‘Ottawa’ Bagnall: Census Reveals Some Dramatic Changes Within Capital Region
On the face of it, the capital region’s population growth doesn’t seem like much: An increase of 5.5 per cent over five years to 1,323,783.
That’s true even if it was a touch faster than the five per cent increase to 35,151,728 experienced by Canada as a whole.
But the overall average released Wednesday — part of the first datasets published following the 2016 census — disguises some profound changes to our region.
Here’s what Statistics Canada found after dividing Ottawa and Gatineau into 277 census tracts. First, the big breakdown — the census recorded a 5.8 per cent gain for Ottawa alone (to 924,243) and 4.1 per cent for Gatineau (to 276,245).
Now, look at the detail: The top 25 tracts each registered population growth in excess of 18 per cent over five years. Roughly speaking, the majority are clustered in three areas — Ottawa South, Kanata and Gatineau West (formerly Aylmer).
Anyone who commutes from these districts will recognize these are bedroom communities serving different parts of the city. Each has a mixture of brand new, lower-cost housing developments, studded with upper-end enclaves.
The biggest gain in population — 109 per cent — was recorded in the census tract northwest of Manotick, immediately to the east of Highway 416 and north of Barnsdale Road. It is anchored by the Stonebridge Golf and Country Club, once situated in an open meadow but now completely surrounded by new housing.
Three of the 10 fastest growing census tracts were in Kanata — reflecting the rising concentration of high-tech. During the 2011 census, the sector had yet to recover from the bankruptcy of Nortel — whose assets had just been divvied up and sold off. More recently, the companies that acquired those assets — Ciena and Ericsson in particular — have invested significantly in their Kanata operations. At the same time, high-tech firms specializing in telecommunications and software have formed a tight cluster, most notably in the northern part of Kanata.
The result has been to stimulate new housing. Five of Kanata’s 19 census tracts experienced population growth in excess of 22 per cent between 2011 and 2016. The biggest gain was recorded in the census tract that links north and south Kanata to the west of Goulbourn Forced Road.
One of the oddest findings of the latest census is that so much rapid population growth occurred within west Gatineau. While this region has long served as a community for employees of the federal government — particularly among francophones — StatCan conducted its 2011 census when the number of government employees was near its all-time peak of 148,000 locally. Since then, federal government employment has slipped about 10 per cent.
All things being equal, the area should have seen very weak population growth, if not a reversal. Yet multiple tracts adjacent to Chemin Antoine-Boucher saw increases of at least 20 per cent over five years. New housing developments featuring lower prices than are available on the Ottawa side of the river no doubt had an influence.
Clues about the source of the growth will be available later. Census data detailing the age, occupation, language and other variables of inhabitants will be released in stages as the year progresses.
Other parts of Gatineau fared less well between the two census periods in terms of population increases. Five of the ten census tracts that saw the biggest declines in people were in Gatineau — including areas adjacent to Lac Leamy and in east Gatineau.
On the Ontario side, the census tract that lost the most population between 2011 and 2016 included the downtown strip just west of Bronson Avenue and north of the Queensway.
There was another shock, nationally speaking, even though we knew it was inevitable.
Not only did Calgary overtake Ottawa-Gatineau as the country’s fourth most populous metro area but Edmonton’s tally fell just a couple of thousand short. There seems little doubt we’ll soon be No. 6.
Despite the negative impact in Alberta of an energy recession, the population of Calgary and Edmonton jumped 14.6 per cent and 13.9 per cent respectively between 2011 and 2016.