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2006 Census: Portrait of the Canadian Population in 2006: Subprovincial population dynamics

Urban spread in Canada's six largest metropolitan centres

The bulk of Canada's population growth is concentrated in the larger metropolitan areas, a pattern generally found in most countries. Usually, this sustained growth in municipality populations leads to urban spread, that is, rapid development of the areas surrounding the central municipalities3, which turns them into suburbs. This urban spread presents many challenges for metropolitan centres, especially in the areas of transportation, public services and the environment.

Between 2001 and 2006, the growth rate of peripheral municipalities that surround the central municipality of Canada's 33 census metropolitan areas was double the national average (+11.1% versus +5.4%). During the same period, the central municipalities grew more slowly (+4.2%) than the Canadian population and less than half as fast as the peripheral municipalities.

Table 5 Population growth of central municipalities and peripheral municipalities for the 33 census metropolitan areas, 2001 to 2006

Urban population spread usually occurs along the metropolitan area's major transportation routes.

In the Montréal CMA (Flash), for example, the Laurentian Autoroute (Highway 15) contributed to the development of municipalities such as Sainte-Thérèse, Blainville, Mirabel and even Saint-Jérome and Saint-Colomban farther to the north. On the east shore, municipalities such as Boucherville, Sainte-Julie and Mont-Saint-Hilaire grew in part because of Highway 20, which linked them to the island of Montréal, just as Highway 10 for Brossard and La Prairie. Finally, Highway 40 in the east (Repentigny, L'Assomption) and in the west (Vaudreuil-Dorion, Saint-Lazare) is a major transportation route serving municipalities that have experienced rapid population growth for a number of years.

In Ottawa - Gatineau (Flash), the municipalities around the core have also developed up mainly along major roads. On the Ontario side, suburbs such as Orléans to the east and Kanata to the west have developed along the Queensway (Highway 417). To the south, suburbs have grown up along the Rideau River, notably Barrhaven and Gloucester. On the Quebec side, urban spread is most evident along the Highway 50/Highway 148 corridor.

In Toronto (Flash), the surrounding municipalities have grown up along a large network of expressways, including highways 401 (Mississauga, Oakville) and 407 (Brampton), which run east-west, and highways 400 (Vaughan) and 404 (Richmond Hill, Markham), which run north-south. Yonge Street is also an important development corridor extending 50 kilometres to the north.

Calgary (Flash)'s population increased rapidly between 2001 and 2006 (+12.4%). It spread out along the McLeod Trail to the south and the Crowchild Trail to the north, skirting such obstacles as the Nose Hill Natural Environment Park and the Foothills Industrial Park. The population of the municipalities around Calgary (for example, Cochrane, Chestermere, Airdrie and Crossfield) also grew at a rapid pace (+29.2%) in the 2001 to 2006 period.

In the Edmonton area (Flash), urban spread occurred mainly along the Calgary Trail to the south, around the West Edmonton Mall, and in the districts north of the municipality.

Urban spread in Vancouver (Flash) is unique because it is influenced by the area's mountainous terrain and the presence of the SkyTrain, which was built for Expo'86. Most of the development over the last few decades has taken place in municipalities to the south and east, such as Burnaby, Surrey and Coquitlam, as population growth in municipalities north of Vancouver is restricted by the mountains.

The development of efficient road or public transit infrastructure is a major factor in urban spread. In recent years, such infrastructure has led to rapid expansion for some small towns on the fringes of larger metropolitan areas. A case in point is the town of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu near the Montréal CMA. The rapid growth of such small towns in rural areas surrounding metropolitan centres is another recent manifestation of urban spread.

Between 2001 and 2006, the dynamic of urban development was specific to each of the census metropolitan areas, as shown in the 33 maps below.

33 maps: Population Change, 2001 and 2006, by 2006 Census Tract (CT)


  • 3. The central municipality is defined as the municipality for which the census metropolitan area is named.

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