Anyone returning to Blackfalds after a five-year absence would probably be struck by the people — or at least their numbers.
The community’s population ballooned by more than a third between 2006 and 2011 — from 4,618 to 6,300 — according to the results of Canada’s 2011 census, which were released on Wednesday.
It was one of three Central Alberta towns to grow by more than 20 per cent since the previous census in 2006.
Penhold’s population jumped by 20.5 per cent, to 2,375 from 1,971; while Sylvan Lake posted a 20.3 per cent increase, to 12,327 from 10,250. The 2006 populations for all three towns were adjusted to reflect subsequent land annexations.
The City of Red Deer, which also recently annexed land, had 90,564 people last year. That marked an 8.9 per cent increase from the 83,154 people reported to be living in the city in 2006.
For the province as a whole, the census indicated a 10.8 per cent population increase — to more than 3.6 million from just under 3.3 million.
That dramatically outpaced the five-year growth rate of 5.9 per cent for the entire country, which went to 33.5 million from 31.6 million.
The population of Western Canada has now surpassed the human tally east of Ontario, with 30.7 per cent of Canadians living west Ontario and 30.6 per cent residing in Quebec and the Maritimes. Ontario accounts for 38.4 per cent.
Canada’s growth rate is the highest among the G8 countries.
Statistics Canada said the West has proven attractive to newcomers, but also has a higher fertility rate and is attracting people from other parts of the country.
The recession accelerated this migration.
“It does create its own momentum,” said Don McIver, director of research at the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies.
While energy prices have been key to luring job-seekers west, the shift in the global economy from Europe and the U.S. to Asia has also boosted the importance of West Coast trade connections, said Roger Gibbins, president of the Canada West Foundation.
“All economic eyes in the past were very much on how well Toronto was doing,” said Gibbins. “That’s changing. . . . Toronto is a second thought.”
Another population trend illustrated by the 2011 census is the shift of people to big cities from small towns and rural areas.
“Seven in 10 Canadians live in these large metropolitan areas, and that’s increasing in each census,” said Jane Badets, director general of social and demographic statistics with Statistics Canada.
Of the 31 urban and rural municipalities in Central Alberta, fewer than half grew faster than the Canadian average. Only eight exceeded the provincial average and seven experienced a decline in numbers between 2006 and 2011.
Statistics Canada’s 2011 population count, which reflects the numbers as of May, was the first of several categories of census information to be released by Oct. 24.
With files from The Canadian Press.