Cancensus and CensusMapper

The cancensus package was developed to provide users with a way to access Canadian Census in a programmatic way following good tidy data practices. While the structure and data in cancensus is unique to Canadian Census data, this package is inspired in part by tidycensus, a package to interface with the US Census Bureau data APIs.

As Statistics Canada does not provide direct API access to Census data, cancensus retrieves Census data indirectly through the CensusMapper API. CensusMapper is a project by Jens von Bergmann, one of the authors of cancensus, to provide interactive geographic visualizations of Canadian Census data. CensusMapper databases store all publicly available data from Statistics Canada for the 2006, 2011, and 2016 Censuses. CensusMapper data can be accessed via an API and cancensus is built to interface directly with it.


cancensus requires a valid CensusMapper API key to use. You can obtain a free API key by signing up for a CensusMapper account. CensusMapper API keys are free and public API quotas are generous; however, due to incremental costs of serving large quantities of data, there limits to API usage in place. For most use cases, these API limits should not be an issue. Production uses with large extracts of fine grained geographies may run into API quota limits. For larger quotas, please get in touch with Jens directly.

To check your API key, just go to “Edit Profile” (in the top-right of the CensusMapper menu bar). Once you have your key, you can store it in your system environment so it is automatically used in API calls. To do so just enter set_cancensus_api_key(<your_api_key>, install = TRUE)

Installing cancensus

The stable version of cancensus can be easily installed from CRAN.



Alternatively, the latest development version can be installed from Github using `remotes``.

# install.packages("devtools")


options(cancensus.api_key = "your_api_key")
options(cancensus.cache_path = "custom cache path")

If you have not already done so, you can install the API keys and the data cache path. You can get your free API key when you sign up for a CensusMapper account and check your profile. Additionally we recommend you set a permanent data cache path so that census data you query is stored persistently across sessions.

# Only need to install api key can cache path once
set_cancensus_api_key('<your_api_key>', install = TRUE)
set_cancensus_cache_path('<local cache path>', install = TRUE)

Data in the persistent cache can be managed via the functions list_cancensus_cache and remove_from_cancensus_cache if needed.

Accessing Census Data

cancensus provides three different functions for retrieving Census data: * get_census to retrieve Census data and geography as a spatial dataset * get_census_data to retrieve Census data only as a flat data frame * get_census_geometry to retrieve Census geography only as a collection of spatial polygons.

get_census takes as inputs a dataset parameter, a list of specified regions, a vector of Census variables, and a Census geography level. You can specify one of three options for spatial formats: NA to return data only, sf to return an sf-class data frame, or sp to return a SpatialPolygonsDataFrame object.

# Returns a data frame with data only
census_data <- get_census(dataset='CA21', regions=list(CMA="59933"),
                          level='CSD', use_cache = FALSE, geo_format = NA, quiet = TRUE)

# Returns data and geography as an sf-class data frame
census_data <- get_census(dataset='CA21', regions=list(CMA="59933"),
                          level='CSD', use_cache = FALSE, geo_format = 'sf', quiet = TRUE)

# Returns a SpatialPolygonsDataFrame object with data and geography
census_data <- get_census(dataset='CA21', regions=list(CMA="59933"),
                          level='CSD', use_cache = FALSE, geo_format = 'sp', quiet = TRUE)

cancensus utilizes caching to increase speed, minimize API token usage, and to make data available offline. Downloaded data is hashed and stored locally so if a call is made to access the same data, cancensus will read the local version instead. To force cancensus to refresh the data, specify use_cache = FALSE as a parameter for get_census.

Additional parameters for advanced options can be viewed by running ?get_census.

Census Datasets

cancensus can access Statistics Canada Census data for Census years 1996, 2001, 2006, 2011, 2016, and 2021. You can run list_census_datasets to check what datasets are currently available for access through the CensusMapper API.

Thanks to contributions by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), cancensus now includes additional Census-linked datasets as open-data releases. These include annual taxfiler data at the census tract level for tax years 2000 through 2017, which includes data on incomes and demographics, as well as specialized crosstabs for Structural type of dwelling by Document type, which details occupancy status for residences. These crosstabs are available for the 2001, 2006, 2011, and 2016 Census years at all levels starting with census tract.

The function list_census_datasets() will show all available datasets alongside their metadata.

