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The purpose of this paper is to introduce a new concept and methodology developed by Statistics Canada to delineate or map boundaries for Canada's settlements. This research project was funded by the Policy Research Data Group (PRDG) to meet the needs of Infrastructure Canada and other clients.

Settlements, for the purposes of this research, are defined as tracts or blocks of land where humans have altered the physical environment by constructing residential, commercial, industrial, institutional and other installations/buildings. Settlements include cities, towns, villages and other concentrations of human populations that inhabit a given area of the environment.

The purpose of the settlements research project is to provide detailed, harmonized and comparable data sets that will allow for a more complete national analysis of settlements including their physical form and growth patterns. The methodology is applied to Census of Population data sets for 2001 and 2006.

The methodology is based primarily on data available by a statistical unit called a 'dissemination block' and an associated series of standardized rules, created by rigorous statistical and spatial analysis. A database referred to as the 'Settlements Earth Observation Inventory' (SEOI) was created to provide supplementary information for each block, to assist in the development of thresholds and subsequent rules, to conduct data quality and accuracy activities and to improve estimates.

Initial results for 2006 suggested that approximately 20,000 square kilometres of Canada's land area was occupied by settlements.