A Quick Guide to Canadian Census Geographies

Purpose

The purpose of this guide is to give a quick reference on census geographies for students new to working with census data. This can be a daunting task with many new terms. Hopefully this guide will help. The data and examples are from the 2006 Census. The general concepts apply too all Canadian census data with some modifications to census tract and other boundries for each census year. Comments and suggestions are welcome. Most of the information comes from various Statistics Canada pages starting here. I’ve simply done the job of compiling and simplifying.

Levels of Census Geography

This section does not include all levels of census geography but gives a decent overview of the most common. Figure 1 provides a visual guide to the relationships between difference levels of geography. They important thing is to know which geographies are embedded. For example it is important to know that dissemination areas, census tracts and census metropolitain areas are all imbedded. This allows analysis to be conducted at all of those levels and comparisons to be made with relative ease. On the other hand census tracts are not embedded in census subdivisions which makes analysis and comparisons between these levels of geography very difficult.

Figure 1. Levels and relationships between different census geography

Naming Conventions for Census Geography Variables

Name in datasets Definition
PRUID Uniquely identifies a province or territory
PRNAME Province or territory name
CDUID Uniquely identifies a census division (composed of the 2-digit province/territory unique identifier followed by the 2-digit census division code)
CDNAME Census division name
CDTYPE Census division type
ERUID Uniquely identifies an economic region (composed of the 2-digit province/territory unique identifier followed by the 2-digit economic region code)
ERNAME Economic region name
CCSUID Uniquely identifies a census consolidated subdivision (composed of the 2-digit province/territory unique identifier followed by the 2- digit census division code and the 3-digit census consolidated subdivision code)
CCSNAME Census consolidated subdivision name
CSDUID Uniquely identifies a census subdivision (composed of the 2-digit province/territory unique identifier followed by the 2-digit census division code and the 3-digit census subdivision code)
CSDNAME Census subdivision name
CSDTYPE Census subdivisions are classified according to designations adopted by provincial/territorial or federal authorities
CMAUID Uniquely identifies a census metropolitan area/census agglomeration
CMANAME Census metropolitan area or census agglomeration name
CMATYPE A one-character field identifying whether the unit is a census metropolitan area, a tracted census agglomeration or a non-tracted census agglomeration
CMAPUID Uniquely identifies the provincial/territorial part of a census metropolitan area/census agglomeration (composed of the 2-digit province/territory unique identifier followed by the 3-digit census metropolitan area/census agglomeration unique identifier)
SACTYPE The Statistical Area Classification groups census subdivisions according to whether they are a component of a census metropolitan area, a census agglomeration, a census metropolitan influenced zone or the territories
SACCODE The 3-digit Statistical Area Classification code
CTUID Uniquely identifies a census tract within a census metropolitan area/census agglomeration (composed of the 3-digit census metropolitan area/census agglomeration unique identifier followed by the 7.2-character census tract name)
CTNAME Every census tract is assigned a 7.2-character numeric ‘name’ (including leading zeros, a decimal point and trailing zeros)
DAUID Uniquely identifies a dissemination area (composed of the 2-digit province/territory unique identifier followed by the 2-digit census division code and the 4-digit dissemination area code)

Definitions of Census Geographies

Province or territory

  • Plain language definition: Portion of Canada’s land area governed by a political authority. Canada is divided into 10 provinces and three territories.
  • Detailed definition: ‘Province’ and ‘territory’ refer to the major political units of Canada. From a statistical point of view, province and territory are basic areas for which data are tabulated. Canada is divided into 10 provinces and three territories.
  • More information about provinces and territories

Figure 2. Image of provincial and territorial boundries

Data is available here.

Census agricultural region (CAR)

  • Plain language definition: Not applicable
  • Detailed definition: Census agricultural regions (CARs) are composed of groups of adjacent census divisions. In Saskatchewan, census agricultural regions are made up of groups of adjacent census consolidated subdivisions, but these groups do not necessarily respect census division boundaries.
  • More information about census agricultural regions

Figure 3. Image of census agricultural region boundries

Data is available here.

Economic region (ER)

  • Plain language definition: Not applicable
  • Detailed definition: An economic region (ER) is a grouping of complete census divisions(CDs) (with one exception in Ontario) created as a standard geographic unit for analysis of regional economic activity.
  • More information about economic regions

Figure 4. Image of economic region boundries

Data is available here.

Federal electoral district (FED)

  • Plain language definition: Area represented by a Member of Parliament (MP) elected to the House of Commons.
  • Detailed definition: A federal electoral district is an area represented by a member of the House of Commons. The federal electoral district boundaries used for the 2006 Census are based on the 2003 Representation Order.
  • More information about federal electoral districts

Figure 5. Image of federal electoral district boundries

Data is available here.

