Calgary·Census 2021

Here are the fastest growing and shrinking communities in Alberta

The 2021 Canadian census has revealed some widespread trends across the country, and Alberta is no exception.

The 2021 census tells the story of a changing province and shifting growth

Smaller cities on the periphery of Edmonton and Calgary showed the strongest population growth between the 2016 and 2021 censuses. (Rob Easton / CBC)

The 2021 Canadian census has revealed some widespread trends across the country, and Alberta is no exception.

As people fled urban centres during the pandemic for more space and the quieter life, smaller centres on the outskirts of big cities or even far-flung resort towns have reaped the benefits of increased citizens and a greater tax base.

Canmore, Alta., was among a handful of what Statistics Canada called "tourist destinations or resort cities" that topped the list of fastest growing communities over the past five years.

But Canmore made that top-five list because it is big enough to be considered a separate town and not part of a larger census metropolitan area (CMA).

Alberta has four CMAs — urban areas of more than 100,000 inhabitants. They are Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge and now, with this most recent census, Red Deer, which surpassed 100,000 in population in 2016.

Then there are 14 cities like Canmore called census agglomerations (CA), which are communities not part of a CMA that are between 10,000 and 100,000 people.

Here is a chart showing the population change in Alberta's CMA and CAs, where Canmore is on top.

But measuring only those communities can prevent you from seeing other trends. For example, four cities within metropolitan Edmonton and Calgary had higher growth than Canmore. 

When you separate out cities, towns, villages, counties and First Nations reserves into what Statistics Canada calls "subdivisions," Edmonton and Calgary on their own, without their surrounding communities, didn't even crack the top 10 in growth.

The growth pattern on the peripheries of both Edmonton and Calgary becomes even more evident when you map the data.

Most of Edmonton's centre is coloured red or white with a ring of blue around its edges, showing negative or minimal growth in the middle with strong population growth close to city limits. Further afield, Fort Saskatchewan, St. Albert, Spruce Grove, Stony Plain and Beaumont are also mostly coloured blue.

The story in Calgary is very similar. Cochrane, Airdrie, Crossfield and Chestermere are all mostly blue with some neighbourhoods at the extreme north and south of Calgary going from dozens to hundreds of community members.

Then there is the opposite end of the scale — some communities did lose population or barely grew at all. Here are the 10 communities that shrank the most.

When you look at communities smaller than 10,000 people, the changes can show very dramatic growth numbers, with population numbers going from dozens to hundreds. Two sparsely populated places in the province had a 100 per cent drop in population. That is, no one is registered as a permanent resident there anymore.

If you would like to see how your community changed, browse the table or map below, which contain every census subdivision in Alberta.


  • An earlier version of this story said Alberta had three CMAs, neglecting Red Deer.
    Feb 11, 2022 9:52 AM MT