Data discovery

Resources for finding available and relevant data

Census datasets

cancensus can access Statistics Canada Census data for the 1996, 2001, 2006 Censuses, the 2011 Census and National Household Survey, the 2016 Census, as well as the 2021 Census. 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 tax-filer 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.

## # 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

The list_census_datasets() function also provides additional background like series reference code, catalogue reference, and attribution details.

Variable vectors

The Census datasets that the cancensus package provides access to are rich in detail but they can be complex to navigate. There are thousands of variable vectors, including separate vector indicators for aggregations split by Total, Female, and Male populations. As a result, the total number of vectors per dataset is significant, ranging from 1,715 in the CA01 dataset to 6,623 in the CA16 one.

View available Census variable vectors

## # 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

list_census_vectors(dataset) retrieves an index of all available vectors for a given dataset from the CensusMapper API or local cache if recently called. Each Census variable has a vector code assigned to it with naming pattern that goes v_{dataset}_{index}. This is the code by which vectors are identified through the CensusMapper API. In addition the vector code, there is additional information showing population type, aggregation type, label and details, as well as variable hierarchy. This function can also be used to show the variables for additional datasets made accessible through the CensusMapper API.

Searching for Census variable vectors

Due to the large number of Census variables it can be hard to find the right data. There is a function for searching through Census variable metadata in a few different ways. There are three types of searches possible using this function: exact search, which simply looks for exact string matches for a given query against the vector dataset; keyword search, which breaks vector metadata into unigram tokens and then tries to find the vectors with the greatest number of unique matches; and, semantic search which works better with search phrases and has tolerance for inexact searches. Switching between search modes is done using the query_type argument when calling find_census_vectors() function.

Note that variable search is optimized for the Census variables in the main Census datasets. While searches generally work for variables in additional datasets such as cross-tabs and taxfiler data, they have not been extensively tested against these datasets.

Census regions

Standard Geographical Classification

Statistics Canada uses an official classification of geographic areas known as the Standard Geographical Classification (SGC), which is updated periodically. The latest version is based on the 2021 Census. Geographic classification codes are standardized across Statistics Canada products, including the Census as well as any other Statistics Canada dataset. In practice, this means that the region ID for the Vancouver Census subdivision is 5915022 across all products. In cancensus the region ID code is used to identify the appropriate spatial vector data to retrieve alongside Census data. These region IDs have a predictable structure, where provinces are two digits, Census divisions are 4 digits (including 2 for the province), and Census subdivisions have 7 digits (including 2 for the province, and 2 for the Census division).

## # A tibble: 3 × 4
##      PR    CD   CSD name                         
##   <dbl> <dbl> <dbl> <chr>                        
## 1    35    NA    NA Ontario                      
## 2    35    18    NA Durham (Regional municipality
## 3    35    18    13 Oshawa (City)

These levels are hierarchical and complete in that a province is split in Census divisions, which are then split into Census subdivisions.

Geographies have standardized names for the province, Census division, and Census subdivision levels, as well as Census metropolitan areas and Census agglomerations. Lower geographic levels such as Census tracts or dissemination areas (DA, EA, and DB) are not named or listed but have unique identifying codes derived from their parent Census subdivision.

## # A tibble: 6 × 2
##   level     n
##   <chr> <int>
## 1 C         1
## 2 CA        9
## 3 CD      293
## 4 CMA      41
## 5 CSD    5161
## 6 PR       13

There is also an additional region, with the id 01 and the level code C which represents all of Canada as a whole.

A note on Census Metropolitan Areas and Census Agglomerations

Data can also be extracted at the Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) or Census Agglomeration (CA) level, which is derived from a variant of the SGC known as the Statistical Area Classification. Hierarchically, CMAs and CAs represent a collection of constituent Census subdivisions.

A Census metropolitan area consists of adjacent municipalities with a defined core with a total population of at least 100,000 of which 50,000 or more must live in the core based on Census data. Adjacent municipalities must have a high degree of integration with the core, which Statistics Canada measures based on the commuting flows indicated in Census data. Census Agglomeration areas have to have a core population above 10,000.

