Calgary had the highest growth rate of any metropolitan area in Canada over the past five years, despite being in the throes of an economic downturn, according to the latest census data.

It has surpassed Ottawa-Gatineau to become the fourth largest metropolitan area in the country, according to 2016 census data released Wednesday by Statistics Canada.

Calgary's metropolitan area has reached 1.4 million people, while Ottawa-Gatineau stands at 1.3 million.

The agency says the first batch of numbers from the census shows Calgary increased by 14.6 per cent since the last census in 2011, far surpassing the national growth rate of 5.0 per cent.

Calgary was also the fastest growing city in the 2011 census.

Calgary Chamber of Commerce spokesperson Scott Crockatt says the new numbers should help promote the city as a place to do business.

"We're a world city and we really continue to grow and I think that that shows people there is excitement here," he said.

"Businesses that are looking for a place to grow or relocate or invest — a growing community is the kind of place you want to be in. More people, more customers, more energy."

Among provinces, Alberta had the highest growth rate at 11.6 per cent, followed by the two other Prairie provinces. It was also the fastest-growing province in the 2006 and 2011 censuses.

Census metropolitan areas do not conform to established municipal boundaries. Statistics Canada defines them as a metropolitan area with a population of at least 100,000, where the urban core of that area has at least 50,000 people. Commuting patterns and other factors are used in determining these census metropolitan areas.

Looking at metropolitan areas this way takes in to account the growing impact of suburban areas on Canada's largest cities, Statistics Canada says. 

When the 2016 census was taken last May 10, the population of the census metropolitan area of Calgary was 1,392,609, compared with 1,214,839 from the 2011 census. The population of the actual city of Calgary was 1,239,220, up from from 1,096,833 in 2011.

The census indicated that Calgary's metropolitan area (CMA) — which includes Airdrie, Cochrane, Beiseker, Chestermere, and Bragg Creek but does not stretch as far south as Okotoks — ranked No. 4 among the country's 35 census metropolitan areas.

Several communities on the outer edge of Calgary's CMA reported dramatic population growth since 2011, including Cochrane, which grew by 47.1 per cent, Airdrie, which grew by 42.3 per cent and Chestermere, which grew by 34.2 per cent.

Here is a breakdown of census population information for the Calgary region and other surrounding communities:

Calgary and surrounding communities
Community 2016 2011 % change
Metropolitan Calgary  1,392,609       1,214,839       14.6
City of Calgary  1,239,220 1,096,833 13.0
Airdrie 61,581 43,271 42.3
Chestermere 19,887 14,824 34.2
Cochrane  25,853 17,580 47.1
Okotoks  28,881 24,511 17.8
Black Diamond 2,700 2,373 13.8
Turner Valley  2,559 2,167 18.1
High River  13,854 12,930 5.1
Banff  7,851 7,584 3.5
Canmore  13,992 12,288 13.9
Carstairs  4,077 3,442 18.4
Didsbury  5,268 4,957 6.3
Strathmore  13,756 12,305 11.8
Beiseker  819 785 4.3
Crossfield 2,983 2,853 4.6
Irricana 1,216 1,162 4.6
calgary metro area stats can

The Statistics Canada census metropolitan area for Calgary includes Airdrie, Cochrane, Beiseker, Chestermere, and Bragg Creek but does not stretch as far south as Okotoks. (Statistics Canada)

Canada's population tops 35 million 

Canada's population on census day was 35,151,728, Statistics Canada reported.

The national census is conducted every five years. The information published Wednesday is the first of several releases of data to come from Statistics Canada over the next year that will eventually paint a detailed picture of the country, right down to the local level — including age breakdowns of the population, family makeup, languages spoken, immigration and ethnic origin, the level of education attained and income earned.

Future census releases will give more insight to explain the reasons behind the population changes — whether it's related mostly to changes in birth and death rates, immigration or interprovincial migration.

At the provincial level, population levels in Alberta saw the highest increase at 11.6 per cent, followed by Saskatchewan (6.3 per cent) and Manitoba (5.8 per cent).

Growth in New Brunswick shrank by 0.5 per cent — the first time since 2006 a province has reported a negative growth rate.

British Columbia's population levels increased by 5.6 per cent, compared with Ontario (4.6 per cent), Quebec (3.3 per cent), Prince Edward Island (1.9 per cent), Newfoundland and Labrador (1.0 per cent) and Nova Scotia (0.2 per cent). Among the northern territories, the population grew by 12.7 per cent in the Northwest Territories, 5.8 per cent in the Nunavut and 0.8 per cent in Yukon.

Ontario is still the country's most populous province, with a population of 13,448,494.

The population of other provinces and territories:

  • Quebec: 8,164,361.
  • British Columbia: 4,648,055.
  • Alberta: 4,067,175.
  • Manitoba: 1,278,365.
  • Saskatchewan: 1,098,352.
  • Nova Scotia: 923,598.
  • New Brunswick:  747,101.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: 519,716.
  • Prince Edward Island: 142,907.
  • Northwest Territories: 41,786.
  • Nunavut, 35,944 and Yukon: 35,874.