#> # A tibble: 29 × 6
#>    dataset description           geo_dataset attribution reference reference_url
#>    <chr>   <chr>                 <chr>       <chr>       <chr>     <chr>        
#>  1 CA1996  1996 Canada Census    CA1996      StatCan 19… 92-351-U  https://www1…
#>  2 CA01    2001 Canada Census    CA01        StatCan 20… 92-378-X  https://www1…
#>  3 CA06    2006 Canada Census    CA06        StatCan 20… 92-566-X  https://www1…
#>  4 CA11    2011 Canada Census a… CA11        StatCan 20… 98-301-X… https://www1…
#>  5 CA16    2016 Canada Census    CA16        StatCan 20… 98-301-X  https://www1…
#>  6 CA21    2021 Canada Census    CA21        StatCan 20… 98-301-X  https://www1…
#>  7 CA01xSD 2001 Canada Census x… CA01        StatCan 20… 92-378-X  https://www1…
#>  8 CA06xSD 2006 Canada Census x… CA06        StatCan 20… 92-566-X  https://www1…
#>  9 CA11xSD 2011 Canada Census x… CA11        StatCan 20… 98-301-X  https://www1…
#> 10 CA16xSD 2016 Canada Census x… CA16        StatCan 20… 98-301-X  https://www1…
#> # ℹ 19 more rows

As other Census datasets become available via the CensusMapper API, they will be listed as output when calling list_census_datasets().

Census Regions

Census data is aggregated at multiple geographic levels. Census geographies at the national (C), provincial (PR), census metropolitan area (CMA), census agglomeration (CA), census division (CD), and census subdivision (CSD) are defined as named census regions.

Canadian Census geography can change in between Census periods. cancensus provides a function, list_census_regions(dataset), to display all named census regions and their corresponding id for a given census dataset.

#> # A tibble: 5,518 × 8
#>    region name               level    pop municipal_status CMA_UID CD_UID PR_UID
#>    <chr>  <chr>              <chr>  <int> <chr>            <chr>   <chr>  <chr> 
#>  1 01     Canada             C     3.70e7 <NA>             <NA>    <NA>   <NA>  
#>  2 35     Ontario            PR    1.42e7 Ont.             <NA>    <NA>   <NA>  
#>  3 24     Quebec             PR    8.50e6 Que.             <NA>    <NA>   <NA>  
#>  4 59     British Columbia   PR    5.00e6 B.C.             <NA>    <NA>   <NA>  
#>  5 48     Alberta            PR    4.26e6 Alta.            <NA>    <NA>   <NA>  
#>  6 46     Manitoba           PR    1.34e6 Man.             <NA>    <NA>   <NA>  
#>  7 47     Saskatchewan       PR    1.13e6 Sask.            <NA>    <NA>   <NA>  
#>  8 12     Nova Scotia        PR    9.69e5 N.S.             <NA>    <NA>   <NA>  
#>  9 13     New Brunswick      PR    7.76e5 N.B.             <NA>    <NA>   <NA>  
#> 10 10     Newfoundland and … PR    5.11e5 N.L.             <NA>    <NA>   <NA>  
#> # ℹ 5,508 more rows

The regions parameter in get_census requires as input a list of region id strings that correspond to that regions geoid. You can combine different regions together into region lists.

# Retrieves Vancouver and Toronto
list_census_regions('CA21') %>% 
  filter(level == "CMA", name %in% c("Vancouver","Toronto"))
#> # A tibble: 2 × 8
#>   region name      level     pop municipal_status CMA_UID CD_UID PR_UID
#>   <chr>  <chr>     <chr>   <int> <chr>            <chr>   <chr>  <chr> 
#> 1 35535  Toronto   CMA   6202225 B                <NA>    <NA>   35    
#> 2 59933  Vancouver CMA   2642825 B                <NA>    <NA>   59

census_data <- get_census(dataset='CA21', regions=list(CMA=c("59933","35535")),
                          level='CSD', use_cache = FALSE, quiet = TRUE)

Census Geographic Levels

Census data accessible through cancensus comes is available in a number of different aggregation levels including:

Code Description Count in Census 2016
C Canada (total) 1
PR Provinces/Territories 13
CMA Census Metropolitan Area 35
CA Census Agglomeration 14
CD Census Division 287
CSD Census Subdivision 713
CT Census Tracts 5621
DA Dissemination Area 56589
EA Enumeration Area (1996 only) -
DB Dissemination Block (2001-2016) 489676
Regions Named Census Region

Selecting regions = "59933" and level = "CT" will return data for all 478 census tracts in the Vancouver Census Metropolitan Area. Selecting level = "DA" will return data for all 3450 dissemination areas and selecting level = "DB" will retrieve data for 15,197 dissemination block. Working with CT, DA, EA, and especially DB level data significantly increases the size of data downloads and API usage. To help minimize additional overhead, cancensus supports local data caching to reduce usage and load times.

Setting level = "Regions" will produce data strictly for the selected region without any tiling of data at lower census aggregation levels levels.

Working with Census Variables

Census data contains thousands of different geographic regions as well as thousands of unique variables. In addition to enabling programmatic and reproducible access to Census data, cancensus has a number of tools to help users find the data they are looking for.

