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2006 Census: Portrait of the Canadian Population in 2006: Subprovincial population dynamics

Portrait of small towns, rural areas and the territories

Canada's population in small towns and rural areas grew by 1.0% between 2001 and 2006, after declining by 0.4% in the previous intercensal period. In 2006, just under 20% of Canadians (6.0 million people) were living in rural areas, that is, in areas located outside urban centres with a population of at least 10,000.

This photograph shows a small village surrounded by farmland on the Prairies.Growth in rural areas was not ubiquitous and did not occur in every province. For example, the rural populations of the four Atlantic provinces and Saskatchewan declined since 2001. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the rural population shrank by more than 5% between 2001 and 2006. As the population of the St. John's CMA grew by 4.7% over the same period, the sharp decrease in the rural population is responsible for the decline in the province's total population (-1.5%).

Apart from the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, Alberta experienced the fastest-growing rural population between 2001 and 2006 (+3.8%). Even so, this rate of growth was still below the national average.

Rural growth often depends on proximity to large urban centres

There are two types of rural areas: those close to urban centres, and those which are more remote. In rural areas close to urban centres, more than 30% of the labour force commutes to work in the urban centre.

Canada. Statistical Area Classification, 2006 by Census Subdivision (CSD)

In these rural areas, population growth between 2001 and 2006 (+4.7%) was close to the national average (+5.4%). Population growth in such locations is often associated with the presence of small towns that are easily accessible by highway from an urban centre.

In remote rural areas located farther from urban centres, the population remained nearly the same as in 2001 (-0.1%). These areas for example also lost population in the previous intercensal period. The lack of growth in such areas is often due to the fact that young adults move to metropolitan areas to pursue their education or find a job.

Table 8 Population growth by region type, 2001 to 2006

Growth of Canada's small towns and rural communities

Of the 25 fastest-growing small towns and rural communities since 2001, 14 are located less than 50 kilometres from Montréal, Toronto or Vancouver. Six others are found close to another CMA.

This photograph shows the town of Banff, in the mountains.Sylvan Lake, near Red Deer, Alberta, is the fastest-growing small town since 2001, at 36.1%. It also grew by 44.5% between 1996 and 2001. Another small town in the region that experienced a rapid increase in population in the 2001 to 2006 period is Lacombe, north of Red Deer (+14.5%).

Strathmore (+34.2%) and Foothills No. 31 (+18.9%), towns to the east and south of Calgary, also experienced rapid population growth over the last five years. Strathmore had a very high growth rate in the previous intercensal period as well (+43.4%).

No fewer than nine of the 25 fastest-growing small towns were in Quebec, most of them north of Montréal in the Laurentians such as Prévost, Chertsey and Ste-Adèle. This area boasts many resort locations and continues to be a major attraction for those who may wish to relocate to these small towns.

Also on the list were other resort locations that are close to major urban centres and attractive to their residents, such as Wasaga Beach, on the shores of Georgian Bay, and Galway-Cavendish and Harvey, north of Peterborough, Ontario.

Table 9 Small towns and rural communities with the fastest population growth since 2001

This photograph shows a group of houses along a river in an agricultural area.In contrast, all of the 25 fastest-declining small towns and rural communities were located far from large urban centres. A number of them were in the northern part of their province, such as Kapuskasing, Ontario, La Sarre, Quebec, and Flin Flon, Manitoba. Others were located in more mountainous areas, such as Banff and Crowsnest Pass, Alberta, and Trail and Kimberley, British Columbia. Still others were in agricultural areas, such as Oromocto, New Brunswick, or close to the ocean, such as Marystown, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

Table 10 Small towns and rural communities with the fastest population decline since 2001

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