Guide to the Census of Population, 2016
Chapter 12 – Census geography

Introduction

There is a geographic component in every stage of the census cycle, from consultation through collection, processing and dissemination. Users are consulted about the geographic concepts used by Statistics Canada and about various options for disseminating standard geographic data. Small geographic areas are defined and mapped in detail so that every dwelling can be located during the data collection phase, while during the processing phase, the collected data are coded to the appropriate geographic areas within the geographic hierarchy. Finally, census data are disseminated by a variety of geographic areas which are designed specifically for disseminating data, along with supporting reference maps and other geographic data products.

National Geographic Database

The standard geographic areas that Statistics Canada uses for census and survey collection and dissemination activities are constructed, maintained and supported by detailed geographic data which are stored in a precise geographic database called the National Geographic Database (NGD).

The NGD is a joint Statistics Canada-Elections Canada initiative which develops and maintains a geospatial database which serves the needs of both organizations. The focus of the NGD is the continual improvement of quality and currency of geographic coverage using updated geospatial data provided by provinces, territories and local sources.

The NGD includes a digital representation of the boundaries of standard geographic areas, as well as their attributes such as names, types and codes, which are necessary for uniquely identifying each individual geographic area.

The NGD also contains additional geographic features, including a detailed road network, various hydrographic features such as lakes, rivers and coastal waters, and other selected visible features, for example, railroads. The road network also has associated attribute data, such as street names, types, directions and address ranges.

To take full advantage of census data, users are encouraged to develop a basic understanding of the geographic dimension of the data.

Hierarchical model of geographic areas for collection

The geographic areas used for census data collection are illustrated below in Figure 12.1, Hierarchy of geographic areas for collection, 2016 Census, and are different than geographic areas used for disseminating data. The geographic areas used for census data collection include Canada, provinces and territories, census divisions, collection units and collection blocks (Figure 12.1).

Figure 12.1
Hierarchy of geographic areas for collection, 2016 Census

Figure 12.1 Hierarchy of geographic areas for collection, 2016 Census

Description for Figure 12.1

Figure 12.1 is a graphical representation of the hierarchy of geographic areas for collection used for the dissemination of the 2016 Census of Canada. Each geographic area is represented in the hierarchy by a box, which is labelled with the area name and its acronym. Where applicable, the labels are displayed on two lines. The first line displays the acronym of the geographic area and the second line displays its full name.

In total, there are five boxes stacked vertically.

The position of each geographic area in the hierarchy shows how it is related to other areas. The lines joining the boxes in the hierarchy show that there are relationships between the geographic areas.

The box at the top of the hierarchy represents the highest level of geography, Canada. Directly below the Canada box is the province or territory (PROV/TERR) box; directly below the province or territory box is the census division (CD) box; directly below the census division box is the collection unit (CU) box, and directly below the collection unit box is the collection block (COLB) box.

Each of these boxes is connected to another box that rolls down to be ultimately linked to the lowest level of collection geography, the collection block (COLB) box, which is a statistical area.

Data are not published using collection units or collection blocks and therefore are not represented in the Figure 1.1, Hierarchy of standard geographic areas for dissemination, 2016 Census (see the Dictionary, Census of Population, 2016, Catalogue no. 98-301-X).

Hierarchical model for the dissemination of geographic areas

Just as one can subdivide a population by sex, or into age and language groups, one can subdivide a population by different geographic areas. The geographic areas used for disseminating census data range in size from Canada, provinces and territories, all the way down to dissemination blocks, and are organized in a hierarchical model to illustrate the nature of their relationships to one another.

Standard geographic areas used for data dissemination and their relationships to one another are depicted in Figure 1.1, Hierarchy of standard geographic areas for dissemination, found in the Dictionary, Census of Population, 2016, Catalogue no. 98-301-X

The hierarchy of geographic areas: understanding the hierarchy, how geographies are related and data analysis

The geographic hierarchy illustrates how one can carry out geographic analysis starting with higher-level geographic areas and moving to the lower-level geographic areas (a top-down approach). For example, one can start with Canada and then look at each of the 13 provinces and territories, and continue by looking at individual or groupings of census divisions (CDs) and census subdivisions (CSDs). Conversely, using a bottom-up approach, one can start by examining specific individual lower-level geographic areas, census subdivisions (CSDs) for example, by comparing them with each CSD within a particular census division (CD), and then comparing CDs within the same province or territory, and eventually within or among regions and Canada as a whole.

Geographic areas for dissemination

In Figure 1.1, Hierarchy of standard geographic areas for dissemination, found in the Dictionary, Census of Population, 2016, geographic areas used for disseminating data are depicted as being either administrative areas or statistical areas. Administrative areas are defined, with a few exceptions, by federal, provincial or territorial statutes, and are adopted for the purposes of the census. Statistical areas, on the other hand, are defined by Statistics Canada, in cooperation with stakeholders, for the purpose of disseminating census data and complementing the structure of administrative areas.

This census cycle, a new statistical area called 'aggregated dissemination area (ADA)' is available. This level of geography will allow for more data to be released at smaller levels of geography. For more information on the ADAs, refer to the aggregate dissemination area (ADA) definition in the Dictionary, Census of Population, 2016, Catalogue no. 98-301-X.

The number of geographic areas by province and territory for the 2016 Census is presented in Table 1.1, Geographic areas by province and territory, of the Dictionary, Census of Population, 2016, Catalogue no. 98-301-X.

Refer to the Introduction to the geography universe section of the Dictionary, Census of Population, 2016, Catalogue no. 98-301-X for definitions and more detailed information on each of the following administrative and statistical areas.

Administrative areas

OM: Postal code is an official mark of Canada Post Corporation.

Statistical areas

Other

Non-standard or user-defined geographic areas for dissemination

In most cases, the standard geographic areas for dissemination satisfy data user requirements for census data tabulations; however, there are also data users who require that data, which are not tabulated from the standard geographic hierarchy depicted in Figure 1.1, Hierarchy of standard geographic areas for dissemination, Dictionary, Census of Population, 2016, be tabulated for specific geographic areas.

There are two basic types of non-standard or 'user-defined' geographic areas: areas that are customized aggregations of individual standard geographic areas, and areas that do not match the standard geographic areas at all. An example of the first type could be user-created sales regions within a metropolitan area, where the sales regions are created by combining one or more specific census subdivisions. An example of areas that do not match standard geographic areas could be user-defined market areas, school districts or transportation and utility corridors. When data users require that census data be tabulated for non-standard geographic areas, they may turn to the Custom Area Creation Service provided by Statistics Canada (see Chapter 11 – Dissemination).

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