London

New census data suggests London is Ontario's fastest growing city, 4th fastest in Canada

London's population grew by 10 per cent since 2016, a rate twice the national average, making it the fastest growing city in Ontario and fourth in Canada.

Population gains driven mainly by people moving from overseas, other Ontario cities

Families enjoy a morning skate at Victoria Park in downtown London, Ont., in December. Over the last five years, the city's population grew by 10 per cent, fuelled primarily by immigration and intra-provincial migration. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Over the last five years, the population of London, Ont., grew at the fastest rate in Ontario and the fourth fastest in the country, Statistics Canada reported Wednesday, a remarkable uptick fuelled primarily by increased international migration and intra-provincial migration. 

It brings the city's population to 422,324 in 2021, up 10 per cent from 383,822 when the last census was conducted in 2016, with notable population growth of 12 per cent specifically in the city's downtown. 

Regionally, the London census metropolitan area (CMA), which consists of the city and the neighbouring areas of St. Thomas, Thames Centre, Middlesex Centre, Strathroy-Caradoc, Adelaide Metcalfe, Central Elgin and Southwold, grew to a population of 543,551 in 2021, up 10 per cent from 494,069 in 2016. 

Demographers say the growth in population is not coming from what they refer to as "natural increases," the difference of births and deaths in the population, but rather people being drawn to the city from overseas, or other cities within Ontario or Canada. 

London saw growth despite relatively low birth rate

"Our population continues to grow despite our low birth rate," said Don Kerr, a professor of demography at King's University College at Western University.

Half of all people moving to London came from overseas, while a third came from other cities in Ontario and the rest were either births or from other communities in Canada outside this province. (Colin Butler/CBC)

"Our population is aging and there's more deaths. Our birth rate has fallen to an unprecedented low in Canada and, COVID probably has something to do with that, but it's really been migration that's driving our growth."

The largest source of new people coming to London is from international migration, according to Statistics Canada.

Wednesday's numbers showed 56 per cent of the area's population growth came from overseas, while 33 per cent came from other cities within Ontario. Births and people moving from other parts of Canada outside of Ontario were responsible for seven and three per cent respectively. 

The rapid rate of growth that the London region has seen puts it within the top five fastest-growing communities in the country. That doesn't come without growing pains, according to Michael Haan, a professor of statistics at Western University. He said that pain is reflected in the city's real estate market. 

London's housing not keeping pace with population

"Housing stock has not caught up with the population inflows, so we're going to pay more for housing." 

London's population grew by 10 per cent between 2016 and 2021, while the price of an average home more than doubled over the same period. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Statistics Canada reported Wednesday that while the population of the city and the region as a whole has risen by 10 per cent, the number of private dwellings grew at a more modest rate of just less than seven per cent, from 220,452 in 2016 to 235,522 in 2021. 

Real estate prices have also risen in the same period, from $290,489 for an average home in the area in December of 2016, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association, to $707,219 for the same month in 2021. 

"We have to start building more houses," he said. "There's a gap between the housing Londoners need and the housing they have." 

Haan said the double-digit population growth over a five-year period is not how London is accustomed to thinking and while municipal officials are likely taking notice, they may want to look at communities in Alberta for examples of infrastructure solutions that were able to accommodate similarly rapid growth in that province during the hey day of the oil boom. 

"Our municipal government may need to take a look at what jurisdictions like Edmonton and Calgary, Red Deer, what they've had to do in periods when they've experienced tremendous growth." 

Big cities slow, while medium cities grow

"London is going to continue to grow. Toronto is not coming down in price," he said. "Do we want light rail transit? Hamilton is looking at that now. Maybe we need to look at that?" 

Downtown skyscrapers poke through the trees in London, Ont. in August 2020. The city's core saw a 12 per cent growth rate between 2016 and 2021, according to Statistics Canada data. (Colin Butler/CBC)

Haan said one of the trends that's emerging from the 2021 census is the growth of medium-sized cities.

The ten fastest growing communities in the country include Kelowna, Chilliwack, Nanaimo, London, Kitchener-Waterloo, Oshawa, Guelph, Halifax and Moncton; all of which are medium-sized cities. By contrast, large cities, such as Toronto and Montreal saw rates of growth below the national average, which Haan said can be partly explained by the pandemic. 

"So basically what's happening is not to say our large cities aren't growing, the pandemic certainly slowed things down and it really created an exogenous shock that led people to consider working in jurisdictions other than the big cities."

"You can really work anywhere and maybe things like backyards and outdoor parks became more important?"

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Colin Butler

Reporter

Colin Butler covers the environment, real estate, justice as well as urban and rural affairs for CBC News in London, Ont. He is a veteran journalist with 20 years' experience in print, radio and television in seven Canadian cities. You can email him at colin.butler@cbc.ca.

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