By Steve Hubrecht
The first public release of data from Canada’s most recent national census took place last week, outlining demographic trends across the country.
Here in the Columbia Valley, the 2021 census shows population is up — in fact up — in the valley’s three incorporated municipalities and its two regional rural electoral districts.
Data from 2021 shows the Valley’s overall population has increased by 23.4%, with the area now home to 11,700 people, up from nearly 9,500 at the 2016 census.
Of course, since the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic hit Canada in early 2020, anecdotal stories have abounded of people leaving major urban centers and flocking to rural areas, given that many can now work in distance and that rural areas, in the minds of many people, provide a pleasant respite and far more space than urban areas during a pandemic. So, is the population growth here different from what it is everywhere else in Canada? In short: yes, very different.
The average Canadian population growth from 2016 to 2021 was 5.2%, and the provincial average for British Columbia was 7.6%. At 23.4%, the growth in the Columbia Valley is literally more than four times the national average and almost three times the provincial average.
The District of Invermere, the largest municipality in the valley, now has a population of 3,900, up 15.5% from 2016. The village of Radium Hot Spring has seen the most explosive growth of any municipality in the Columbia Valley, with a population that has reached a staggering 72.6%. to 1,300 inhabitants (or, in other words: in just five years, Radium has come three-quarters of the way to doubling its population). In the valley’s third incorporated municipality, the village of Canal Flats, the population jumped 20.1% to 800 people.
Growth has been equally meteoric in the regional rural electoral districts of the Columbia Valley, with Area F of the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK).
The area (which includes the unincorporated communities of Fairmont Hot Springs, Windermere, Dutch Creek and Panorama Mountain Resort, among others) saw its population jump 29.2% to 3,500 people. In Zone G of the RDEK (which includes the unincorporated municipalities of Edgewater, Brisco, Spillimacheen and Dry Gulch, among others), the population jumped 12.7% to 1,650 people.
Population numbers have also increased for the two First Nations in the valley, but not as dramatically. The Akisqnuk First Nation saw its population increase by 6.4% to 150 people. In the Shuswap Indian Band, the population increased by 1.6% to 320 people.
“I always knew it was going to go up, it was just a matter of how much. Over the last couple of years we know a lot of people have moved here. It’s been great,” said the mayor of Invermere , Al Miller. the Pioneer, adding that people’s expectations for services always seem to be increasing and that to meet these increasing expectations, a municipality needs more taxes. Adding new people to the population means more tax dollars for services, without the need to raise tax rates, Miller continued.
“The pandemic certainly played a part in that, because it changed the work culture to allow a lot more people to work remotely or work from home,” he said. “It’s good to see that the population is on the rise everywhere in our region. It’s good for the whole valley.
Radium Mayor Clara Reinhardt said the pioneer she was not surprised, even considering the meteoric increase of 72.6% in the population of her village.
“In 2016, when the last census came out, we were surprised – very surprised – to see almost no radium growth. Because, for the record, it seemed, at that time, that our village had a lot grown up. But it just didn’t show up statistically that time,” Reinhardt said. “So this time it was almost a feeling of vindication. I thought ‘Aha, I knew we were growing up, and now we have the stats to show it.”
Reinhardt noted that there has been a lot of effort over the past five or ten years in the Columbia Valley to attract and retain residents, with many consultants hired and studies done.
“So we’re starting to see the fruits of that labor,” she said.
Canal Flats administrative manager Adrian Bergles called his village’s growth “very positive”, noting that “the village has an ambitious goal of reaching a population of 1,000 by 2026, which indicates that we are going in the right direction. It’s encouraging.”
Bergles said while there were many anecdotal reports of people moving to Canal Flats since the pandemic began, he was still a little surprised at the increase in population.
“In a small community like ours, 20% – and that’s almost 200 people – makes a big difference,” he said. the Pioneer. “It indicates that some of the initiatives undertaken by the village are having an effect. People want to be part of the village. It’s good to see.
Canal Flats once had a population of 1,300 in the 1970s.
Published census data also shows the total number of dwellings in each municipality or rural electoral district, as well as the number of those dwellings occupied full-time by what the census calls “usual residents” (in other words, owners or long-term tenants). Dwellings not occupied by “usual residents” include dwellings that are used as occasional vacation homes or summer residences by secondary owners, or that are rented out as short-term rentals (STR).
Of the three municipalities in the Columbia Valley, Radium had the lowest percentage of occupied units, with only 630 of 1,360 units (46%) occupied by owners or long-term renters. In comparison, Invermere has 1,420 of 1,880 units (75%) occupied by owners or long-term tenants, while Canal Flats has 360 units of 470 (75%) occupied by owners or long-term tenants. term.
“We have one of the highest vacancy rates in the province. That’s a concern,” Reinhardt said. “Our percentage (of unoccupied units) is high compared to most other places. The only other similar places are a few other resort municipalities. It’s something we have to sort out. »