Figuring Out Geographic Areas in the Canadian Census

The Canadian census is carried out every five years (you may remember filling it out earlier this year) and, in addition to basic demographic information, covers such areas as housing and employment.

If you’re trying to find census information on a more granular level than simply for the country as a whole, the first thing that you need to determine is what geographic area you are interested in. Do you want to pull statistics for the country as a whole or on a more granular basis?

Statistics Canada divides the country up in a number of different ways including:

  • Provinces or territories (e.g. Alberta). Each province is assigned a two digit code that can be found here.
  • Census divisions (CD) are “intermediate geographic areas between the province/territory level and the municipality” (e.g. Greater Vancouver).
  • Census metropolitan areas (CMA) are “one or more adjacent municipalities [with] a total population of at least 100,000” (e.g. Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver).
  • Census subdivisions (SCD) are municipalities or areas treated as municipal equivalents (e.g. Vancouver, CY). There are 54 different types.
  • Dissemination areas (DA) are geographic units “with an average population of 400 to 700 persons” and are “the smallest standard geographic area for which all census data are disseminated.” Each dissemination area has a four-digit code which is preceded by the two-digit province/territory code and the two-digit census division code to produce a unique identifier (e.g. 12 09 0103).
  • Economic regions (ER) are groupings of “complete census divisions […] created as a standard geographic unit for analysis of regional economic activity.” (e.g. Lower Mainland–Southwest).
  • Federal electoral districts (FED) are areas represented by a member of the House of Commons (e.g. Vancouver Quadra).
  • Health Regions are “are legislated administrative areas defined by provincial ministries of health” with a four digit numeric code being used as a unique identifier, e.g. 5932 for the Vancouver Health Service Delivery Area.

The Census allows you to search by place name, postal code or geographic code. For example a search for “York” would return these results which in turn link to census information for each location.

You can also use Geosearch to narrow down your geographical area, e.g. to drill down to the map forDissemination Area 59153845, but keep in mind that data is not always available for the smaller geographic divisions.

Susannah Tredwell

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