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Domestic regional trade flows in Canada: Experimental estimates from the new Surface Transportation File, 2004 to 2012

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Released: 2016-09-22

A new database has been developed to examine regional trade in goods moved by both train and truck in Canada. Historically, trade across Canada has been facilitated through networks of rails and, more recently, highways.

But while provincial trade has been measured for some time, trade at the regional level has not received the same attention. Yet, it is at this finer scale that the trade ties that bind the national economy are fully revealed.

The new database measures domestic trade in goods across 30 greater economic regions (GERs) from 2004 to 2012. There are many intricate trading relationships between these regions. Observing them is a challenge, however, because trade among 30 GERs results in some 900 potential bilateral flows.

To make these links clearer, accompanying the data released today are three interactive data visualization tools developed to explore the interconnectedness of regions in Canada. Each tool reveals a different dimension of these trading relationships.

The first tool illustrates the importance of GERs to provincial economies, revealing their trading links both within each province and between provinces through a circular "chord" diagram. For instance, shipments from Central Ontario, which includes the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area, totalled $114 billion in trade in 2012, excluding coal and goods moved by pipeline. This accounted for more than half of trade from Ontario ($163 billion), and just over a quarter of total domestic trade ($408 billion).

However, the diagram also reveals that other regions play an important role in the trading system. For example, in 2012, the Edmonton region, which is a major supplier to Northern Alberta, exported more domestically than the Atlantic provinces, or Saskatchewan and Manitoba combined.

The tool also highlights changes through time that can be best seen at the regional level. For example, from 2004 to 2012, Southwestern Ontario went from being a net domestic exporter ($19.3 billion exported and $9.9 billion imported) to a net domestic importer ($15.1 billion exported and $15.5 billion imported).

The second tool identifies some of the most important trade corridors that tie regions, provinces and the country together through trade. The regions stretching from Québec to Windsor represent the most important goods-trading corridor in Canada, accounting for $87.5 billion in trade flows in 2012 (excluding within-region trade). While east-west trading connections may be small for a given pair of regions, when "bundled" (added) together, they constitute a significant flow of goods, totalling $40.5 billion, even when certain commodities like oil and gas are excluded.

The third tool helps to reveal the pattern of exports and imports across regions. Long-distance trading relationships matter, but regions tend to trade with those that are closer. For instance, the most important exporting partner for Halifax–Southern–Annapolis Valley is Cape Breton–North Shore, with $827 million in exports. The same holds true for Interior British Columbia, with $1.6 billion in exports to the Lower Mainland–Lower Coast–Vancouver Island.

  Note to readers

The development of these data and visualization tools was supported by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada.

Inter-regional trade is measured using a three-year moving average within and across 30 greater economic regions, which are aggregated from a set of 73 provincial economic regions.

Flows exclude commodities that are primarily moved by pipeline (conventional and synthetic crude oil, natural gas, natural gas liquids and related products, and crude and diluted bitumen) and, to preserve the confidentiality of the input-output tables, coal products.


These tools are available in the infographic "Visualizing domestic regional trade flows in Canada," which is part of Statistics Canada – Infographics (Catalogue number11-627-M), available from the Browse by key resource module of our website, under Publications.

Contact information

For more information, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300;

A detailed description of the methodology used to produce these estimates is available upon request. For a copy of the Surface Transportation File User's Guide, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Mark Brown (613-951-7292;, Economic Analysis Division.

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