Census 2021: Provincial population growth slowed by pandemic

By The Canadian Press and CityNews Staff

Statistics Canada has released data from its 2021 census showing population growth rates across each province.

Between 2016 and 2019 most of Canada’s population growth was driven by immigration. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s growth rate from 2020 through 2021 was slower.

The share of Canadians living in rural areas has declined for the ninth census in a row, dropping from 18.7 per cent in 2016 to 17.8 per cent in 2021.

The national growth rate over the last five years was 5.2 per cent.

British Columbia

An inukshuk in Whistler, BC, Canada. (CREDIT: iStock user ImagineGolf)

Canada’s latest census shows British Columbia had the second-highest population growth among the provinces, second only to Prince Edward Island.

According to Stats Canada, five million people call the western province home, after a growth of 7.6 per cent between 2016 and 2021.

Surrey, which remains the second-largest city in the province, saw an increase of about 10 per cent since 2016 from 518,000 to 568,000 residents.

Other areas of growth in B.C. include Langford, on Vancouver Island, as well as the Fraser Valley, as newcomers move further east from Vancouver so they can afford a place to live.

READ MORE: Surrey, Langley, Squamish see population jumps in new census


A de-commissioned pumpjack is shown at a well head on an oil and gas installation near Cremona, Alta., Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

The latest census from Statistics Canada suggests Wild Rose Country is becoming just another Canadian province.

The 2021 census shows the province has actually fallen behind the national average in growth. There are now 4,262,635 Albertans, 4.8 per cent more than in 2016.

For the first time in over 25 years, Calgary isn’t among Canada’s five fastest-growing cities.

Still, don’t look for tumbleweeds blowing down the main streets of Wild Rose Country just yet. Analysts say Alberta is shifting to an economy that looks a lot more like the rest of Canada’s, maybe even a little stronger.

READ MORE: Census data suggests Alberta economy shifting but growth expected to stay strong

Saskatchewan & Manitoba

A herd of Prairie bison graze on Old Man on His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area south of Swift Current, Sask., June 18, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Graveland

There were five per cent more Manitobans than at the time of the 2016 census, bringing the total to 1,342,153.

They were highly concentrated in the capital city of Winnipeg, which has 56 per cent of the province’s entire population and grew at a rate of 6.3 per cent.

Saskatchewan experienced slower growth in the last few years. The province’s population grew 3.1 per cent between 2016 and 2021.

That’s less than half the 6.3 per cent growth it saw in the previous census. There are now 1,132,153 Saskatchewanians. Almost half – 43 per cent – live in the two largest cities: Saskatoon and Regina.


The CN Tower looms over the Toronto Blue Jays and Detroit Tigers in Toronto, Saturday, May 7, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

Canada’s most populous province grew at a faster pace than the rest of the country overall over the last five years, thanks largely to immigration.

Some of the most dramatic local growth happened outside of Ontario’s largest urban areas. A number of First Nations communities were among those with the largest population bumps, and towns like Collingwood and Wasaga Beach were among the fastest-growing areas in the country.

READ MORE: Census 2021: A snapshot of Ontario’s population and dwelling data


Fans cheering on the home team as the Winnipeg Jets face elimination in Game 4 against the Montreal Canadiens in Montreal, Quebec, Monday, June 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Mario Beauregard

Data from the 2021 census shows that Quebec’s share of the Canadian population declined for the 11th consecutive census.

The Montreal region saw its population grow 4.6 per cent between 2016 and 2021, up from 4.2 per cent in the previous census.

The federal statistics agency said downtown Montreal had the highest growth rate in the metropolitan region, 24.2 per cent. It’s the second-highest downtown growth rate in the country.

READ MORE: Census 2021: Quebec’s share of Canadian population declines

Atlantic Canada

Fishing boats, loaded with traps, head from port in West Dover, N.S. on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019 as the lobster season on Nova Scotia’s South Shore begins after a one-day weather delay. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Data for the Maritimes shows the three provinces have largely succeeded in reversing a decades-long decline in population over the past five years, thanks to a steady influx of Canadians from other provinces and immigrants from other countries.

Newfoundland and Labrador, however, was the only province in Canada to record a decline in population, which can be blamed on out-migration linked to falling world oil prices and the completion of two energy mega projects: the Hebron offshore oil platform and the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador.

READ MORE: Census 2021: A snapshot of Atlantic Canada’s population and dwelling data


The sun rises for the first time in six weeks over Cambridge Bay, Nunavut on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Pitquhirnikkut Ilihautiniq/Kitikmeot Heritage Society

The census data for 2021 tells a very different story across Canada’s three territories.

Yukon led the country in population growth from 2016 to 2021, increasing by 12.1 per cent and bringing its population from 35,874 to 40,232.

It was also the only territory that grew faster than Canada overall.

Nunavut grew at a slower pace than the rest of the country, while the population of the Northwest Territories fell slightly from 41,786 to 41,070.

According to StatCan, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut are the only jurisdictions in Canada where population increase relies on natural growth.

-With files from Claire Fenton, CityNews Vancouver

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