Table of Contents

Criteria for Inclusion

Primary Canadian Data Sources
Indicators & Community Profiles
Community Data Models in Other Countries
Select International Social Statistics

Summary & Next Steps




Inventory > Definitions

Inventory of Community Data Sources


A Census is an official count of the entire population, at one point in time. It is designed to provide information about people and housing units by their demographic, social and economic characteristics. Canada conducts a census every five years.

According to Section 91 of the The Constitution Act, 1867, the federal government is responsible for the ‘Census and Statistics,’ a responsibility discharged by Statistics Canada, formerly the Dominion Bureau of Statistics, according to the provisions of the Statistics Act.
(Source #1 and Source #2)

Municipalities are interested in how they compare with other cities, as well as how the well-being of their citizens varies among neighbourhoods within their boundaries. Thus, the geographic delineation of municipalities and their neighbourhoods is important.

The Census provides data for neighbourhoods, either in the form of Census Tracts (see definition below) or through user-defined areas, but other national household surveys cannot do so because of insufficient sample sizes. The 2006 Census provides profiles of Census Tracts.

The Census is the most complete national source of information on municipalities. Some of its geographic concepts are also used in surveys. Common geographic concepts include the following:

Census Metropolitan Area (CMA)
A CMA has a population of at least 100,000, with an urban core of at least 50,000. The CMA includes the urban core together with the adjacent urban and rural areas that have a high degree of social and economic integration with that urban core, as measured by commuting flows derived from Census data on place of work. Many Statistics Canada household surveys produce data at the CMA level, or for select CMAs.

Census Agglomeration (CA)
A CA is an urban area with a population of at least 10,000. Usually Statistics Canada household surveys (other than the Census) do not have sufficient sample size to provide data for CAs.

Census Division (CD)
A CD is a provincially legislated area such as a county, municipalité régionale de comté, or regional district, or their equivalents. Census Divisions are intermediate geographic areas between the provincial/territorial level and the municipality (census subdivision).

Census Subdivision (CSD)
A CSD is a general term for municipalities as determined by provincial or territorial legislation, or areas treated as municipal equivalents for statistical purposes (such as Indian reserves, Indian settlements and unorganized territories). Municipalities are units of local government. Census Community Profiles are at the CSD level.

Census Tract (CT)
CTs are small, relatively stable geographic areas that usually have a population of 2,500 to 8,000. They are located in Census Metropolitan Areas and in Census Agglomerations with an urban core population of 50,000 or more, according to the previous Census.

Dissemination Area (DA)
A Dissemination Area is a small area composed of one or more neighbouring dissemination blocks (DB), with a population of 400 to 700 persons. All of Canada is divided into dissemination areas. Several DAs can be grouped together to define a neighbourhood.

Economic Regions
Economic regions were created in response to the need for a geographic unit suitable for the presentation and analysis of regional economic activity. Statistics Canada’s monthly Labour Force Survey (LFS) produces data for economic regions. In Québec, the ‘régions administratives’ are equivalent to economic regions and are defined by provincial law.

Health Regions
Health regions are defined by provincial/ territorial departments of health. The Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) produces data for health regions. Health regions reflect how departments of health have organized the delivery and funding of health care services.

Postal Codes
Postal codes are collected by most administrative databases, i.e., it is data gathered as part of the administration of specific government programs, such as income tax. While there are limitations to administrative data, a key strength is that data for small areas such as neighbourhoods can be extracted through the use of postal codes. For example, postal codes on vital statistics birth records have been used to identify neighbourhoods that have higher rates of low birth weight babies.

For more information on geographic concepts, see Statistics Canada’s 2006 Census Illustrated Glossary.

An indicator is a statistical measure that provides information on the status of some thing or condition − often social or economic well-being. Used over time, indicators can help demonstrate progress towards a specific goal. For example, life expectancy is an indicator of the health of the population.

Demography is the statistical study of human populations; when narrowly defined, demography examines births, deaths, marriages, and migration. Social demography is broader and reflects the characteristics of an individual or group, such as their language, education, ethnic background, or religion. Thus, socio-demographic data describe characteristics of the population such as age, gender, marital status, education, and language.

Table/Cross tabulation
A table is a way of organizing and presenting information in a grid pattern. A cross-tabulation is a type of table that shows the relationship between one set of characteristics or variables, and another. On a table grid, columns contain one set of variables, while the rows contain the related set of variables. Each intersection of a row and column − known as a cell − displays a relationship between the row variable and the column variable.

In the example below, the cross tabulation shows the population by age and sex for Canada in 2006. The cell entries indicate the number of people in each age-sex group defined by the row and column headings. Thus, there were 2,448,155 women aged 65 and older in Canada in 2006.




Both sexes

0-14 years




15-64 years




Aged 65 and older








The most familiar example of a cross tabulation is the grid included on most road maps that shows distances between cities.


<-- Back Next -->