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1996 Census Highlights


On April 15, 1997 the first results from the 1996 Census - population and dwelling counts - were released by Statistics Canada. Information on other characteristics of the B.C. population such as age, ethnicity, education, income, etc. will be released over the next two years.

The Province

British Columbia had the fastest growing population of any province or territory in Canada between 1991 and 1996. On May 14, 1996, the population of B.C. was counted at 3,724,500 people, an increase of 13.5% from the population measured by the 1991 Census and more than double the 5.7% increase in the Canadian population over the five year period. The next two fastest growing provinces were Ontario (6.6%) and Alberta (5.9%); the Northwest Territories (11.7%) and Yukon (10.7%) also experienced strong growth between 1991 and 1996.

Regional Districts

Within the province the strongest growth generally occurred in the Lower Mainland (including the Sunshine Coast and Squamish/Whistler areas) (15%), the east coast of Vancouver Island (excluding the Capital area) (19%) and the Okanagan Valley (18%). With the exception of Stikine, all regional districts (census divisions) in the province experienced growth between 1991 and 1996, led by Squamish-Lillooet (26%) and Central Okanagan (22%). The population decline in the Stikine was due largely to the 1992 closure of the mine at Cassiar and the subsequent out-migration from the region.


Among large municipalities (those with populations of more than 100,000), the strongest growth in the 1991-1996 period was posted in Surrey (24%), followed by Abbotsford and Coquitlam (both 21%). Of Canadian municipalities of this size, only Richmond Hill, Ontario had stronger growth than these three B.C. municipalities. Among smaller municipalities (those with populations of more than 5,000), Whistler had the strongest growth (61%) in the country between 1991 and 1996, although the smaller neighbouring community of Pemberton had even stronger growth (70%). In the >5,000 size category,three municipalities in the central part of Vancouver Island ranked next in terms of population growth: Courtenay (48%), Ladysmith (32%) and Qualicum Beach (31%).

Top Municipalities (> 5,000 people) in terms of growth from 1991 to 1996

Municipality 1996 Population   % Change
Whistler 7,172 60.8
Courtenay 17,335 48.2
Ladysmith 6,456 32.4
Qualicum Beach 6,728 31.0
Parksville 9,472 28.3
Port Coquitlam 46,682 26.9
Surrey 304,477 24.2
Chilliwack 60,186 21.5
Langley 80,179 21.4
City of Abbotsford 105,403 21.3
Coquitlam 101,820 21.2
Salmon Arm 14,664 21.0

Urban and Rural Population

Between 1991 and 1996, the population of B.C. has become more urbanised with 82% of people living in urban areas compared with 80% in 1991. The number of persons per dwelling in urban areas is generally lower than in rural areas - 2.57 for urban areas as compared to 2.73 for rural areas in 1996. The stronger population growth in urban areas has contributed to even faster growth in the number of occupied private dwellings (14.6%) than in the population (13.5%) in the last five years. This has resulted in an overall decline in the average number of persons per dwelling from 2.62 persons in 1991 to 2.60 persons in 1996.

Characteristics of Population Growth

Although information on the characteristics of the population growth between 1991 and 1996 is not yet available from the 1996 Census, current population estimates provide insight into some aspects of the growth. Over three quarters (78%) of the population gain between 1991 and 1996 was due to migration with natural increase (births minus deaths) accounting for the rest. International migration represented 43% and interprovincial migration 35% of the total population increase. In comparison to the previous five years (1986-1991), the importance of international migration as a source of population growth has increased - from 35% to 43%, while the shares of population growth attributable to interprovincial migration (from 37% to 35%) and natural increase (from 28% to 22%) have decreased. On the international side, three quarters (76%) of the immigrants to B.C. in the 1991 to 1996 period were from Asian countries (27% from Hong Kong), 12% from European countries and 5% from the rest of North America. In the case of migration from other provinces, 41% of net interprovincial migration to B.C. was from Ontario, 25% from Alberta and 34% from the rest of the country.

Migrants to B.C., both from other countries and other provinces, are generally younger than the overall population and thus the large influx of migrants during the last five years has tended to retard the ageing of the population. While 15 to 24 year olds accounted for 22% of the migration to B.C. between 1991 and 1996, they only represented 13% of the provincial population in 1996. On the other hand, those 65 and over represented only 4% of the migration to the province in the last five years, but accounted for 13% of the population in 1996.