1/ Ok, by special request and as briefly as I can: stratification of higher education in Canada. At the basic level: you have a 4-year (university) vs. 2-3 year (college) distinction. Institutions styling themselves as polytechnics are now blurring that line quite a bit.
2/ In general, like everywhere else, 4-year institutions are higher up the esteem ladder than the 2-years, though since Canada has basically the best-funded 2-year system in the world, we might be justified in thinking this gap is less pronounced than elsewhere.
3/ At a very general level, unis with grad and med schools are more highly esteemed than those that do not. Among those that do not, small liberal arts schools (the "Maple League") have some cachet, but they are more like Tier II US liberal arts schools than Middleburys.
4/ There are exceptions to the medical school thing. The NOSM hasn't brought much extra cachet to Laurentian/Lakehead (mostly because it pretends they don't exist), Sherbrooke and MUN (med schools both) aren't as hip as Waterloo, etc. But it's a useful rule of thumb
5/ The self-appointed @u15 is in theory at the top of the prestige hierarchy. There's some gray zones around the edges - Guelph and SFU probably belong in a top 15 on their merits - but again, as a rule this is the next stage within the hierarchy.
6/ Within the @u15, there is a "Big Five" - UBC, Alberta, Toronto, McGill, Montreal. Again, you could make a case for others like McMaster or Ottawa to be in that group, but they'd upset the linguistic/geographical balance.
7/ You might also see Waterloo in this group. It's a real anomaly though. It's not a particularly research-intensive university but it has phenomenal interaction with the private sector. Rare case in an isomorphic industry of a university making it to the top by being different.
8/ But if you just look at the numbers on research, it's UBC, Toronto and McGill, and that's all she wrote. Those three are substantially different than the others and hence are nearly always our top 3 in intl rankings (McMaster sneaks in sometimes because of an ARWU rules quirk)
9/ Sometimes particular *programs* get stratified and a program's level can exceed that of its institution. Animation at Sheridan for instance. Business at Western. (loads of others I am sure, but those are the ones that come to mind).
10/ Anyway, the point is: the very top of the pyramid (the big three) educate about 15% of all students in country; the next real level down (U15): educates 50% of all students. Apart from Switzerland & Netherlands, not many places where "top" unis are this accessible
11/ I am sure I have angered any number of people with this thread, but you asked and that's my take. Just remember, stratification is about perceptions of quality not necessarily actual quality. I am not making value judgements here, just trying to explain a pecking order.