All CMAs and CAs consist of Census subdivisions but not all Census subdivisions are a subset of a CMA or a CA. For more details on CMAs and CAs, consult Statistics Canada’s Census Dictionary article for Census metropolitan areas (CMA) and census agglomerations (CA). All CMAs and some CAs have data at the Census tract level, but most CAs do not. The 2021 Census has 41 CMAs and 9 CAs with Census tracts that have their own defined geography. There are a further 102 CAs without Census tracts that do not have their own distinctly defined geographies.

Aside: dissemination areas, blocks, and enumeration areas

Dissemination areas (DA) are the smallest atomic geographic unit at which all census data is captured. DAs cover the entirety of Canada and follow the boundaries of census subdivisions and census tracts. While inter-census geographic stability is not guaranteed, they generally tend to be as stable as the census tracts and census subdivisions that they make up. In addition to census boundaries, DAs will generally follow natural boundaries created by other spatial features like roads, railways, water features, and designed to be spatially compact and with a target population around 400-700 persons. The 2021 census data has 57,936 distinct DAs.

Enumeration areas (EA) were the DA equivalent for censuses prior to 2001. Similar to DAs, EAs were used to as the basic level at which census data was collected. They do not necessarily correspond accurately to DAs in data from 2001 onwards.

Dissemination block (DB) level data is available for the 2001-2021 datasets. DBs are essentially city blocks, bounded by intersecting streets and therefore are largely the product of road networks at the time of the census. The geographies and identification codes of DBs are not necessarily stable over time. DBs are split whenever they intersect with boundaries of higher geographic levels in such a way as to ensure that they can be aggregated upwards precisely. DBs only provide data for population, dwelling counts, and number of households (from 2006 onwards) without any additional characteristic data. DBs with population under 15 have their population counts adjusted for privacy. For the 2021 census, there are close to half a million DB distinct regions.

Viewing available Census regions

For any valid Census dataset, you can view all available Census regions by calling list_census_regions(dataset). This will retrieve the region code, the name, and the level code indicating the type of geography. Other information includes population, municipal status, as well as parent geographic ids for lower levels. All CMAs are included with their own defined geography, as well as those CAs which have their own Census tracts.

## # 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
There are 53 CSD and 12 CD municipal status codes based on official designations used by provinces, territories, and federal authorities. These are often used to distinguish Census divisions and subdivisions with similar or identical names. CAs with Census tracts and defined geography have the code K, while those without have type code D.

Searching through named Census regions

We can also search through all named geographies. This will return any geographies that have a name that matches or partially matches the search query.

## # A tibble: 7 × 8
##   region  name              level     pop municipal_status CMA_UID CD_UID PR_UID
##   <chr>   <chr>             <chr>   <int> <chr>            <chr>   <chr>  <chr> 
## 1 59933   Vancouver         CMA   2642825 B                <NA>    <NA>   59    
## 2 5915    Greater Vancouver CD    2642825 RD               <NA>    <NA>   59    
## 3 5915022 Vancouver         CSD    662248 CY               59933   5915   59    
## 4 5915046 North Vancouver   CSD     88168 DM               59933   5915   59    
## 5 5915051 North Vancouver   CSD     58120 CY               59933   5915   59    
## 6 5915055 West Vancouver    CSD     44122 DM               59933   5915   59    
## 7 5915020 Metro Vancouver A CSD     18612 RDA              59933   5915   59

Exploring Census variable vectors and regions interactively

Sometimes it can be easier to find the right vectors or regions by exploring the layout and hierarchy of Census data. This is especially true when we are not sure of what information is available or are not sure where to start. Finding the right Census geographic code on a map will be easier for some than using named search. This is also handy if we want to assemble a custom aggregation of region codes at different hierarchies.

To facilitate this, we have included a couple of convenience functions that take you directly to an interactive tool with variable and region details on the Censusmapper website. To explore the hierarchical variable structure of a given dataset, say the 2006 Census, running explore_census_vectors(dataset = "CA06"). To view Census geography on an interactive map, there is explore_census_regions(dataset = "CA16"). As usual, vectors and geographies for different Census datasets can be retrieved by using the appropriate dataset code for the dataset argument.