Fort St. John

Northern B.C. had some of the highest household incomes in 2015. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

British Columbia is known for being one of the most expensive places to live in Canada, but household incomes in the province were below the national average, according to newly released Census figures.

Median household income in B.C. — meaning half of households made more and half made less — was $69,995 in 2015, Statistics Canada figures show. 

This compares with $70,336 in Canada, $74,287 in Ontario and $93,835 in Alberta the same year.

B.C. also had higher rates of low-income households and children living in low-income households than was the case nationally.

The Vancouver Metropolitan Area, which includes most of Metro Vancouver, ranked 15th in the country in terms of median household income in 2015, at $72,662. This was just behind Abbotsford-Mission.

Calgary and Edmonton topped the country at $99,583 and $94,447 respectively.

Household income growth in B.C. kept pace with country  

Household income in B.C. grew by 12.2 per cent between 2005 and 2015. This was slightly higher than the national rate and placed B.C. in the middle of the pack relative to other provinces, ahead of Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes but well behind Alberta, Saskatchewan and the territories.

In Metro Vancouver, the Census also revealed sharp income differences from one neighbourhood to another.

The province was home to Canada's poorest urban community, Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, with a median household income of $17,051 in 2015. B.C.'s richest neighbourhood, at $145,481, was in West Vancouver. 

Map shows median household income by census tract in 2015. Click on an area for details.

Northern B.C. saw highest incomes in 2015

Five of the 10 B.C. municipalities with the highest household incomes in 2015 were in northern B.C., four of them in northeastern B.C.'s Peace region.

Northern B.C. was also home to many of the communities that recorded the largest growth in household income between 2005 and 2015. The Peace region, Dawson Creek and Fort St. John all saw increases in household income of 30 to 35 per cent between 2005 and 2015.

However, the data was collected by Statistics Canada in 2015, before the economy responded to the impact of the sharp decline in oil prices.

Brad Sperling, a director of Electoral Area C for Peace River Regional District said he was surprised to see his municipality at the top of the household income list.

"We're industry-based ... so I can see where the income would be high. It's in the oil and gas industry," Sperling said.

"It can be here today and gone tomorrow."

Starting in 2015, there was a two-year slowdown in the region due to a decline in energy prices, so data from that year does not paint an accurate picture of the area today, he said. 

Things are starting to pick up again now, Sperling said, adding that to him, the most important metric is unemployment. 

The cities with the lowest median incomes, meanwhile, were scattered throughout the province. 

At the top of that list was Electoral Area A, which includes a vast swath of territory above Metro Vancouver' North Shore and Coquitlam as well as the University of British Columbia. Median household income in the university area was just $46,322, which is likely reflective of the large number of students living in that district.

There were three B.C. communities where median household income dropped between 2005 and 2015: Quesnel, Port Alberni and West Vancouver. Port Alberni and Quesnel were among the lowest-income communities in B.C., while West Vancouver was one of the richest.

With files from Andrew Kurjata