Canada Is The Fastest-Growing G7 Country, Especially In Its Cities

Written by Posted On Tuesday, 01 March 2022 00:00

Canada is the fastest-growing country in the G7, with all 41 of the country’s large urban centres showing growth from 2016 to 2021. Smaller cities, with less than 100,000 people, also showed increased population, while rural areas grew at the slowest pace.

Recently released results from the 2021 census show that Canada has just under 37 million people – an increase of 1.8 million from the 2016 census. Immigrants accounted for most of the increase. Statistics Canada says the share of population growth due to natural increase (more births than deaths) has been falling due to an aging population and lower fertility. It says Canadian couples, like those in the other G7 countries, are having fewer children on average than ever before.

Growth hit a record high in 2019, but border restrictions implemented in 2020 slowed the pace of immigration. Statistics Canada estimates that population growth has now bounced back to pre-pandemic levels.

Trends in Canada’s housing market are reflected in the census numbers. The country’s largest demographic is now in their prime homebuying years and mortgage interest rates remain low. 

Almost three-quarters of Canadians live in a large urban centre with more than 100,000 people. Within those centres, downtown remains a popular place to live and is showing the fastest growth. Downtowns grew by 10.9 per cent in the most recent census, faster than the urban centres as a whole.

Living downtown is still the preferred option for a lot of people and condominiums continue to sell well. With housing demand exceeding supply, cities are also under pressure to increase density and maximize public transit routes. 

Toronto has the most people living downtown (275,931), followed by Vancouver (121,932), Montreal (109,509), Ottawa (67,169) and Edmonton (55,387).

Vancouver’s population density is 18,837 people per square kilometre and Toronto has 16,608 per square kilometre. In Manhattan in 2020 there were 28,668 people per square kilometre. 

But high house prices downtown, combined with the desire for more space, has also pushed more people to the distant suburbs, which grew at a pace of 8.8 per cent. The areas in between downtown and the distant suburbs saw less growth – the urban fringe, closest to downtown, grew by 3.7 per cent and the near suburbs by 5.8 per cent. In Toronto, a few of these older neighbourhoods, which have zoning in place to protect single-family lots, saw a small decrease in population.

“In some suburbs, population growth may have been bolstered by the greater possibility of working from home during the pandemic,” says a Statistics Canada report. “A recent study showed that approximately 40 per cent of the jobs in Canada could feasibly be done at home. Indeed, in April 2020, during the first wave of the pandemic, approximately 40 per cent of employees worked most of their hours from home, up from four per cent in 2016.”

However, the agency says, “The much lower levels of commuter traffic downtown have not resulted in population declines of the same magnitude, according to our most recent preliminary demographic estimates.”

The Canadian downtowns showing the fastest population growth are Halifax, Montreal, Kelowna, B.C., Calgary and Gatineau, Que. A few downtowns, including Edmonton, Saguenay, Que., Regina and Red Deer, Alta. saw decreases in the downtown core, but growth in their census metropolitan areas (CMAs).

Four of the five fastest growing CMAs are mid-sized metropolitan areas in British Columbia. Kelowna grew by 14 per cent to 222,162. Chilliwack was up by 12.1 per cent to 113,767, Nanaimo up 10 per cent to 115,459 and Kamloops up 10 per cent to 114,142. Statistics Canada says these cities attracted people from elsewhere in the province and across Canada.

One in 10 Canadians lives in a smaller urban centre, with populations ranging from about 10,000 to 100,000 people. Squamish, B.C. was the fastest growing region in this group, with a 21.8-per-cent increase to 24,232 people. In Ontario, Wasaga Beach grew by 20.3 per cent to 24,862; Tillsonburg was up 17.3 per cent to 18,615; Collingwood grew by 13.8 per cent to 24,811 and Woodstock saw an increase of 13.6 per cent to 46,705.

Several of the fast-growing communities, including Squamish, Wasaga Beach, Collingwood and Canmore, B.C. are also tourist destinations.

“While being close to nature, these small urban centres are not among the most remote and are generally less than a one-hour drive from a large urban centre, meaning they are also close to the amenities of larger urban centres,” says Statistics Canada.

The small centres that had population declines were mostly in remote areas, including Dawson Creek, B.C. (down 5.4 per cent), Thompson, Man. (down 4.7 per cent) and Corner Brook, Nfld. (down 3.9 per cent).

However, it was the population of Yukon that grew at the fastest pace nationally, at 12.1 per cent. Prince Edward Island leads the provinces in growth at eight per cent, with B.C. at 7.6 per cent.

There are just over 6.6 million Canadians living in rural areas, which had the lowest growth rate at 0.4 per cent. Statistics Canada says that people who live in rural areas are older on average than those in urban centres. In six provinces, the number of deaths exceeded the number of births in rural areas from 2016 to 2021.

It says the gap between urban and rural growth likely would have been more if it wasn’t for the pandemic, since the population of some rural areas grew as people moved out of urban centres, particularly in Ontario and Quebec.

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Jim Adair

Jim Adair has been writing about Canadian real estate, home building and renovation issues for more than 40 years. He is the former editor of Canada’s leading trade magazine for real estate professionals, as well as several home building, décor and renovation titles. You can contact him at [email protected]

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