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Health regions code structure
Cartographic issues
Ecumene applications at Statistics Canada
Level of statistical significance and the colours in the legend for the thematic maps
About the thematic maps from the 2006 Census
The 2006 Census national population ecumene
Health regions (2011) in Canada
Health region peer groups

The reference maps cover health regions and peer groups that are part of the Health Indicators program. Each map in the series displays the boundaries and codes of health regions and peer groups or dissemination areas, and their names. "Health region" refers to administrative areas defined by the provincial ministries of health. For complete Canadian coverage, each of the northern territories also represents a health region.

To effectively compare areas with similar socio-economic characteristics, health regions have been aggregated into "peer groups" using a statistical, objective method. The final result is a set of ten peer groups ranging in size from 3 to 25 health regions with membership crossing provincial boundaries. Health regions are identified by a four–digit code. Peer groups are classified by letters A to J which have been added to the health region codes in this map series. The maps were created in colour and the peer groups are coloured according to the following values:

Peer group A = Rose
Peer group B = Green
Peer group C = Light Pink
Peer group D = Yellow
Peer group E = Purple
Peer group F = Lime green
Peer group G = Red
Peer group H = Dusty Rose
Peer group I = Beige
Peer group J = Brown

There are 15 Reference maps in this series and inset maps were created to show detail for the more concentrated areas.

Health regions code structure

A four digit numeric code is used to uniquely identify health regions. The first two digits represent the province, and the second two digits represent the health region. These codes reflect the same codes used by the provincial ministries of health. For those provinces where a numeric code is not applicable, a two-digit code was assigned. Ontario uses a 4-digit code for public health units. This code was truncated to the last two digits for consistency in the national health region code structure. Since Ontario has two sets of health regions, which do not entirely relate hierarchically, their codes are unique within the province.

The names of the health regions also represent the official names used by the provinces.

See Appendix 1: Health regions in Canada, 2011 (from publication 82-402-X) (names and codes).

Cartographic issues

The choropleth map is a 'staple' in the cartographic repertoire of thematic mapping. Indeed, over the years the popularity of choropleth maps has increased since this map type is very easy to produce by Geographic Information System (GIS) and cartographic software.

The standard choropleth technique is a method of cartographic representation that employs a distinctive colour or shading that is applied to predefined units. For example, the units can be census divisions or census tracts, and the areal symbols cover the entire geographic unit.

Limitations of choropleth maps

An underlying assumption of choropleth mapping is that the data are homogenously or uniformly spread over each geographic unit. This assumption is implied by a single colour applied across each unit. However, the complete unit or at least a large portion of the unit may be uninhabited, thus producing very misleading spatial patterns, especially when socioeconomic data are mapped by choropleth techniques.

Ecumene applications at Statistics Canada

The approach taken by Statistics Canada is to use 'generic' ecumenes, such as a population ecumene or an agricultural ecumene. Generic ecumenes confine the statistical distributions to the same areas, and thus render the maps (or map series) more comparable.

Population ecumene

Since the 1976 Census, Statistics Canada has applied a population ecumene in its thematic mapping program, primarily for national maps at the census division level1. The use of an ecumene limits the display to only those areas where population is found, resulting in a more accurate depiction of the spatial distribution of data. Dorling (1993, p. 170), Langford and Unwin (1994, p. 23) and others also recommend shading only the inhabited parts of the map.

The methodology for delineating the population ecumene was refined over time. For the 1976 Census, the ecumene was a very rough 'approximation' using 1:7,500,000 population density maps in the fourth edition of the National Atlas of Canada (Natural Resources Canada 1974). The ecumene was generated by delineating those areas that were equal to or greater than one person per square mile (0.4 persons per square kilometre) and then creating a buffer around the areas because the population density maps were based on 1961 data. The population ecumenes for the 1981 and 1986 Censuses were updated to account for population increases, population decreases and minor errors found in the 1976 ecumene.

For the 1991 and 1996 Censuses, the ecumene was defined using the enumeration area as a 'building block', and for the 2001 Census it was defined using a very small geographic unit, the block. The enumeration area and the block are considered to be part of the ecumene if the population density is at least 0.4 persons per square kilometre (about one person per square mile).

Note that the population ecumene restricts the data representation to the populated areas.

The population ecumene developed for census thematic maps is also applied to other Statistics Canada data, such as health data. In late 2001, maps were added to Health Indicators, an online compilation of data produced jointly by Statistics Canada and the Canadian Institute for Health Information. The maps use the population ecumene at the health region level.

Level of statistical significance and the colours in the legend for the thematic maps

The statistical significance was calculated at a 95% level of confidence to determine whether the data were significantly higher or lower than the Canadian average for the maps from the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) and the Vital Statistics – Birth Database.

The following colours were used in the series:
Green = significantly lower
Yellow = not significantly different
Orange = significantly higher
Grey = sparsely populated (according to the population ecumene)
White = data not available

Each map displays the national average.

About the thematic maps from the 2006 Census by health region

The indicators for all of the health regions were ranked from low to high and divided into quintiles based on equal numbers of health regions (i.e., roughly one-fifth of all health regions are represented within each quintile). Each quintile was coloured differently and the range of values within each health region quintile are presented. Each map displays the national average. The ecumene was used to present health-related data in order to emphasize those areas in Canada where most people live. Although the national ecumene was designed to present census division level data, it has been used here to map health region thematic data.

For this series of maps, quintile 1 is coloured brown, quintile 2 is coloured beige, quintile 3 is coloured yellow, quintile 4 is coloured pink, and quintile 5 is coloured purple.

The 2006 Census national population ecumene

The national population ecumene includes blocks with a minimum population density of 0.4 persons per square kilometre (about one person per square mile). To ensure visibility for small-scale thematic mapping, the detailed ecumene limits are manually generalized and small, discontiguous ecumene pockets are aggregated.

Health regions (2011) in Canada

"Health region" refers to administrative areas defined by the provincial ministries of health. For complete Canadian coverage, each of the northern territories also represents a health region.

The following table presents an overview of health regions in Canada, by province and territory and links to pdfs for viewing current boundaries

See Table 1 - Health regions – (2011) in Canada (from publication 82-221-X).

Health region peer groups

In order to effectively compare health regions with similar socio–economic characteristics, health regions have been grouped into 'peer groups'. Statistics Canada used a statistical method to achieve maximum statistical differentiation between health regions. Twenty–four variables were chosen to cover as many of the social and economic determinants of health as possible, using data collected at the health region level mostly from the Census of Canada. Concepts covered include:

  • basic demographics(for example, population change and demographic structure),
  • living conditions(for example, socio-economic characteristics, housing, and income inequality), and
  • working conditions(for example, labour market conditions).

Peer groups based on 2011 health region boundaries and 2006 Census data are now available. There are currently ten peer groups identified by letters A through J.

See Table 3 Health regions 2011 by peer group (from publication 82-221-X).
See Table 4 Summary table of peer groups and principal characteristics (from publication 82-221-X).

A more detailed discussion on the rationale and methods involved in the development of peer groups is available in "Health Region (2007) Peer Groups Working Paper" (from publication 82-221-X).


  1. Census division (CD) is the general term for provincially legislated areas (such as county, municipalité régionale de comté and regional district) or their equivalents. Census divisions are intermediate geographic areas between the province/territory level and the municipality (census subdivision). (Statistics Canada 2007b)
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