Dictionary, Census of Population, 2016
Census tract (CT)

Release date: November 16, 2016


Census tracts (CTs) are small, relatively stable geographic areas that usually have a population of less than 10,000 persons, based on data from the previous Census of Population Program. They are located in census metropolitan areas and in census agglomerations that had a core population of 50,000 or more in the previous census.

A committee of local specialists (for example, planners, health and social workers, and educators) initially delineates census tracts in conjunction with Statistics Canada. Once a census metropolitan area (CMA) or census agglomeration (CA) has been subdivided into census tracts, the census tracts are maintained even if the core population subsequently declines below 50,000.

Reported in

2016, 2011, 2006, 2001, 1996, 1991, 1986, 1981, 1976, 1971, 1966, 1961, 1956, 1951, 1941


Rules are used to delineate census tracts. The initial delineation rules are ranked in the order of the following priorities:

  1. Census tract (CT) boundaries must follow permanent and easily recognizable physical features. However, street extensions, utility or transportation easements, property lines and former municipal limits may be used as CT boundaries if physical features are not in close proximity or do not exist.
  2. For the 2016 Census, CT boundaries must follow the boundaries of the Census subdivision types associated with 'on reserve' population.
  3. The population of a CT usually range between 2,500 and 10,000, with a preferred average of 5,000. CTs on reserves, in the central business district, in major commercial and industrial zones, or in peripheral areas can have populations outside this range.
  4. CTs should be as homogeneous as possible in terms of socioeconomic characteristics, such as similar economic status and social living conditions at the time of its creation.
  5. The shape of CTs should be as compact as possible.
  6. CT boundaries respect census metropolitan area, census agglomeration and provincial boundaries, but do not necessarily respect census subdivision (municipality) boundaries.

Changes to census tract boundaries are discouraged to ensure data comparability between censuses. Boundary revisions rarely occur, and only when essential. Road construction, railroad abandonment, community redevelopment, neighborhood growth and municipal annexations may contribute to changes in boundaries. A census tract may be split into two or more new census tracts (usually when its population exceeds 10,000). CT splits are usually done in a way that allows users to re-aggregate the splits to the original census tract for historical comparison.

Naming convention for census tracts

Each census tract is assigned a seven-character numeric "name" (including leading zeros, decimal point and trailing zeros). To uniquely identify each census tract in its corresponding census metropolitan area (CMA) or tracted census agglomeration (CA), the three-digit CMA/CA code must precede the CT "name." For example:

Table summary
This table displays an example. The information is grouped by census metropolitan area-census agglomeration code – census tract name (appearing as row headers), census metropolitan area/census agglomeration name (appearing as column header).
CMA/CA code – CT name CMA/CA name
562 0005.00 Sarnia CA (Ont.)
933 0005.00 Vancouver CMA (B.C.)

Census tract naming is consistent from census to census to facilitate historical comparability.

When a census agglomeration enters the census tract program, the census subdivision (CSD) that gives the CA its name is assigned the first CT "name," starting at 0001.00. When all of the CTs in the first CSD are named, then the CTs of the adjoining CSDs are named, and finally those on the periphery.

If a census tract is split into two or more parts due to a population increase, the number after the decimal point identifies the splits. For example, CT 0042.00 becomes CT 0042.01 and CT 0042.02. If CT 0042.01 is subsequently split, it becomes CT 0042.03 and CT 0042.04. Similarly, if CT 0042.02 is split after CT 0042.01, it becomes CT 0042.05 and CT 0042.06. Any splits occurring after this would be numbered in a similar way, with the next sequential number. This allows users to re-aggregate the splits to the original census tract.

Table 1.1 shows the number of census tracts by province and territory.

The nature of the census tract concept, along with the availability of a wide range of census data, makes census tracts useful in many applications. These include:

Census tracts should be used with caution for non-statistical purposes.

Refer to the related definition of census metropolitan area (CMA) and census agglomeration (CA).

Changes prior to the current census

Beginning in 1996, census agglomerations were eligible for census tracts based on the population size of their cores (50,000 or more at the previous census). This was a change from previous censuses, when census agglomerations had to contain a municipality (census subdivision) with a population of 50,000 or more at the previous census to be eligible for census tracts.

From 1971 to 1991, a provincial census tract program existed. Provincial census tracts were similar in concept to census tracts, but covered areas outside census metropolitan areas and census agglomerations. Taken together, census tracts and provincial census tracts covered all of Canada.

In 1941 and 1946, census tracts were called 'social areas.'

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