BOW VALLEY – Canmore is among the top 10 fastest growing small urban communities in Canada with a 14.3 per cent growth in population, while the national park townsite of Banff saw an increase of almost six per cent.
The 2021 federal census showed the once tiny mountain town of Canmore, which was based around long since closed down coal mines, grew from 13,992 people in 2016 to 15,990 in 2021, resulting in a growth of 14.3 per cent.
The growth, which well outpaced both the provincial and Canadian average, translates to about 2.86 per cent for each of those years, but Canmore Mayor Sean Krausert noted it is largely on par with growth in the past 20 years – and less than that in the 1990s.
“A lot of people see the 14.3 per cent and they see it as a big jump and certainly when it’s being promoted as a fast growing area, we have to take a look at Canmore relative to our own history. In the 1990s, we were growing by five to 10 per cent a year. This is about 2.8 per cent. That’s pretty much keeping with the trend that we’ve had for the last 20 years in the less than three per cent range,” said Krausert.
“In many respects, this is exactly what I was expecting. I expected to get over the 15,000 permanent resident mark, which we did. I was expecting we would have some increase due to non-permanent residents deciding to move here full-time due to COVID and encouraging people to work from where they live. If you have the opportunity to live in a beautiful place full-time, I understand why someone would do that.”
Neighbouring Banff also outpaced the provincial average of 4.8 per cent and the national average of 5.2 per cent. Banff’s population jumped by 5.8 per cent to 8,305 residents in the 2021 census compared to 7,851 in the 2016 count.
Banff Mayor Corrie DiManno’s take on the almost six per cent increase is that the population is actually stable.
“I would say that the story the census is telling us is Banff’s population is pretty stable. We see that there’s been a 5.8 increase from the last federal census in 2016, but when you look at it year-over-year, it’s an annualized growth rate of 1.13 per cent,” she said.
“If anything, we were surprised that they counted that many residents during the pandemic because we know at the beginning of the pandemic many people left our community and we’re also still hearing about labour shortages.”
Banff’s municipal census is typically higher than the federal census, with the last 2017 municipal counting 8,875 residents. Banff cancelled its municipal census in 2020 due to the pandemic, but plans to move ahead with it this year.
Mayor DiManno suspects the increase in the federal count from 2016 to 2021 could be that more people were actually at home because of the pandemic when the count took place last year, as well as the fact it could be done online.
“It’s a bit of a 'huh, how did that number get there?'” she said.
“Maybe in a way it improved counting people who stayed in Banff because a lot more people were home during COVID in this census period, whether they were isolating or work-from-home or what have you.”
Regardless, the Town of Banff will use the results of the census to help inform public policy.
“We use the census for many things. I would say it helps us to understand our demographic and their needs,” said DiManno.
“We will get more details to come. We will learn more about how many seniors we have, how many lone parent families, different language needs and things like that… it helps us plan for the services and supports we need for our community.”
Population growth can come with both positives and negatives.
With Canmore now officially crossing 15,000 residents, it means the split of the RCMP bill will have a drastic increase for local taxpayers.
For a community with 15,000 or fewer people, the municipality picks up 70 per cent of the tab and the rest comes from the province. However, once over 15,000 residents, the Town will cover 90 per cent and the province 10 per cent. Canmore has budgeted for this in advance.
In 2021, the RCMP budget for Canmore was $2.7 million. During the budget talks, the Town’s financial department estimated crossing the 15,000 people threshold would see the police budget jump to about $3.3 million a year.
Further complicating matters is the retroactive pay owed to RCMP officers following the collective bargaining agreement between the federal government and the National Police Federation that is estimated to cost Canmore about $1 million at some point this year. Several municipalities, including Canmore, have called on the federal government to pick up the bill for the retroactive pay.
While Canmore has grown, it has also seen the increase be polarizing to sections of the community.
One of the bigger concerns during the Three Sisters Mountain Village public hearings last March was the potential of the Town of Canmore doubling in size over the next three decades and the type of growth that would come with it.
Potential developments in the community also draw significant attention from residents.
“We have to do development that is in keeping with our community interests,” said Mayor Krausert, noting he believes further development is needed to address affordability.
“Without further development, we will really have a difficult time providing additional housing units, providing additional amenities or services that can help with our affordability crisis in Canmore. We need development, but it needs to be environmentally responsible and aligned with community interests.”
