Human Activity and the Environment
The changing landscape of Canadian metropolitan areas

Release date: March 22, 2016 Updated: June 28, 2016


  • The total extent of built-up areas of Canadian census metropolitan areas (CMAs) was 14,546 square kilometres (km2) in 2011, up 157% from 5,651 km2 in 1971.
  • In 2011, the CMA of Toronto had the largest built-up area, with 2,184 km2 of roads and settled areas. Other large CMAs included Montréal, ranked second with 1,571 km2, Edmonton with 1,094 km2, Vancouver with 995 km2, Calgary with 700 km2 and Ottawa–Gatineau (Ont.)Note 1 with 635 km2 of built-up area.
  • The largest increases in built-up area from 1971 to 2011 were in Toronto (+1,189 km2), Montréal (+816 km2), Edmonton (+752 km2), Vancouver (+503 km2), Calgary (+427 km2) and Ottawa–Gatineau (Ont.) (+417 km2). Among these CMAs, the highest growth rates occurred in Edmonton (+220%) and Ottawa–Gatineau (Ont.) (+191%).
  • Mid-sized and smaller CMAs also experienced considerable expansion of built-up area—for example, Halifax (+319 km2), Québec (+292 km2), Ottawa–Gatineau (Que.) (+261 km2) and London (+247 km2). Among them, Ottawa–Gatineau (Que.) had the highest growth rate, with built-up area increasing 391% from 1971 to 2011.
  • In 2011, population density was highest in Toronto (3,368 persons/km2), Montréal (3,356 persons/km2), Vancouver (3,100 persons/km2) and Calgary (2,685 persons/km2)—an indicator that these CMAs had more compact forms of development. In 2011, dwelling density was highest in Montréal (1,490 dwellings/km2), Vancouver (1,273 dwellings/km2) and Toronto (1,255 dwellings/km2).
  • From 1971 to 2011, the average CMA population density dropped from approximately 3,460 persons/km2 to close to 2,250 persons/km2, although it increased from 2001 to 2011.Note 2 Average dwelling density also decreased, but to a lesser extent, falling from approximately 1,020 dwellings/km2 in 1971 to 930 dwellings/km2 in 2011.
  • From 2001 to 2011, population density increased most in Toronto (+411 persons/km2 or +14%), Vancouver (+327 persons/km2 or +12%), Calgary (+290 persons/km2 or +12%), Barrie (+258 persons/km2 or +19%), Oshawa (+237 persons/km2 or +13%) and Edmonton (+226 persons/km2 or +16%).
  • From 2001 to 2011, dwelling density increased most in Toronto (+200 dwellings/km2 or +19%), Vancouver (+176 dwellings/km2 or +16%), Calgary (+151 dwellings/km2 or +16%), Barrie (+121 dwellings/km2 or +23%), Edmonton (+121 dwellings/km2 or +21%), Oshawa (+120 dwellings/km2 or +18%) and Victoria (120 dwellings/km2 or +14%).
  • Comparing all census metropolitan area-ecosystems (CMA-Es), the amount of arable land—cropland, tame or seeded pasture and summerfallow—decreased most in Toronto (-1,063 km2), Regina (-975 km2), Saskatoon (-909 km2), Winnipeg (-615 km2), Ottawa–Gatineau (Ont.) (-584 km2) and Edmonton (-564 km2) between 1971 and 2011. The largest rates of change occurred in Kelowna (-52%), Greater Sudbury (-30%), Moncton (-29%) and Ottawa–Gatineau (Que.) (-27%).
  • CMA-Es with the largest increases in settled area on arable land include those in the Golden Horseshoe—for example, Toronto CMA-E with 961 km2—as well as Montréal (+448 km2), Edmonton (+402 km2), Ottawa–Gatineau (Ont.) (+295 km2), London (+256 km2) and Calgary (+214 km2). CMA-Es with the highest proportion of settled area expansion occurring on arable land were located mainly in southern Ontario and the Prairies. The majority of the growth in settled area in Windsor (85% or +134 km2), London (73% or +256 km2), Hamilton (72% or +487 km2), Edmonton (70% or +402 km2) and Saskatoon (69% or +108 km2) occurred on land that had, in 1971, been classed as arable land.
  • For many CMA-Es in southern Ontario, settled area expansion occurred largely on the highest quality farmland, also known as dependable agricultural land. In Toronto, London, St. Catharines–Niagara and Windsor, 85% of the land converted to settled area from 1971 to 2011 was on Class 1 to 3 agricultural land, accounting for 9% of the stock of dependable agricultural land in these CMA-Es.
  • CMA-Es with higher proportions of arable land, generally located in the Prairies and southern Ontario, had lower proportions of natural and semi-natural land,Note 3 while the opposite pattern occurred in other areas.
  • Most natural and semi-natural land in CMA-Es was categorized as forest in 2011. CMA-Es where forest accounted for the largest share of natural and semi-natural land include Victoria (94%), Ottawa–Gatineau (Que.) (85%), Québec (82%) and Vancouver (81%).
  • CMA-Es with the largest increases in settled area on natural and semi-natural land from 1971 to 2011 include Montréal (+462 km2), Toronto (+448 km2), Halifax (+297 km2) and Vancouver (+296 km2). Most natural and semi-natural land lost to settled area was forest or natural land for pasture.

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