highways.

VAL: You’ll know that if one highway is backed up, you can take the other highway. If there's an incident on one highway, you can take the other one. On the Sunshine Coast, we don't have that option. Traffic just stops.

PAUL: I also think that infrastructure on Vancouver Island isn’t such a shock to the system anymore. Vancouver Island has big highways and big airports. It has all these things that the Sunshine Coast relies on Vancouver for. And when the Sunshine Coast eventually says, “We're building a four-lane highway that bypasses Gibsons on the way to Sechelt," people that have lived here their whole lives might look at that decision and be unhappy. Having that type of progress thrust upon you can be uncomfortable.

VAL: There are a lot of people here on the Sunshine Coast that would welcome that kind of infrastructure. Because they're finding it dangerous in their little communities. Safety wise, we are so ready for that second highway.

Amenities and services

PAUL: When we talk about infrastructure, that leads to amenities. The Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island each have pretty much everything you need. Here on the Coast, we have a hospital, we have movie theatres, we have grocery stores. Vancouver Island is much the same way, but they have more of it and more choice because they're serving hundreds of thousands of people versus the Sunshine Coast’s tens-of-thousands of people. Sunshine Coasters rely on Vancouver for things like medical procedures, or shopping at big stores like Costco.

VAL: Even if you're in a smaller centre on Vancouver Island, you can just drive to a larger centre and get the services that you need without having to take a ferry to Vancouver.

PAUL: The Sunshine Coast has a smaller population base which means we have fewer schools and fewer students. When we're talking about things like sports, you're either travelling off-coast with kids to go to different events or you’re restricted to activities on the Coast. On Vancouver Island, you don't really have that. Travelling to the next largest population centre is easier. If you need to go from Point A to Point B, you can reliably understand that you’ll drive on the highway for an hour which means you’ll be able to come home that same night. Or you’ll know you have to go so far that you’ll need a hotel for the night if your kid wants to participate in this tournament. On the Sunshine Coast, it’s far more up in the air. Will you or won’t you get on the ferry? Do you have to budget for accommodations and meals? We've heard of kids going to sporting events in the city that, for whatever reason, end up missing the last ferry. Now you have a 10 or a 12 year old kid in Horseshoe Bay with no credit card trying to figure out what he's going to do for the night. I think that that’s a problem that doesn’t exist on Vancouver Island.

VAL: That makes me think of airports. The Sunshine Coast has an airport but its smaller. You can fly into other smaller or bigger centres from here but you're not getting direct flights to cities across Canada from the Sunshine Coast. Living on Vancouver Island means you have different options if you’re flying out of Victoria, or out of Comox.

PAUL: On the Sunshine Coast, if you want a direct flight, you need to travel to the Vancouver International Airport. If you walk on the ferry and take transit, that trip can can take three to four hours, just to get to the airport. Loading your car on the ferry and driving through the city can still take a couple of hours.


PAUL: When it comes to politics, the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island are more or less left-leaning. There are right-leaning people that have different opinions, but I think that Southern BC is more or less considered left-leaning, either moderately or in the extreme.

Similarities and differences

VAL: If we're going to sum up the similarities between Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast, we’d say that they’re both in Southern BC. Both have a milder climate. Both are by the ocean. Both are rainforest-y. Both have rolling hills and both have mountains. Differences include that Vancouver Island is actually an island and the Sunshine Coast isn’t (it’s on the mainland). Due to its small size and proximity to Vancouver, the Sunshine Coast has fewer affordable housing options. But because Vancouver Island is so large, both geographically and with regards to population, it has more housing options, including a wider variety of prices.

PAUL: In my mind, the major differences are affordability and the difference in infrastructure. If you're OK paying APPRECIABLY more money to live a rural lifestyle for an indefinite period of time, then you can’t go wrong with the Sunshine Coast. If – like most normal people - you have budget constraints when it comes to buying a home, then you're probably looking at a smaller centre on Vancouver Island. You’ll sacrifice the proximity to Vancouver, but you'll have easier access to smaller cities like Victoria and Nanaimo without having to deal with ferries.

This post was written using a transcript from the above video. It’s been edited for clarity.

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We're Val and Paul and we're a married couple who live on BC's Sunshine Coast! We moved from Alberta to Gibsons in 2014 and love our life on Canada's West Coast! Subscribe to our YouTube channel and email newsletter and you'll learn what it's like to live in the most beautiful place in Canada.