Winnipeg may be inching closer to having a million citizens, but it’s Niverville and West St. Paul that have won the popularity contest.
The bedroom communities are two of the fastest-growing areas in the country, figures from the 2021 census show.
Statistics Canada recorded 749,607 Winnipeggers in the 2021 census, up 6.3 per cent from 705,244 in the 2016 census.
Manitoba has grown by five per cent to 1.342 million, the largest percentage increase of the three Prairie provinces. The figures also show it is the first time since the 1940s that the population of the Maritime provinces has grown faster than that of the Prairie provinces.
Jeremy Davis, spokesman for Mayor Brian Bowman, said Winnipeg’s percentage growth was not only 21 per cent faster than the Canadian average of 5.2 per cent, but also outpaced the growth of Calgary, Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto.
"While the pandemic has certainly had an impact on the growth of cities across Canada, the fact is that Winnipeg continues to grow," said Davis on Wednesday.
"Mayor Bowman’s vision of growing to a million people is about making the decisions for a population of that size now instead of waiting until it’s too late. Thanks to the decisions made by this city council, Winnipeg will be in a better position when it reaches a million people."
Loren Remillard, president and CEO of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, was buoyed by the news.
"This is a good day for Winnipeg," said Remillard. "Approaching one million people is a threshold. Psychologically it has an impact in thinking we are a strong community.
"When you get to a million, companies looking at investing in new markets look closer at us. It really helps the case for Winnipeg," he said.
Remillard said population growth is good even when it is in other areas of the province.
"Too many eggs in one basket may sound attractive, but there can be problems," he said.
"It all still benefits Winnipeg. Niverville residents in the capital region still come in to Winnipeg for shopping, for sporting events, for dining."
Niverville was the fifth fastest-growing community across the country while West St. Paul was the 10th.
"I didn’t expect this at all," said Niverville Mayor Myron Dyck.
Population in the town just south of Winnipeg exploded by 29 per cent to 5,947 in 2021 from 4,610 five years earlier.
"I’m happy to be faced with this. There are opportunities for growth here. Yes, most of the people coming to the community are residents of Winnipeg and, when I ask them why Niverville, what we hear is they want rural living, the perception of more space, and the perception of a safer environment to raise a family," Dyck said.
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"We’ve now had three censuses of strong growth. Next time, we’ll be very close to being Manitoba’s next city."
West St. Paul Mayor Cheryl Christian said her community is proud to have its population grow by 24.5 per cent, to 6,682 in 2021 from 5,386 five years earlier.
"We are 11 kilometres from downtown Winnipeg," said Christian.
"Our services are due to great planning. We have well-planned development. And we have great relationships and partnerships with area municipalities and Winnipeg.
"Our residents want to be out here, we are a welcoming community… I predict when the next census comes out we will be No. 1 in Manitoba," she said.
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From 2016 to 2021, the population growth rate of the Winnipeg census metropolitan area was 6.6 per cent, while the population growth rate of downtown was 3.9 per cent.
Winnipeg’s downtown is the eighth most dense in the country, with 6,102 people per square kilometre. The national average is 5,385, with Vancouver at 18,837 and Toronto at 16,608 leading the nation. In last place is Lethbridge, Alta., at 1,412.
Not all Manitoba municipalities experienced growth. Thompson’s population dropped by 4.7 per cent, while Rhineland, south of Winnipeg, had a 2.1 per cent reduction, St. Andrews 1.6 per cent, the RM of Portage la Prairie 1.2 per cent, and the city of Portage la Prairie was 0.3 per cent.
Almost three in four Canadians, or 73.7 per cent, live in one of Canada’s large urban centres of 100,000 or more people, up from 73.2 per cent in the 2016 census.
More than nine in 10 immigrants decided to live in one of the country’s large urban centres.