Ontarians on the Move #0 — What Parts of Ontario Are Growing… and Why?

Mike Moffatt
Feb 18 · 6 min read

I thought it might be helpful to add a prequel to my “Ontarians on the Move” series, which is a bit of a data dump to put things into context.

TL;DR version: Non-permanent residents, primarily international students, are driving population growth in a number of centres.

In this series, I’m looking at Ontario’s 49 census divisions (which, in Southern Ontario, typically are counties including their large city — so, “Middlesex” includes the city of London plus Middlesex County) and how they grew in population between July 1, 2018 and July 1, 2019, using recently released data from Statistics Canada.

For this series, we’ll break population change into seven different components:

  1. Births
  2. Deaths
  3. Immigration (from other countries)
  4. Net non-permanent residents (people from abroad locating to a place temporarily, such as students or temporary foreign workers. Naturally, a portion of these will one day become permanent residents.)
  5. Emigration (to other countries)
  6. Net interprovincial migration (people moving to Toronto from other provinces minus people moving from Toronto to other provinces)
  7. Net intraprovincial migration (people moving to Toronto from other parts of Ontario minus people moving from Toronto to other parts of the province)

In this piece, we’ll examine population growth in percentage terms, to control for the large differences in the size of census divisions (Toronto has 2.7 million people, Haliburton has less than 20,000).

Total Population Increase

The three fastest growing census divisions (CDs) in 2018–19 were Peel, Waterloo and Middlesex. The City of Toronto, York, and Durham grew slower than the Ontario average:

Next, let’s look at which CDs are having babies and which are passing away; both are largely a function of the distribution of ages in a CD.


Big prize for anyone who guessed the CD experiencing the biggest baby boom is… Kenora. Most communities are right around the Ontario average, though there are some outliers, like Haliburton, which is experiencing a baby bust.


Not surprisingly, smaller, more rural CDs are experiencing a higher rate of mortality-related population decline. Ontario has 10 CDs with a population over 500,000, and 49 with a population under the number. 48 of the 49 smaller CDs have a death rate over the Ontario average, while only 3 of 10 larger CDs do.


Permanent immigration to Ontario is highly concentrated, with Toronto and Peel accounting for over 62% of immigration to Ontario in 2018–19. Over 85% of immigrants locate in 6 of Ontario’s 49 CDs: (Toronto, Peel, York, Ottawa, Halton and Waterloo):

Net Non-Permanent

The numbers for net non-permanent international residents looks much different than the numbers for immigrants. Net non-permanent residents include international students and temporary foreign workers, so the numbers are quite high in some university towns and agricultural communities. Not surprisingly, Waterloo appears at #1. More surprisingly, at #3 we have… Cochrane!

Note that Toronto is barely above the Ontario average and is tied with Algoma. Three CDs saw a reduction in the number of non-permanent residents between 2018 and 2019.


The CD in Ontario where residents are most likely to move from Canada is… Windsor. Being a border community next to a big city, I suppose that makes sense. Overall, most communities are clustered around the Ontario average. Two communities actually experienced a net “gain” from emigration, as previous emigrants returned home.

Net Interprovincial

Interprovincial refers to people moving to Ontario from other provinces (or vice-versa). Intraprovincial refers to people moving within the province. I always mix the two up; roughly 1 time in 10 I post a chart swapping the two.

I double checked, and I got it right here. Easiest way to tell — the total intraprovincial numbers must equal zero (by definition), whereas the interprovincial numbers can be more or less than zero. In 2018–19, Ontario gained a net 11,731 residents from other provinces.

CDs in the Ottawa experienced the largest population gains from interprovincial growth, either people moving from Quebec or moving to work for the federal government (or both). In general, interprovincial migration is not a significant source of population growth for Ontario.

Net Intraprovincial

Migration within the province is a big source of population growth (or decline) for many CDs in Ontario. Many CDs in cottage country are experiencing 1–2% population growth per year, just from within Ontario migration. Toronto and York are experiencing a loss of 1% of their population per year through intraprovincial migration, primarily driven by young families in search of housing they can afford.

To put these numbers into context, it’s helpful to see how they have changed over time. The earliest data in the dataset is for 2006–07. Here’s how things looked back then:

Some pretty massive changes. Back then, York was the fastest growing CD in Ontario, and was gaining large numbers of movers from the rest of Ontario. That certainly isn’t the case anymore!

A better way to identify changes is to take the 2006–07 numbers and subtract them from the 2018–19, which should be able to help us identify changes over the last 12 years.

A whole lot to digest. Here’s what jumps out at me:

  1. Relative to 2006–07, we see a big increase in the population growth rates of cottage country (Kawartha Lakes) and urban SW Ontario (Middlesex, Oxford, Woodstock, Essex). And what I think of as tobacco country (Haldimand-Norfolk), because why not?
  2. Ontario’s population is growing more rapidly than it was in 2006–07. More than half of this due to a big increase in the growth rate of non-permanent residents, the rest is due to interprovincial migration (we aren’t losing people to Alberta like we were during the oil boom). Those two factors explain almost all of the change in the growth rate; very little of it is due to immigration.
  3. There’s been a small decline in births and a small increase in deaths, which you would expect with Ontario’s aging population. The increase in deaths is primarily in smaller, more rural CDs.
  4. The city of Toronto is experiencing a decline in their population growth rates due to immigration. I would not have expected this.
  5. Huge increase in growth rates due to net non-permanent residents, with “college towns” like Waterloo and London leading the way.
  6. The Windsor area lost a ton of workers to Alberta during the simultaneous oil boom and manufacturing employment decline. This is no longer occurring.
  7. Net intraprovincial tells an important story: Peel, Durham, Halton and York are losing their appeal for families looking for real estate they can afford. They are being replaced by Oxford, Simcoe and others. The “drive until you qualify” folks are having to drive a whole lot further than they used to.
  8. The booming growth of cottage country due to intraprovincial migration is a relatively new phenomenon; we didn’t see it nearly as much in 2006–07.

I could go on all day with this data, but this seems like a logical place to end. I’m sure there’s a whole lot I’m missing here — leave me a comment or a tweet and let me know what you see!

NEXT IN THE SERIES: Ontarians on the Move #0.5 — It’s Kids, not Seniors, on the Move.

Mike Moffatt

Written by

Senior Director, Smart Prosperity. Assistant Prof, Ivey Business School. Exhausted but happy Dad of 2 wonderful kids with autism. I used to do other stuff.

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