Urban centres blossom
Vancouver, Calgary-Edmonton, Toronto
and Montreal regions grew by 7.6 per cent

URBAN AFFAIRS REPORTER; With a report from Ingrid Peritz
Wednesday, March 13, 2002 – Print Edition, Page A6

Four major urban regions now soak up half of Canada's population, a gathering concentration of people power that could redefine the country.

In 2001, about 15.3 million people -- or 51 per cent of Canadians -- lived in southern Ontario's Golden Horseshoe around Toronto, Montreal and environs, Vancouver and B.C.'s Lower Mainland and the Calgary-Edmonton corridor, according to census data released yesterday by Statistics Canada.

The four regions accounted for 49 per cent of Canada's population in the 1996 census, compared to 41 per cent in 1971.

Moreover, in 2001, these four regions grew faster than the country as a whole, with a jump in population of 7.6 per cent between 2001 and 1996 compared to a gain of only 0.5 per cent for the rest of the country over the same period.

As magnets for people, jobs and services, the big four are beginning to look more like each other than the rest of the country. Generally speaking, immigration and within-Canada migration are far more significant in the four regions than in the country at large.

"Those regions are detaching themselves from Canada -- not politically or economically, but demographically," said Dan Hiebert, an assistant professor of geography at the University of British Columbia who analyzes immigration trends.

Increasingly, the four regions are more ethnically diverse than the rest of the country.

He added that the data pose some basic questions about how the country sees itself in future.

Some will argue that Canada needs a few big-city regions to be competitive in the world, he said, while others will view the imbalance of population as a problem.

"It is equally legitimate for governments to say, 'Let's embrace it and develop four world-class regions and make sure we are globally competitive,' " he said. "But it is also completely legitimate to say, 'We are a society with a reservoir of feeling and fair play, and we have to guard against it [the urbanization trend].' "

In the extended Golden Horseshoe, which radiates out from Toronto to include Oshawa, Hamilton, St. Catharines-Niagara, Kitchener, Guelph and Barrie, the population in 2001 was 6.7 million, up from 6.1 million in 1996.

Moreover, the region accounts for 59 per cent of the population in Ontario -- and 22 per cent in the country.

"We call it the Golden Horseshoe, but I think it's turned into the Golden Horse," said Mike Sheridan, Statistics Canada's assistant chief statistician.

In the Vancouver and Lower Mainland Region, the population grew 7.3 per cent to slightly more than 2.7 million in 2001, and now accounts for 69 per cent of British Columbia.

In contrast to Vancouver and Toronto, where immigration is the key reason for growth, the Calgary-Edmonton corridor turned in the largest growth of the four regions: up 12.3 per cent in 2001 over 1996 to 2.1 million.

Montreal's growth is not as robust as the other three big regions, but it is strong by historical standards. Throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, Montreal's population mainly shrank. For this census, the Montreal region (including Sorel and Lachute) grew 2.8 per cent over 1996 to more than 3.7 million people. The Island of Montreal, now part of the amalgamated city, grew by 2.1 per cent to mark its strongest increase in at least 30 years.

"When we saw the figures, we said, 'Wow,' " said Réal Lortie, a demographer with Statistics Canada in Montreal. "This is a reversal. After all the decreases, we now have an increase."

Yesterday's census is only the first glimpse at the changing face of Canada. Detailed numbers on the impact of immigration, for example, will not be known until new data are released early next year.
Urbanized Canada

        Rural    Urban

1901     63%      37%

1931     46%      54%

1951     44%      56%

1971     35%      66%

2001     20%      80%

Dominant cities
51% of Canadians live in the following four urban regions, up from the 49% in 1996. Figures are in millions.
Toronto/Golden Horseshoe

Toronto CMA                4.68

Rest of Golden Horseshoe   2.02

Rest of Ontario            4.71

Montreal area

Montreal CMA               3.43

Montreal environs          0.30

Rest of Quebec             3.51

Vancouver/Lower mainland

Vancouver CMA              1.99

Rest of Lower Mainland     0.72

Rest of B.C                1.20

Calgary/Edmonton Corridor

Calgary CMA                0.95

Edmonton CMA               0.94

Rest of Corridor           0.26

Rest of Alberta            0.83

Cities since 1996
Census metropolitan area populations in thousands and how they have changed

Name                            1996     2001    % Change

Toronto                        4,264    4,683       9.8

Montreal                       3,326    3,426       3.0

Vancouver                      1,832    1,987       8.5

Ottawa-Hull                      999    1,064       6.5

Calgary                          822      951      15.8

Edmonton                         863      938       8.7

Quebec                           672      683       1.6

Winnipeg                         667      671       0.6

Hamilton, Ont.                   624      662       6.1

London, Ont.                     417      432       3.8

Kitchener, Ont.                  383      414       8.2

St. Catharines-Niagara, Ont.     372      377       1.2

Halifax                          343      359       4.7

Victoria                         304      312       2.5

Windsor, Ont.                    287      308       7.3

Oshawa                           269      296      10.2

Saskatoon                        219      226       3.1

Regina                           194      193      -0.4

St. John's                       174      173      -0.7

Sudbury, Ont.                    166      156      -6.0

Chicoutimi-Jonquière, Que.       160      155      -3.4

Sherbrooke, Que.                 150      154       2.8

Abbotsford, B.C.                 136      147       8.0

Kingston, Ont.                   145      147       1.6

Trois-Rivières, Que              140      138      -1.7

Saint John                       126      123      -2.4

Thunder Bay, Ont.                127      122      -3.7

Copyright © 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.