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Population Growth Varies Widely Across BC

By Ken Peacock

In recent years BC’s population has expanded roughly in line with national population growth.  Between 2011 and 2015 the number of BC residents rose at an average annual pace of 1.0%, essentially the same as Canada.  Alberta led the way, with the number of people living in that province surging at an average rate of 2.6% over the past four years.  Population growth in Saskatchewan (1.5%) and Manitoba (1.2%) also outpaced BC.  Population growth rates in BC and Ontario have been virtually identical.

Within BC, growth has varied widely across different regions and cities.  The figure below shows the 20 municipalities with the fastest growing populations between 2011 and 2015.  The growth rates are annual averages over the period.  Only municipalities with more than 10,000 people are listed because smaller communities can experience big changes in population growth rates with a comparatively small addition of new residents.  Sun Peaks, for example, recorded the strongest annual population growth of any municipality in the province from 2011 to 2015, (5.4%), but gained just 89 new residents. 

One interesting item that emerges is that two non-metro Vancouver cities top the list.  Lake Country, a municipality that is part of the Kelowna census metropolitan area, recorded the strongest population growth, followed by View Royal, which is part of the Greater Victoria area. After that are a number of Metro Vancouver cities.  Coquitlam is third in the municipal growth rankings, followed by Langley District, the City of North Vancouver and then Surrey. 

Looking at the absolute increase in population underscores the degree to which population growth in BC is becoming concentrated in a handful of cities.  Between 2011 and 2015 BC’s population increased by 184,000.  Collectively, the top 20 municipalities added nearly 148,000 residents.  This means the 20 fastest growing cities accounted for fully 80% of BC’s overall population growth over the period.  Surrey, which added another 43,000 people since 2011, accounted for nearly one-quarter of the increase in the province’s population.   

Looking at population growth from a regional perspective, Metro Vancouver is obviously the dominant center. Nine of the 20 fastest growing municipalities are in Metro Vancouver and another four are adjacent to or nearby the Metro region.  South Vancouver Island and the Central Okanagan are the other two areas seeing solid population gains. Two of the fastest growing municipalities are located in and around Victoria and two others are found in the Kelowna area.  Nanaimo, Fort St John and Nelson are the three municipalities on the list that are not part of the largest urban centres in the province.  With respect to Nanaimo, it is worth noting that the city and its surrounding municipalities now represent BC’s fifth largest urban region. 

At the other end of the scale many BC municipalities have experienced outright population declines since 2011.  Roughly 75 municipalities have posted a population decrease.  Among larger municipalities (in this case using a cut off of over 5,000 persons) the ones that have recorded the largest annual average percentage declines include: Prince Rupert (-2.9%), Creston (-2.9%), Smithers (-2.6%), Quesnel (-2.6%), and Port Alberni (-2.6%).

Municipal population growth figures confirm that BC is becoming steadily more urbanized.  Many smaller, mostly resource-dependent communities are struggling with out-migration and shrinking populations.  At the same time cities like Surrey and Langley are working to manage the demands stemming from sizable increases in population.