Population data from the 2016 Canadian census has just been released and shows — as have most censuses in recent decades — a general trend of a growing, urbanizing country.
Canada’s population has crept past the 35 million mark for the first time and the number of census metropolitan areas with a population of 50,000 or more has increased from 33 in 2011 to 35 in 2016. In addition, one in three Canadians now live in the country’s three largest cities (Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver), and Canada now has six cities with more than 1.3million people (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa and Edmonton).
But rapid growth is not just confined to the biggest urban centres, with several East Kootenay municipalities also posting attention-grabbing increases in resident numbers, including — here in the Upper Columbia Valley — Invermere, which vaulted nearly 15 per cent from a population of slightly bit more than 2,900 in the 2011 census to a shade under 3,400 inthe most recent one.
“It’s quite a significant increase in the permanent population,” said Invermere mayor Gerry Taft, adding that it comes as somewhat of a surprise since Invermere’s population has essentially stayed flat through the past several censuses.
“It’s positive, it’s good news for us. Having a healthy year-round population is important when it comes to the calculations for what kind of services we have here. Hospitals, schools and even policing are all based on permanent population, not seasonal population,” said Taft. “Also, it’s important for a community to have people here year-round, working, paying taxes, volunteering and supporting local businesses. It’s a great thing, but I’m also glad we’re still far from the 5,000(population mark), at which point the district would start having to pay 100 per cent of its policing cost. That would be a truly huge impact on local taxation.”
Taft said it’s hard to say exactly why the growth occurred.
“You can only guess, and I’d guess it may have something to do with lifestyle and recreation opportunities and perhaps some of the minor improvements we’ve seen in the local economy,” he said. “It may also have to do with some developments in Invermere that were originally intended as being primarily for recreational second homeowners now becoming, at least in part, homes for year-round residents. Some of the Lake Windermere condos, for instance, are now year-round rentals. And in CastleRock, homes that were originally purchased as weekend homes, the owners have retired and moved there permanently. So that shows up as an increase in Invermere’s permanent population.”
Invermere’s extraordinary growth contrasted with other municipal entities in the Columbia Valley, which either posted modest increases, stayed flat or declined. Regional District of East Kootenay Area F (which includes Fairmont Hot Springs,Windermere, the subdivisions along the east side of Lake Windermere and Panorama Mountain Resort) crept up 3.5 per cent from 2,630 in 2011 to 2,720 people in 2016. RDEK Area G (which includes Wilmer, Edgewater and Brisco) also tip-toed up3.5 per cent from 1,410 people in 2011 to 1,460 people in 2016. Radium Hot Springs may perhaps be the most static municipality in the country, with a population change of a single person, having gone from 777 people in the 2011 census down to 776 in the current census. And Canal Flats dropped 6.6. per cent, declining from 715 people in the 2011 census to668 in the 2016 census.
Not far outside the valley, however, Kimberley showed a similar trend to Invermere, with its population having increased11.5 per cent from 6,600 people in 2011 to 7,400 people last year.
Taft was at a loss to explain why other places in the Columbia Valley did not grow as Invermere did, saying it could possibly be that a lack of viable public transportation options in the valley push people to live in Invermere to access services andjobs, instead of living in outlying communities. But the population increase in Kimberley makes sense, said Taft, since that community offers many of the same lifestyle and recreation amenities as Invermere while also being a big enough community to offer a reasonably wide range of services and jobs.
Taft added that the increase in population, which comes before the valley’s Permanent Resident and Attraction Plan has been implemented, does not mean the plan is no longer needed.
“It (the plan) is still necessary. You want to keep the momentum going and you want to see that growth in all areas of the valley, not just Invermere. The plan is a regional plan for the whole Upper Columbia Valley, not just Invermere,” he said.“There are some real opportunities to the grow the permanent population in the valley and have it become more sustainable. A healthy permanent population makes us less susceptible to economic trends in Alberta and around the world.”
Within the Canadian census, a census metropolitan area is considered to be a continuous urban area, meaning that suburbs and the downtown area with which they are associated (Surrey and Vancouver for instance, or Markham and Toronto),although technically existing as different municipalities, are for practical purposes lumped together as one big city.
Despite big population increases in Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, an overwhelming majority of Canadians still remain concentrated in Ontario and Quebec, with the residents of those two provinces accounting for almost two-thirds of the country’s total.
Canada’s new official population — a touch more than 35 million — positions the country, when compared with populations from other members of the United Nations, in the middle of the pack of what commentators term as countries with medium-sized populations. The approximately 30 countries in this group typically have populations of 20 million to 49million people. Canada now sits at more or less the halfway population point in this category, and has slightly more people than Morocco or Afghanistan, and slightly less than Iraq or Poland.
Of these moderately-sized population countries, Canada (as well as with Australia, which has 28 million people) stands out in terms of having a mid-sized population living within national borders that include vast swaths of wide-open space, with the result that Canada (and Australia) have drastically lower population densities than most other countries in the same population category.
There are almost 30 countries with what commentators term large populations, of more than 50 million (of which 19 are considered to have especially large populations of close to or above 80 million); as well as 31 countries with what are considered small-to-medium size populations (between 5 million and 9.9 million); another 31 countries with what are termed small populations (1 million to 5 million); and all remaining counties having populations of fewer than 1 million.