The Peace River Regional District grew the fastest in the province from 2013 to 2014, new data from B.C. Stats shows. At the high end, the City of Fort St. John grew on the second-largest percentage basis out of any B.C. municipality, at about 4.7 per cent. It went from a population of 20,553 to 21,523.
The Northern Rockies Regional District, on the other hand, showed a slight drop in its population numbers from 2013 to 2014.
The Northern Rockies Regional Municipality went from 5,460 to 5,440. The rural areas of the district stayed mostly the same, going from 593 to 592 during the same time period. Since 2011, the district's population has declined by 0.1 per cent.
Lakeland County, located near the Okanagan, grew the most at about 5.6 per cent.
On Jan. 15, B.C. Stats released its 2014 sub-provincial population estimates. Drawing upon power hook-up and health registration information, it provided estimates for the populations of various communities within B.C.
BC Stats lumped every Northeastern B.C. community into the Peace River Regional District, save for the NRRM. It grew 2.8 per cent from 2013 to 2014, going from 64,480 to 66,321.
But this growth was not evenly distributed, as some communities decreased in population, while others grew.
Fort St. John had the highest nominal growth, increasing by 970 people.
Councillor Trevor Bolin saw the news as positive.
“(Newcomers are) starting to see this is the area for employment, quality of life et cetera,” he said. “People used to come up here for camp work, fly-in, fly-out, now they’re moving their families here…I think 4.7 (per cent growth) is just going to be the start of it.”
“Everybody wins when we find new people,” he added. “They’ll find Fort St. John is the best place to live.”
Councillor Larry Evans also saw some positives, but noted that the growth comes with new challenges.
“One of the biggest things that comes into play is the infrastructure of the city, making sure that when you turn on the water you get drinkable water and when you flush the toilet it goes away,” he noted. “As more buildings come online, and more people move in, our water and sewer system has to keep up…every time they add a subdivision, like in the northwest, those roads become our responsibility for clearing.”
The city council is trying to deal with this growth “in a sustainable and orderly fashion,” he added.
Dawson Creek, the second largest municipality within the region, went from a 2013 population of 12,289 to a 2014 population of 12,653, or a growth rate of about three per cent. That gives it the 10th largest population growth in B.C. amongst municipalities.
Since 2011, Dawspm Creek has averaged a 2.4 per cent annual population growth.
Councillor Terry McFadyen said the growth the city’s experiencing may be larger than these estimates.
“I think we have a lot of people who are still living in Kelowna, the high land, that fly in to work and fly out,” he said. “We have all this construction…at the same time, our school population is not growing. That tells me we have a significant shadow population.”
McFadyen also noted that a growing population could have commercial benefits to the Mile 0 City.
“A lot of stores and companies, they won’t show up unless you have 15,000 20,000,” he said. “I think we’re probably close to that, but it probably doesn’t appear (in the estimates).”
Other municipalities had different rates.
Chetwynd went from a 2013 population of 2,777 to a 2014 population of 2,793, for a growth rate of about 0.6 per cent. Since 2011, it has averaged about the same amount of growth.
Over in Hudson’s Hope, the district lost three people from its population from 2013 to 2014, going from 1,040 residents to 1,037 residents. Since 2011, it has averaged a population growth of two per cent.
In Pouce Coupe, the village lost 10 people from 2013 to 2014, going from a population of 736 to 726. It is the first time since 2011 that the village has not grown.
The District of Taylor lost people as well, going from a 2013 population of 1,504 to a 2014 population of 1,490. This is a change for the district, which has averaged a two per cent annual growth rate since 2011.
In Tumbler Ridge, the district reportedly grew from a population of 2,897 in 2013 to a population of 2,983 in 2014. This data, however, was gathered in July 2014, and may not reflect current realities of the district after some mines were closed.
In terms of population, the second largest growth occurred in the rural areas not in any particular Peace River municipality. In 2013, there were about 22,684 people living in these types of homes, while in 2014, that rose to 23,116 people, which represented a growth rate of about 1.9 per cent.
On a percentage basis, many municipalities in the Peace River Regional District grew more than the province as a whole, which only grew at about 1.1 per cent from 2013 to 2014.
The region with the highest actual population growth was Greater Vancouver, which saw an increase of 31,500 people.
The municipality with the highest actual population growth was Surrey, which saw about 9,000 more people from 2013 to 2014.
The region that had its population decline the most on a percentage basis from 2013 to 2014 was the Stikine area, which went down by about two per cent.
The municipality with the biggest population decline was Prince George, which saw about 637 fewer people live there from 2013 to 2014.