Displaying available Census variables

Run list_census_vectors(dataset) to view all available Census variables for a given dataset.

#> # A tibble: 7,709 × 7
#>    vector    type   label                units parent_vector aggregation details
#>    <chr>     <fct>  <chr>                <fct> <chr>         <chr>       <chr>  
#>  1 v_CA21_1  Total  Population, 2021     Numb… <NA>          Additive    CA 202…
#>  2 v_CA21_2  Total  Population, 2016     Numb… <NA>          Additive    CA 202…
#>  3 v_CA21_3  Total  Population percenta… Numb… <NA>          Average of… CA 202…
#>  4 v_CA21_4  Total  Total private dwell… Numb… <NA>          Additive    CA 202…
#>  5 v_CA21_5  Total  Private dwellings o… Numb… v_CA21_4      Additive    CA 202…
#>  6 v_CA21_6  Total  Population density … Ratio <NA>          Average of… CA 202…
#>  7 v_CA21_7  Total  Land area in square… Numb… <NA>          Additive    CA 202…
#>  8 v_CA21_8  Total  Total - Age          Numb… <NA>          Additive    CA 202…
#>  9 v_CA21_9  Male   Total - Age          Numb… <NA>          Additive    CA 202…
#> 10 v_CA21_10 Female Total - Age          Numb… <NA>          Additive    CA 202…
#> # ℹ 7,699 more rows

Variable characteristics

For each variable (vector) in that Census dataset, this shows:

Managing variable hierarchy

Census variables are frequently hierarchical. As an example, consider the variable for the number of people of Austrian ethnic background. We can select that vector and quickly look up its entire hierarchy using parent_census_vectors on a vector list.

list_census_vectors("CA16") %>% 
  filter(vector == "v_CA16_4092") %>% 
#> # A tibble: 3 × 7
#>   vector      type  label                units parent_vector aggregation details
#>   <chr>       <fct> <chr>                <fct> <chr>         <chr>       <chr>  
#> 1 v_CA16_4089 Total Western European or… Numb… v_CA16_4044   Additive    CA 201…
#> 2 v_CA16_4044 Total European origins     Numb… v_CA16_3999   Additive    CA 201…
#> 3 v_CA16_3999 Total Total - Ethnic orig… Numb… <NA>          Additive    CA 201…

Sometimes we want to traverse the hierarchy in the opposite direction. This is frequently required when looking to compare different variable stems that share the same aggregate variable. As an example, if we want to look the total count of Northern European ethnic origin respondents disaggregated by individual countries, it is pretty easy to do so.

# Find the variable indicating the Northern European aggregate
find_census_vectors("Northern European", dataset = "CA16", type = "Total")
#> # A tibble: 7 × 4
#>   vector      type  label                                                details
#>   <chr>       <fct> <chr>                                                <chr>  
#> 1 v_CA16_4122 Total Northern European origins (except British Isles ori… 25% Da…
#> 2 v_CA16_4125 Total Danish                                               25% Da…
#> 3 v_CA16_4128 Total Finnish                                              25% Da…
#> 4 v_CA16_4131 Total Icelandic                                            25% Da…
#> 5 v_CA16_4134 Total Norwegian                                            25% Da…
#> 6 v_CA16_4137 Total Swedish                                              25% Da…
#> 7 v_CA16_4140 Total Northern European origins, n.i.e.                    25% Da…

The search result shows that the vector v_CA16_4092 represents the aggregate for all Northern European origins. The child_census_vectors function can return a list of its constituent underlying variables.

# Show all child variable leaves
list_census_vectors("CA16") %>% 
  filter(vector == "v_CA16_4122") %>% child_census_vectors(leaves = TRUE)
#> # A tibble: 6 × 7
#>   vector      type  label                units parent_vector aggregation details
#>   <chr>       <fct> <chr>                <fct> <chr>         <chr>       <chr>  
#> 1 v_CA16_4125 Total Danish               Numb… v_CA16_4122   Additive    CA 201…
#> 2 v_CA16_4128 Total Finnish              Numb… v_CA16_4122   Additive    CA 201…
#> 3 v_CA16_4131 Total Icelandic            Numb… v_CA16_4122   Additive    CA 201…
#> 4 v_CA16_4134 Total Norwegian            Numb… v_CA16_4122   Additive    CA 201…
#> 5 v_CA16_4137 Total Swedish              Numb… v_CA16_4122   Additive    CA 201…
#> 6 v_CA16_4140 Total Northern European o… Numb… v_CA16_4122   Additive    CA 201…

The leaves = TRUE parameter specifies whether intermediate aggregates are included or not. If TRUE then only the lowest level variables are returns - the “leaves” of the hierarchical tree.