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British Columbia’s Population


This week we begin our exploration of the processes and patterns of settlement in British Columbia. This assignment will take this theme in a new direction, by examining one of the key data sources geographers use to understand population patterns and processes, the Census. In Canada, Statistics Canada collects census data every 5 years. This data provides a portrait of our country at a particular time. We can also look at historical censes for comparison purposes to see how our population has changed over time.

More to read: Population Health Management Dashboard

Canada’s population growth is shifting westward, as the latest census results show the Prairie region and British Columbia lead the country in growth. For a population to increase there must be more births than deaths and/or greater immigration than emigration. How a country, region or city grows and changes over time can be graphically represented in a population pyramid. A growing population is shaped like a triangle with a wide bottom and a narrow top – indicating that there are a lot of young people with high reproductive potential and fewer older people, often due to high death rates. Historically, most countries were growing – hence the description of this graph as a “pyramid”. Over time, we have seen the shape of the graph in economically advancing countries shift to reflect a stable population – little growth results in a pyramid shaped more like a column in which the number of people in each age cohort is relatively equal and both birth rates and death rates are low. A declining population has a pyramid that is shaped like an inverted triangle with a larger number of people in the older age cohorts than in the younger cohorts. A population that has a declining population pyramid may actually be beginning to diminish in size – perhaps due to war or disease increasing the death rate or due to a significant decline in the birth rate.

We will be working with an interactive population pyramid from Statistics Canada We will be working with 2016 data.

At this link you should begin by choosing “Canada” in both of the selection boxes and then pressing submit. You will see a more “columnar” pyramid than many other countries, reflecting our stable population growth. Notably, you’ll see a bulge in the population cohorts between the ages of 50-70 years; this is the post WW2 baby boom. To see the impacts of the war itself, see the taper of the elderly males in comparison to the same cohort females. You are likely part of the “echo” (also known as Generation Y or Millennials), or the generation born to the Baby Boomers. This echo is not as big as the baby boom originally was because our average family size has fallen in the intervening years.

Use the interactive feature of this graph to answer the following questions:

  1. Change the first selection window on the above link to “British Columbia” while keeping the second selection window on “Canada”. How does the population of BC compare to that of Canada as a whole? /2
  2. Change the first selection window to “Parksville” while keeping the second selection window on “British Columbia”. Where does Parksville’s population most obviously deviate from that of BC’s as a whole? What factors account for this difference? /1
  3. Change the first selection window to “Fort St. John” while keeping the second selection window on “British Columbia”. Explain what is happening here in terms of the population pyramid. What demographic factors are at play? /3
  4. Change the first selection window to “Vancouver” while keeping the second selection window on “British Columbia”. In which two areas does Vancouver’s population most obviously deviate from that of BC’s as a whole? What factors do you think account for this difference? /3
  5. Keep the first selection window to “Vancouver” while changing the second selection window on “Abbotsford – Mission”. If you were working for the school district in the Fraser Valley, what might you be concerned about for the next two decades? /2

You will now look at some of the updated data from the 2016 census. Navigate to and select the ‘Focus on Geography Series’. In the box under ‘Search for a geography’, type “British Columbia”.

  1. What was the total population in British Columbia in 2016? /1
  2. What was the growth rate between the census years 2011 and 2016? How does this compare to the overall growth rate of Canada? /2
  3. Refer to Figure 1.2. How would you describe the rate of population growth of British Columbia over the past 145 years? /1
  4. Refer to Figure 1.3 and look back in time. What was the population growth rate between 1871 and 1881? What factors would account for this population change? /2
  5. Scroll down to the table titled: ‘British Columbia – Census subdivisions with the highest population growth among those with 5,000-plus population’. Interestingly, Fernie and Whistler appear on this list. Why do you think the population is growing in these two municipalities? /2
  6. Click on ‘Langford’. What was the rate of population change between 2011 and 2016? /1
  7. How does this rate of change compare with neighbouring census subdivisions? What factors do you think contribute to the rate of growth in Langford, when compared to other nearby cities? /2
  8. Navigate back to the page that summarized the data for British Columbia as a whole. Scroll down to the table: ‘British Columbia – Census subdivisions with the lowest population growth among those with 5,000-plus population’. List two characteristics that those five cities have in common. /2

Immigration, whether international or inter-provincial, is influenced by a wide variety of economic, demographic, social and political factors, including both “push” factors that pressure a migrant to leave their place of origin to seek better opportunities, and “pull” factors that attract a migrant to a particular location.

Figure 1: British Columbia Net Inter-provincial and International Migration (Source: BC Stats)

  1. Summarize the inter-provincial and international migration trends displayed on this curve between 1971 and 2011. /2
  2. Comment on the forecasted migration from 2016 onward. Why are these lines so smooth compared to the observed data prior to 2016? What factors would be considered to make projections in this area? /2

Last Updated on October 3, 2020

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