Canada census paints uneven picture of its North | Polarjournal
Home to 1,617 friendly Canadians (Photo: Dr Michael Wenger)

Canada had the fastest population growth of any of the countries making up the G7 club of major industrial democracies last year, but the figure covers over uneven population trends among the country’s ten provinces and, in particular, its three Northern territories. 

According to the initial tranche of 2021 census data released on 9 February, almost 37 million people now call Canada home, or 1.8 million more than were living there in 2016, a growth rate of 5.2%. Nearly 80% of the increase was due to immigration. The population remains highly concentrated, with 90% of Canadians living within 150km if the country’s southern border, and two-thirds living in one of 41 urban centres (officially defined having more than 100,000 residents).

Yukon’s 12.1% population growth (to 40,232) was the highest in Canada. It was one of four primary geographic divisions to grow at a faster pace than the national average (Prince Edward Island, British Columbia and Ontario were the others). Elsewhere in the North, the population of Nunavut grew at 2.5% (to 36,858), while the population of the Northwest Territories fell by 1.7% (to 41,070). In total, the populations of the three northern territories adds up to 118,000, about a third of one percent of Canada’s total population.

Nunavut and the Northwest Territories stand alone among provinces and territories for having population growth that relies mainly on natural increase. This is because these two territories have much higher fertility rates than elsewhere in Canada, and are consequently younger.

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Most municipalities in the three territories are classified as remote, and population is concentrated in 12 areas (see table below). The three capitals — Whitehorse, Yellowknife and Iqaluit — are the most populous municipalities in their respective territories. Combined, they account for almost half of the total population of the territories (47.4%), but their share of the population in their respective territories reflects three distinct settlement patterns. Whitehorse (pop 28,201), for example, is home to 70.1% of Yukon’s population. Yukon’s next largest populated place, Dawson, is home to 1,577 people. About half (49.5%) of the 41,070 residents of the Northwest Territories live in Yellowknife (pop 20,340). Its second largest populated place, Hay River, has 3,169 residents. Iqaluit (pop 7,429) meanwhile, is home to 20.2% of Nunavimmiut. Rankin Inlet, the next largest populated place in Nunavut, has 2,842 residents.

Iqaluit also stood out as the only territorial capital to lose population between 2016 and 2021, declining at a rate of 4.0%. Whitehorse, by comparison, grew 12.4%, while Yellowknife saw its population expand by 3.9%.

The table below provides figures for population growth in municipalities with significant proportions of the three territories’ populations. Five of these municipalities experienced a population decline from 2016 to 2021, though, for two, the change was marginal. Six grew at a faster pace compared with rural areas, mostly because of internal migration. Just like the rest of Canada, the territories are becoming more urbanised.

Territory2021 populationMunicipality2016 population2021 populationGrowth rate
Yukon 40,232Whitehorse25,08528,20112.4%
Hay River3,5283,169-10.2%
Fort Smith2,5422,248-11.6%
Rankin Inlet2,8422,9754.7%
Baker Lake2,0692,061-0.4%
Cambridge Bay1,7661,760-0.3%
Gjoa Haven1,3241,3491.9%

Featured image: Dr Michael Wenger

Source: Statistics Canada Census of Population

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