Statistics Canada Census and National Household Survey (2011 only) data is provided in many different geographies and it can be tricky to figure out which one you need to look at. This census help guide should help you out. If you're still confused or have any questions, please email us.

This guide answers the following questions:


What are census geographies?

Statistics Canada collects data from Canadians via the Census and the most recent complete data is for 2016 To analyze and present the data, Statistics Canada divides the country into over a dozen different geographies from entire provinces to a city block. The table below lists the geographies (linking to their definition from Statistics Canada) and each geography's abbreviation, population minimum if applicable, if that geography completely covers Canada, and how many are in Canada.

Name Abbreviation Population Minimum Covers all of Canada? How many in Canada (2016)
Aggregate dissemination area (new) ADA 5,000 Yes 5,386
Census agglomeration CA 10,000 No 117
Census division CD n/a Yes 293
Census metropolitan area CMA 100,000 with 50,000 in core No 35
Census subdivision CSD n/a Yes 5,162
Census tract CT 2,500 (usually) No 5,721
Census consolidated subdivision CCS n/a No 1,768
Designated place DPL 1,000 No 1,629
Dissemination area DA 400 Yes 56,590
Dissemination block DB n/a Yes 489,905
Economic region ER n/a Yes 76
Federal electoral district FED n/a Yes 338
Province or territory PR n/a Yes 13

All the links in the table are from this Illustrated Glossary from Statistics Canada.

How do the geographies relate to one another other?

It depends! Often, smaller census geographies fit together to make one larger geography, such as how census tracts (CTs) fit together to make one census metropolitan area (CMA), like in Ottawa-Gatineau. 

271 census tracts fit together to make the Ottawa-Gatineau census metropolitan area.

Not every census geography fits perfectly inside other geographies, however. CMAs don't fill every corner of each province or territory, for example, as they are only urban areas. This hierarchy of standard geographic areas (2016) from Statistics Canada indicates which geographies fit within which others.

Which census geography do I need?

That depends entirely on what you want to look at! Consulting the table in Step 1 on this page may help, as might looking at the Statistics Canada geographies hierarchy above in Step 2. Some of the commonly used census geographies are shown below, from large to small.

Provinces and Territories

Just what it sounds like: all 13 Canadian provinces and territories.

Federal Electoral Districts

338 Federal Electoral Districts (FEDs) cover all of Canada and can be useful when looking at the whole country in smaller pieces than provinces and territories, but still are a reasonable number to deal with. Each FED is an area represented by one Member of Parliament.

Cities and Towns

Census metropolitan areas (CMAs) are commonly used to compare cities across Canada, as they are cities with a population of 100,000 or more with at least 50,000 people living in the core. Here is a table that lists all 33 CMAs in 2016 and their respective populations. Census agglomerations (CAs) are towns with a population of at least 10,000 and there are 117 CAs in Canada. The map below shows all CAs and CMAs:

All 33 CMAs and 114 CAs in Canada.

Neighbourhoods

Comparing neighbourhoods in a city or town usually involves looking at census tracts (CTs) as each CT has a population of 2,500 - 8,000. For example, the Glebe neighbourhood in Ottawa is covered by 3 CTs out of the 271 CTs in Ottawa-Gatineau.

Dissemination areas (DAs) fit within CTs and are the smallest geography for which we have data. Using the Glebe example from above, the CT 0016.00 in the Glebe contains 7 DAs. 

Image from http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2011/geo/map-carte/pdf/CT_SR-DA_AD/2011-92147-505-001800-00.pdf

How do I get the census geography GIS files and map the data?

Get the shapefiles

Census geography shapefiles for all of Canada are accessible from both Scholars GeoPortal and Statistics Canada directly for 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016.

If you would like census geography shapefiles for Ottawa-Gatineau only, we have those available for direct download (you'll need to be a Carleton student, faculty or staff to access them).

Download and map the Census/NHS data

To download the data and map it in ArcMap, we have step-by-step help guides that take you through the process:

If you have any further questions, do not hesitate to contact us via email at GIS@carleton.ca.

Content last reviewed: September 4, 2018