Last week’s 2016 Canada Census population data has left officials in one rural Manitoba municipality wondering how they could grow so much without anyone really noticing.
The Rural Municipality of Victoria’s population rose by 395 persons — a whopping 35.3 per cent since 2011.
Reeve Harold Purkess said he’s pretty happy about it, but also wondering how to explain it.
The Municipality of Victoria is located in south-central Manitoba and encompasses the two villages of Cypress River and Holland. They’re a strictly agricultural region and haven’t directly benefited from the oil industry to the west, he said.
“I’m incredibly surprised. I couldn’t believe it when I heard the numbers,” he said. “We certainly welcome the numbers. But we’re talking nearly 400 people here. In our mind that’s a large number of people to move in when we haven’t seen a huge expansion in housing or infrastructure.”
The Geography Division for Statistics Canada confirmed last week that there was no error in the number, and no change between 2011 and 2016 to the boundaries around the Victoria Census division. It also confirmed that the municipality’s population increase from 1,119 in 2011 to 1,514 in 2016 is correct.
Purkess speculates their population growth is likely explained by the large number of young families at Oak Ridge Hutterite Colony within the RM. There have also been new people moving into Cypress and Holland to retire, or coming to live here to commute to work elsewhere, he added.
Janice Drummond, principal at Holland’s kindergarten to Grade 8 school, said the school has seen steady growth in its school population.
“At one point we were below 60 kids in our school, probably five years ago or more. This year we have 83,” she said.
Drummond said she’s noted new students from new families in her classrooms too. There was a time when teachers in rural areas expected to see the same students right through K to Grade 8, but that’s not the case anymore. Rural populations have become more transient, she said.
“Now there’s definitely people moving in and out of small towns on a much more regular basis,” she said.
Increases and decreases
The 2016 census paints a mixed picture of rural population growth in some locales and decline elsewhere in Manitoba.
Other parts of Manitoba with growing populations include Niverville which has had a 30 per cent growth rate, and Neepawa with a 27 per cent increase. Niverville’s proximity to Winnipeg serves that community well, while Neepawa is growing from immigration and job creation at HyLife Foods processing plant.
Municipalities in the capital region around Winnipeg continue to grow faster than the city itself, with growth rates like the 21.9 per cent in the RM of Ritchot, MacDonald at 14 per cent, Headingley at 11.3 per cent, Springfield at nine per cent and West St. Paul at 8.8 per cent. The cities of Winkler and Steinbach are also booming, thanks to robust immigration, with growth rates of 18 per cent and 17 per cent respectively.
The RM of Dauphin has also had strong growth of 8.5 per cent, while the city of Dauphin grew by 2.5 per cent.
Laura Murray, CAO for the RM of Dauphin, also couldn’t explain why their numbers would be up this much, except to speculate that more are being drawn to the area for the recreation offered by nearby Riding Mountain National Park and Dauphin Lake.
“But we are seeing new homes being built and we’re seeing people start subdivisions,” said Murray, adding that extension of a rural water line which is now under construction is likely to see more buying and building in their area.
Possibly some of Dauphin municipality’s new residents may be coming from other parts of the Parklands where populations are on the decline.
There were precipitous drops noted elsewhere in this part of Manitoba, including a 12 per cent loss of population in Mountain (South) municipality and Minitonas-Bowsman losing nine per cent of its population.
“It’s definitely not something we want to see,” said Kasey Chartrand, CAO for Minitonas-Bowsman, adding that every person counts and population declines mean losses of per capita grant funding which enable communities to offer services residents need.
The Parklands needs to find ways to reverse this trend, say municipal leaders in the region acutely aware of the long-term implications of a population that’s both aging and thinning out. Roughly one in four persons in the Dauphin, Ethelbert, Swan River areas are over 65.
“It is a concern, but the bigger concern is what can you do about it?” said Blake Price, reeve of Gilbert Plains municipality whose population dropped by 9.4 per in five years.
“What is there in these small communities to entice people to stay home other than agriculture and agriculture is changing so quickly and rapidly in terms of size and numbers of farms,” he said.
Price said they do anticipate job creation when hemp processing starts up here. But villages like Gilbert Plains also need housing for its aging and retiring population.
Local government is going to be challenged to find the resources to offer this, he added.
Across the entire country, the 2016 census counted 35,151,728 people on May 10, last year, which is an overall increase of five per cent or 1.7 million more people. Canada now has the highest population growth rate among all G7 countries.
The census also shows the urbanization in Canada, showing one in every three Canadians now live in either Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal.
Manitoba has moved into third place among Canadian provinces for population growth, with a 5.8 per cent rate of growth. This marks the first time in 80 years Manitoba has grown more quickly than the national average.
A major contributor to the province’s overall growth is Manitoba’s significant indigenous population, which is also much younger than the population in general and has a higher birth rate.
Parts of the province have also been successful attracting immigrants.