Canada’s big ci­ties are home to big share of 35 mil­lion peo­ple

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - JOR­DAN PRESS

OTTAWA — Colin Bas­ran is hav­ing grow­ing pains.

In some ways a vic­tim of his own suc­cess, the mayor of Kelowna has been strug­gling in re­cent years to rein in his city as it slowly spreads across the B.C. in­te­rior, test­ing his abil­ity to pro­vide core mu­nic­i­pal ser­vices and build badly needed in­fra­struc­ture.

Nor is the city’s middle-aged spread at all unique, ac­cord­ing to the 2016 cen­sus data re­leased Wed­nes­day: Canada’s pop­u­la­tion of 35.15 mil­lion is set­tling in the big­ger ci­ties, en­sur­ing they and their sub­ur­ban neigh­bours keep grow­ing, while small ci­ties get smaller.

The three big­gest metropoli­tan ar­eas in the coun­try — Toronto, Mon­treal and Van­cou­ver — are now home to more than one-third of all Cana­di­ans with a com­bined pop­u­la­tion of 12.5 mil­lion, with al­most half liv­ing in Toronto and its sub­ur­ban neigh­bours, the data shows.

Canada is once again the fastest­grow­ing coun­try in the G7, Statis­tics Canada says in the first of what will be seven tranches of 2016 cen­sus data to be re­leased over the course of the year. Wed­nes­day’s re­lease fo­cused on pop­u­la­tion and dwellings; the next one, in May, will be fo­cused on age and sex.

The lat­est fig­ures also show that the once yawn­ing gulf in growth rates be­tween the spread­ing sub­urbs and their ur­ban cen­tres has con­tin­ued to nar­row, with young pro­fes­sion­als and ag­ing baby boomers alike opt­ing for the down­town-con­do­minium life.

The cen­sus shows that 82 per cent of Cana­dian pop­u­la­tion live in large and medium-sized ci­ties across the coun­try, one of the high­est con­cen­tra­tions among G7 na­tions. Im­mi­gra­tion has driven that change with new ar­rivals set­tling in ur­ban cen­tres as op­posed to ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties.

“The mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties lo­cated on the edge of the (cen­sus metropoli­tan ar­eas) are grow­ing faster than the mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties lo­cated (in the cen­tre) of the cen­sus metropoli­tan area,” said Lau­rent Mar­tel, di­rec­tor of the de­mog­ra­phy di­vi­sion at Statis­tics Canada.

“Also, the ru­ral ar­eas lo­cated out­side the cen­sus metropoli­tan ar­eas, but close to them, are also grow­ing faster than ru­ral ar­eas much far­ther away, so that’s also a sign of an ur­ban spread phe­nom­e­non.”

Canada’s ru­ral pop­u­la­tion is ag­ing at a much faster rate than those in the ur­ban cen­tres, which tend to at­tract younger fam­i­lies, said Michael Haan, a so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor at Western Univer­sity in Lon­don, Ont.

“De­mog­ra­phers call ci­ties pop­u­la­tion sinks for a rea­son,” Haan said. “Imag­ine you had all sorts of wa­ter on a counter and it all just runs into the sink and it never comes out again.”

How to keep those sinks from over­flow­ing has be­come an in­creas­ing con­cern for ur­ban plan­ners.

It’s why sub­ur­ban lots over the years have be­come smaller, cir­cuitous streets de­signed for cars are be­ing re­placed with a tran­sit-and­foot-friendly grid sys­tem and dwellings are in­creas­ingly be­ing de­signed to al­low young fam­i­lies to age in place.

“If we have a whole bunch of re­ally young pop­u­la­tion, now we know that they’re go­ing to start to age in our com­mu­ni­ties,” said Eleanor Mo­hammed, pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian In­sti­tute of Plan­ners, and chief planner in Beau­mont, Alta., which grew at a rate of 31 per cent be­tween 2011 and ’16.

“So, if your com­mu­nity is re­ally sub­ur­ban, how do you cre­ate more den­sity and a dif­fer­ent built form that can help peo­ple age in place in the com­mu­nity they’re in right now so that they don’t feel they have to move some­where else?”

In Kelowna, of­fi­cials are en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to live in ar­eas that are al­ready built out, as op­posed to push­ing the bound­aries of the com­mu­nity fur­ther and fur­ther with new sub­di­vi­sions.

The city’s growth rate over the past five years was 8.4 per cent — the sixth high­est among metropoli­tan ar­eas in the na­tion — push­ing its pop­u­la­tion to 194,882, the cen­sus found.

“What we’re try­ing to do, as many com­mu­ni­ties are, is re­ally try­ing to stop or limit sprawl and den­sify the ar­eas that we al­ready have be­cause we know in­fra­struc­ture is ex­pen­sive,” Bas­ran said.

Not all ci­ties and towns in Canada are look­ing to keep their bor­ders from ex­pand­ing. Many are sim­ply try­ing to hold on.

Sev­eral small towns in Nova Sco­tia not at­tached to an ur­ban cen­tre, such as New Glas­gow, Cum­ber­land and Digby, watched their pop­u­la­tion fig­ures drop in the cen­sus.

Saint John, N.B., was one of only two metropoli­tan re­gions across Canada that saw a drop be­tween 2011 and ’16 — from 70,065 to 67,575 — mir­ror­ing a larger pro­vin­cial trend. New Brunswick’s pop­u­la­tion de­clined by 0.5 per cent, the only prov­ince to post neg­a­tive growth since 2006.

Across the rest of At­lantic Canada, growth slowed largely be­cause fewer im­mi­grants came into the re­gion and more peo­ple left the area to seek their for­tunes else­where.

That else­where con­tin­ued to be the West, with Al­berta grow­ing at more than twice the na­tional av­er­age, lead­ing pro­vin­cial growth for the third straight cen­sus cy­cle. Man­i­toba’s pop­u­la­tion in­creased by 5.8 per cent, sur­pass­ing the na­tional av­er­age for the first time in 80 years largely on the back of new im­mi­grants.

Al­most one-third of Cana­di­ans now live in the West, the re­gion’s largest share ever. Cal­gary and Ed­mon­ton were the fastest-grow­ing ci­ties be­tween 2011 and ’16, with Cal­gary leapfrog­ging Ottawa for fourth-largest over­all be­hind the big three of Toronto, Mon­treal and Van­cou­ver.

Que­bec’s pop­u­la­tion sur­passed the eight-mil­lion mark and On­tario’s growth slowed to hit 13.4 mil­lion, still giv­ing the two most pop­u­lous provinces 61.5 per cent of the na­tion’s pop­u­la­tion.

Na­tion­ally, growth slowed to about one per cent an­nu­ally, an ex­tra 1.7 mil­lion peo­ple.


David Mo­moh, an en­gi­neer who worked in the oil and gas in­dus­try in Al­berta, poses for a pho­to­graph in Toronto last month. Mo­moh moved back to Toronto look­ing for work due to the re­cent down­turn in the Al­berta econ­omy.

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