London population growth rate among fastest in Canada

People are moving to the Forest City at a rate that has made London the second-fastest growing city in Canada, according to Statistics Canada estimates.

Forest city's population growth rate last year second only to Kitchener-Waterloo

The London region’s population, as of July 2019, is 545,441. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

People are moving to the Forest City at a rate that has made London the second-fastest growing city in Canada, according to recently released Statistics Canada estimates. 

The population growth rate of London and its immediate surrounding area in 2018-19 was 2.3 per cent, second in Canada only to Kitchener-Waterloo at 2.8 per cent. 

London experienced a surging growth rate of 2.3 per cent in 2018-19, well above the national average of 1.4 per cent for all census metropolitan areas. (Statistics Canada)

The population of London's census metropolitan area, which includes Strathroy and St. Thomas, is projected at 545,441 as of July 2019, making it almost a certainty that London has now pushed past half a million people.

The population figures are estimates Stats Can publishes regularly based on data extrapolated from census years. The last census year was 2016 and the next one is coming up next year. 

So what's driving the growth?

Western University sociology professor Michael Haan, who is the Canada research chair in migration and ethnic relations, says one big factor is that London is doing a better job of attracting immigrants. 

A few years ago, Haan was involved in research that flagged London was lagging as a destination for new immigrants. 

"London wasn't on the map until recently," he said. 

But that's changed due to a few factors. 

Haan said one big plus is that Fanshawe College and Western University are actively recruiting international students. In 2016-17 just under 10,000 international students came to London across all academic classes. He believes that number has continued to grow.  

"And those count in terms of the population estimates that Stats Can releases," he said. 

Also, the city in 2018 approved a newcomer strategy, with a full-time immigration specialist focused on getting newcomers to Canada to consider London as their landing spot. There's also a city website with links to information newcomers need.

"In the past, we weren't welcoming our share of newcomers, so the city rightly decided that they needed to become a little bit more proactive in attracting people," said Haan, who helped with research for the strategy. 

Adding the housing piece

Another boost for London is the recent growth of the U.S. economy. 

"When that happens, manufacturing hubs like London tend to rebound a bit," said Haan. "So it's possible that people who left during the downturn are now returning." 

Another plus for London is that despite a steady surge in real-estate prices in recent years, it still remains an affordable market for many of those who feel priced out of Toronto and other larger Canadian cities. 

He says an important component of this is that London has housing options for aging Baby Boomers who've had enough of raking leaves and shovelling snow.

"London's housing market seems to appeal to people as they exit the labour market," said Haan. "My hunch is that we're picking up some retirees from places like Toronto where people can liquidate their housing assets and move to a place like London with money in their pockets."

"A lot of the new housing types are being set up for people in their elder years," he said.