Krausert also noted the citizens perspective survey completed last spring showed residents were satisfied with the community. The survey indicated 98 per cent rated the quality of life as good or very good and that 99 per cent of residents feel safe in the community.
In other areas of the Bow Valley, the Municipal District of Bighorn also had a sizeable 20.7 per cent increase in population from 1,324 people in 2016 to 1,598 in 2021.
Improvement District No. 9 had a slight decline from 1,028 people in 2016 to 1,004 in 2021. The Kananaskis Improvement District – largely known for its tourism – went from 221 people in 2016 to 156 in 2021. Specific information on the Stoney Nakoda First Nation wasn’t yet available.
Several of the small urban centres in the top 20 are considered resort communities such as Canmore, Wasaga Beach, Ont. and Squamish, B.C. Others like Woodstock and Tillsonburg in Ontario are close to major population areas such as London, Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo and Toronto, where people commute to work elsewhere.
According to the federal census, it was also the first time since the 1940s that the Maritimes grew at a faster pace than the Prairie provinces. In 2019, the country also experienced its highest growth in 583,000 new people.
Alberta went from 4.07 million people in 2016 to 4.26 million in 2021 for a 4.8 per cent change. The previous five censuses had Alberta as the largest growing province in the country.
Canada saw growth to 36.99 million people in 2021 after being at 35.15 million in 2016 for a 5.2 per cent increase.
According to the census, there are now 41 communities from coast to coast with a population greater than 100,000 compared to 35 in 2016. Of those 41 centres, nearly 75 per cent of Canadians live in them.
Among G7 nations, Canada has the highest population growth – 5.2 per cent between 2016-21 – but is seventh in G20 countries.
Municipalities with a population decrease were often located far from large urban centres, with many in Alberta.
While growth continues to trend upwards in the community of Canmore, Krausert highlighted how addressing affordability concerns in Canmore is a main priority of council. During its 2022 budget process, council used paid parking finances from Quarry Lake to increase public transit service.
A planning position was also approved to work on the downtown area redevelopment plan, but also focus on the Palliser lands, often seen as a prime area for future affordable housing.
“The continued growth continues to demonstrate the desirability of the area, which of course increases the cost of land, the cost of housing and that detrimentally affects affordability for a significant segment of our community. … Increasing affordability is a high priority of this council,” said Krausert.
“There is significant interest in council to take greater strides to address those factors within our control that will bring down the cost-of-living. We don’t have our hands on all of the levers, but we will be taking greater action around affordability in the coming years and this increased population goes to show that priority is well placed.”
BOW VALLEY CENSUS
Town of Banff
- 2021 population: 8,305
- 2016 population: 7,851
- Percentage change: +5.8 per cent
- Private dwellings: 3,287
- Private dwellings occupied by usual residents: 2,930
- Population density per square kilometre: 2,033.8
- Land area in square kilometres: 4.08
- Provincial population rank: 57
- National population rank: 498 of 4,831
MD of Bighorn
- 2021 population: 1,598
- 2016 population: 1,324
- Percentage change: +20.7 per cent
- Private dwellings: 875
- Private dwellings occupied by usual residents: 640
- Population density per square kilometre: 0.6
- Land area in square kilometres: 2,678.80
- Provincial population rank: 159
- National population rank: 1,598 of 4,831
Town of Canmore
- 2021 population: 15,990
- 2016 population: 13,992
- Percentage change: +14.3 per cent
- Private dwellings: 9,173
- Private dwellings occupied by usual residents: 6,804
- Population density per square kilometre: 233.5
- Land area in square kilometres: 68.47
- Provincial population rank: 28
- National population rank: 279 of 4,831
Improvement District No. 9
- 2021 population: 1,004
- 2016 population: 1,028
- Percentage change: -2.3 per cent
- Private dwellings: 123
- Private dwellings occupied by usual residents: 111
- Population density per square kilometre: 0.1
- Land area in square kilometres: 6,751.09
- Provincial population rank: 190
- National population rank: 2,105 of 4,831
Kananaskis Improvement District
- 2021 population: 156
- 2016 population: 221
- Percentage change: -29.4 per cent
- Private dwellings: 152
- Private dwellings occupied by usual residents: 60
- Population density per square kilometre: 0.0
- Land area in square kilometres: 4,203.24
- Provincial population rank: 338
- National population rank: 4,028 of 4,831
- Specific information on the Stoney Nakoda First Nation and 142, 142b, 143, 144 wasn’t yet available.