Census metropolitan area (CMA) and census agglomeration (CA)

  • Plain language definition: Area consisting of one or more neighbouring municipalities situated around a major urban core. A census metropolitan area must have a total population of at least 100,000 of which 50,000 or more live in the urban core. A census agglomeration must have an urban core population of at least 10,000.
  • Detailed definition: A census metropolitan area (CMA) or a census agglomeration (CA) is formed by one or more adjacent municipalities centred on a large urban area (known as the urban core). A CMA must have a total population of at least 100,000 of which 50,000 or more must live in the urban core. A CA must have an urban core population of at least 10,000. To be included in the CMA or CA, other adjacent municipalities must have a high degree of integration with the central urban area, as measured by commuting flows derived from census place of work data.
    If the population of the urban core of a CA declines below 10,000, the CA is retired. However, once an area becomes a CMA, it is retained as a CMA even if its total population declines below 100,000 or the population of its urban core falls below 50,000. The urban areas in the CMA or CA that are not contiguous to the urban core are called the urban fringe. Rural areas in the CMA or CA are called the rural fringe.
    When a CA has an urban core of at least 50,000, it is subdivided into census tracts. Census tracts are maintained for the CA even if the population of the urban core subsequently falls below 50,000. All CMAs are subdivided into census tracts.
  • More information about Census metropolitan area (CMA) and census agglomeration (CA)

Figure 6. Image of Census metropolitan area (CMA) and census agglomeration (CA) boundries

Data is available here.

Census consolidated subdivision (CCS)

  • Plain language definition: Not applicable
  • Detailed definition: A census consolidated subdivision (CCS) is a group of adjacent census subdivisions. Generally, the smaller, more urban census subdivisions (towns, villages, etc.) are combined with the surrounding, larger, more rural census subdivision, in order to create a geographic level between the census subdivision and the census division.
  • More information about Census consolidated subdivision (CCS)

Figure 7. Image of census consolidated subdivision (CCS) boundries

Data is available here.

Census division (CD)

  • Plain language definition: Group of neighbouring municipalities joined together for the purposes of regional planning and managing common services (such as police or ambulance services). These groupings are established under laws in effect in certain provinces of Canada. For example, a census division might correspond to a county, to a municipalité régionale de comté or a regional district. In other provinces and the territories where laws do not provide for such areas, Statistics Canada defines equivalent areas for statistical reporting purposes in cooperation with these provinces and territories.
  • Detailed definition: Census division (CD) is the general term for provincially legislated areas (such as county, municipalité régionale de comté and regional district) or their equivalents. Census divisions are intermediate geographic areas between the province/territory level and the municipality (census subdivision).
  • More information about Census division (CD)

Figure 8. Image of census division boundries (CD)

Data is available here.

Census subdivision (CSD)

  • Plain language definition: Area that is a municipality or an area that is deemed to be equivalent to a municipality for statistical reporting purposes (e.g., as an Indian reserve or an unorganized territory). Municipal status is defined by laws in effect in each province and territory in Canada.
  • Detailed definition: Census subdivision (CSD) is the general term for municipalities (as determined by provincial/territorial legislation) or areas treated as municipal equivalents for statistical purposes (e.g., Indian reserves, Indian settlements and unorganized territories).
  • More information about Census subdivision (CSD)

Figure 9. Image of census subdivision (CSD) boundries

Data is available here.

Census tract (CT)

  • Plain language definition: Area that is small and relatively stable. Census tracts usually have a population of 2,500 to 8,000. They are located in large urban centres that must have an urban core population of 50,000 or more.
  • Detailed definition: Census tracts (CTs) are small, relatively stable geographic areas that usually have a population of 2,500 to 8,000. They are located in census metropolitan areas and in census agglomerations with an urban core population of 50,000 or more in the previous census.
    A committee of local specialists (for example, planners, health and social workers, and educators) initially delineates census tracts in conjunction with Statistics Canada. Once a census metropolitan area (CMA) or census agglomeration (CA) has been subdivided into census tracts, the census tracts are maintained even if the urban core population subsequently declines below 50,000.
  • More information about Census tract (CT)

Figure 10. Image of census tracts (CT) boundries

Data is available here.

Dissemination area (DA)

  • Plain language definition: Small area composed of one or more neighbouring dissemination blocks, with a population of 400 to 700 persons. All of Canada is divided into dissemination areas.
  • Detailed definition: A dissemination area (DA) is a small, relatively stable geographic unit composed of one or more adjacent dissemination blocks. It is the smallest standard geographic area for which all census data are disseminated. DAs cover all the territory of Canada.
  • More information about Dissemination area (DA)

Figure 11. Image of dissemination area (DA) boundries

Data is available here.

