Kingston, Ontario. Photo: Jacob / Adobe Stock

Tiny towns that were once commonly used for weekend vacations and getaways to the cottage are seeing more full-time, permanent residents according to new statistical data.

In a recently-published Current Analysis report, RBC Economics economist Carrie Freestone recapped new data from the 2021 Census and other major population trends that are developing across Canada.

According to census data, small towns like Squamish (B.C), Wasaga Beach (Ont.) and Collingwood (Ont.) have been home to some of Canada’s fastest growing populations, a pattern that could be largely attributed to residents migrating from urban centres in search of more affordable housing and space.

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Since the last census period, Brantford and Kingston in Ontario witnessed the greatest acceleration in population growth, pushing up the average price of homes. For instance, in Brantford, the average residential sale price has soared over 166 per cent between 2016 and 2021, while in Kingston, it has more than doubled.

“While rapid population growth may contribute to the erosion of housing affordability for locals, new arrivals bring with them an abundance of spending power to inject into the local economy, boosting provincial tax revenue and supporting businesses,” explained Freestone in the report.

Urbanization heats up on East Coast

The spread of urbanization has continued in some regions across the country, according to Freestone, particularly on the East Coast.

In downtown Halifax, urbanization increased 26.1 per cent compared to the previous census period. Over in Newfoundland, the province saw more new residents arrive than leave. Between 2016 and Q3-2021, net international migration passed two million. In the same period, ​​57 per cent more immigrants arrived in Atlantic Canada than from 2011 to 2016.

“Atlantic Canada has been the beneficiary of surging levels of interprovincial migration, with Canadians rapidly arriving to the coast during the pandemic,” said Freestone. “By the third quarter of 2021, nearly 20 per cent more Canadians moved out East from other provinces than the year prior.”

Chart: RBC Economics

However, Atlantic Canada’s natural population growth is still trending negative, but the latest rise in migrants is expected to “fuel growth in the decade ahead.”

Currently, about three-quarters of Canadians live in a large urban centre, where this is a population of 100,000 people or more. More than nine in ten Canadian immigrants settled in these centres before the pandemic.

From 2016 to 2021, Canada’s downtown populations grew 11 per cent, which is twice as much as the previous census cycle. Still, the COVID-19 pandemic stunted population growth in some urban centres. For example, downtown Montreal and Vancouver saw their populations rise over the census period, but this growth fell off during the pandemic.

At the same time, urban sprawl has also been on the rise, with suburbs located the farthest away from downtown areas growing faster than the urban fringes.

Canada a top-performing G7 and G20 country for population growth

When analysing population growth, Canada ranks as top performer between other G7 and G20 countries — between 2016 and 2021, Canada was number one in the G7 and tied with India for the seventh rank in the greater G20.

Canada’s population has increased more than five per cent thanks to a surge in newcomers as the natural rate of population growth has “slowed considerably in the last decade.”

For the first time since the 1940s, Maritimes outranked the Prairies by a hair in terms of population growth.

“The marginal difference may signal a new trend, backed by higher immigration and record levels of interprovincial migration,” said Freestone.

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