Dissemination block (DB)

  • Plain language definition: Area equivalent to a city block bounded by intersecting streets. These areas cover all of Canada.
  • Detailed definition: A dissemination block (DB) is an area bounded on all sides by roads and/or boundaries of standard geographic areas. The dissemination block is the smallest geographic area for which population and dwelling counts are disseminated. Dissemination blocks cover all the territory of Canada.
  • More information about Dissemination block (DB)

Figure 12. Image of dissemination block (DB) boundries

Data is available here.

Postal Codes

Structure of the postal code

The form of the postal code is ‘ANA NAN’, where A is an alphabetic character and N is a numeric character. The first character of a postal code represents a province or territory, or a major sector entirely within a province (Table 1).

Table 1. First character of the postal code and corresponding province, territory or region.

First character of postal code Province, territory or region
A Newfoundland and Labrador
B Nova Scotia
C Prince Edward Island
E New Brunswick
G Eastern Québec
H Metropolitan Montréal
J Western Québec
K Eastern Ontario
L Central Ontario
M Metropolitan Toronto
N Southwestern Ontario
P Northern Ontario
R Manitoba
S Saskatchewan
T Alberta
V British Columbia
X Northwest Territories and Nunavut
Y Yukon Territory

Note: The regions used in this table are defined by Canada Post Corporation.
Source: Statistics Canada, 2006 Census of Population.

The first three characters of the postal code identify the forward sortation area (FSA). FSAs are associated with a postal facility from which mail delivery originates. The average number of households served by an FSA is approximately 8,000, but the number can range from zero to more than 60,000 households. This wide range of households can occur because some FSAs may serve only businesses (zero households) and some FSAs serve very large geographic areas.

Each postal code is associated with one or more mail delivery points. The average number of households served by a postal code is approximately 19, but the number can range from zero to 10,000 households. This wide range of households occurs because some postal codes may serve only businesses (zero households) and some postal codes serve large geographic areas.

Postal codes captured from census questionnaires

The postal code is captured for all households from the address information provided by the respondent on the front page of the census questionnaire on May 16, 2006. The respondent’s postal code is accepted whether or not it is the same as the postal code assigned by Canada Post Corporation to that address. The postal code of a household is validated and processed using the following criteria:

  • The respondent’s postal code is validated against a reference file at the census subdivision level. Priority is always given to accepting the postal code that is most likely to have been active and in use on Census Day. However, postal codes that may have been retired by Canada Post Corporation within the last six months but continue to be used may be accepted in some cases.
  • In cases where a postal code is not provided or where the postal code is not valid, an imputation process assigns a valid postal code.
    The postal code provided by respondents may not be the same as the postal code of the dwelling in which they live. For example, they may denote the postal code of their mailing address, such as a post office location (as in the case of general delivery) or a business location. Consequently, some respondents’ postal codes may fall outside the FSA in which their dwelling is located.
  • Users should proceed with caution if postal codes are used as a proxy for standard geographic areas. Postal codes do not necessarily respect the boundaries of standard geographic areas (e.g., the same postal code can fall in two or more census subdivisions).

File naming convention

Spatial product file names follow a file naming convention. The geographic area and code, file type, geographic reference date, software type and language are embedded within the file name. Standardizing the names of the files facilitates the storage of compressed files, all having the extension .zip.

Each file name is 13 characters in length. All alphabetic characters are in lower case to maintain consistency.

Example: gct_000a06a_e.zip

  1. First character: projection of file

    • g projection is Geographic (latitude/longitude)
  2. Next three characters: primary geographic level of file

    • pr_ province/territory
    • fed federal electoral district
    • er_ economic region
    • cd_ census division
    • csd census subdivision
    • ccs census consolidated subdivision
    • cma census metropolitan area/census agglomeration ct_ census tract
    • da_ dissemination area
    • db_ dissemination block
    • hy_ supporting hydrography (Great Lakes, St. Lawrence River, oceans, etc.)
    • Next three numbers: geographic code of coverage
    • 000 Canada
  3. Next character: file type

    • a digital boundary file
    • b cartographic boundary file
    • c interior lakes and rivers hydrographic reference file (polygon)
    • d interior rivers hydrographic reference file (line)
    • e ecumene
    • h hydrographic coverage of Great Lakes, St. Lawrence River and surrounding oceans
  4. Next two numbers: geographic reference date

    • The geographic reference date is a date determined by Statistics Canada for the purpose of finalizing the geographic framework for which census data are collected, tabulated and reported. For 2011 Census products, the geographic reference date is January 1, 2011.
    • 11 geographic reference date is 2011
  5. Next character: file format

    • a ArcInfo® (.shp)
    • g Geography Markup Language (.gml) m MapInfo® (.tab)
  6. Final two characters: language

    • _e English
    • _f French

Here you can create the content that will be used within the module.