Standard Geographical Classification (SGC) 1996

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Background information


The Standard Geographical Classification (SGC) is a classification of geographical areas used to collect and disseminate statistics. The SGC was developed to enable the production of integrated statistics by geographical area. It provides a range of geographical units that are convenient for data collection and compilation and useful for spatial analysis of economic and social statistics. It is intended primarily for the classification of statistical units, such as establishments or households, whose activities are normally associated with a specific location.

The SGC is based on a classification system originally developed for the dissemination of statistics from the Census of Population.

The SGC conforms to the basic principles of classification, that is, it consists of a set of discrete units which are mutually exclusive and in total, cover the entire universe. Usually, a classification appears as a hierarchy, each level of which satisfies the above-mentioned principles and is defined by the uniform application of a single criterion. Applied to geography, these principles result in a classification consisting of geographical areas whose boundaries are specifically delimited in accordance with well-defined concepts and which, in total, cover the entire landmass of Canada. The classification appears as a three-level hierarchy of geographical units identified by a seven-digit numerical coding system.

Two criteria were used in the selection of geographical units for the SGC. The first was that they be easily recognized by the respondents who are asked to report geographical detail. Administrative units were chosen because respondents routinely conduct business with administrative units such as a municipality, county or province.

The second criterion was the usefulness of the geographical units for general statistical purposes. Once again, administrative units are suitable because they are significant users of statistics in establishing and implementing programs involving the expenditure of public funds and also because the general public can readily associate statistics on this basis with the names and boundaries of administrative units.

The SGC identifies three types of geographical unit:

  1. province or territory (12),
  2. census division (288),
  3. census subdivision (5,984).

Province or Territory (PR)

Reflecting the primary political subdivision of Canada, this is the most permanent level of the SGC.

Census Division (CD)

This is a general term applying to areas established by provincial law, which are intermediate geographical areas between the municipality (census subdivision) and the province. Usually they are created to facilitate regional planning and the provision of services which can be more effectively delivered on a scale larger than a municipality.

In Newfoundland, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, provincial law does not provide for such administrative geographical areas. Therefore, equivalent census divisions have been created by Statistics Canada in co-operation with these provinces for the dissemination of statistical data. In the Yukon Territory, the census division is equivalent to the entire territory.

Census division boundaries tend to be relatively stable over many years. For this reason the census division has been found useful for analysing historical data on small areas.

Census divisions are classified into various types. The type indicates the legal status of the census division according to official designations adopted by provincial authorities. The exception is the CD type "census division" which describes those units created as equivalents by Statistics Canada in co-operation with the provinces.

Census Subdivision (CSD)

This is a general term applying to municipalities (as determined by provincial legislation) or their equivalents, e.g., Indian reserves, Indian settlements and unorganized territories. Municipalities are units of local government.

Beginning with the 1981 Census, each Indian reserve and Indian settlement recognized by the Census is treated as a separate CSD and reported separately. Prior to the 1981 Census, all Indian reserves in a census division were grouped together and reported as one census subdivision.

For 1996, there is a total of 996 Indian reserves classified as CSDs. Statistics Canada works closely with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada to identify the reserves to be included as CSDs. Populated (or potentially populated) Indian reserves, which represent a subset of the approximately 2,300 Indian reserves across Canada, have been recognized as census subdivisions by Statistics Canada.

In Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and British Columbia, the term "census subdivision" also describes geographic areas that have been created by Statistics Canada in co-operation with the provinces as equivalents for municipalities for the dissemination of statistical data.

There are two municipalities in Canada which straddle provincial boundaries, Flin Flon (Manitoba and Saskatchewan) and Lloydminster (Saskatchewan and Alberta). Each of their provincial parts is treated as a separate CSD.

Census subdivisions are classified into various types according to official designations adopted by provincial or federal authorities. The census subdivision type accompanies the census subdivision name in order to distinguish CSDs from each other, for example, Kingston, C (for the city of Kingston) and Kingston, TP (for the township of Kingston).

The following six CSD types are new for 1996:

  • chartered community (CC) in Northwest Territories;
  • northern town (NT) in Saskatchewan;
  • regional municipality (RGM) in Nova Scotia;
  • rural community (RC) in New Brunswick;
  • specialized municipality (SM) in Alberta;
  • "terre inuite" (TI) in Quebec;

and the CSD type "sans désignation" (SD) in Quebec was changed to the CSD type "municipalité" (M) to conform to provincial terminology.

Structure of the SGC

Each of the three sets of areas covers all of Canada. They are hierarchically related: census subdivisions aggregate to census divisions, which in turn aggregate to a province or a territory.

The structure is implicit in the seven-digit SGC code, as shown in the following illustration, which uses the code for the city of Oshawa.

Structure of the classification of the city of Oshawa
35 Empty cell Empty cell Ontario
35 18 Empty cell Durham Regional Municipality
35 18 013 Oshawa

SGC Coding

At the outset, numerical codes were adopted for ease of use and clarity. Furthermore, numbers were universally applicable to all of the data processing machines in use at that time.

The use of numerical codes continues but the number of digits in the code changed from six to seven in 1976, when a three-digit code was adopted for census subdivisions because the number of census subdivisions in one census division exceeded 99.

Provinces are numbered from east to west. Because the number of provinces and territories exceeded nine, a two-digit code was adopted. The first digit represents a group of provinces or territories. The following groups result:

  1. Atlantic
  2. Quebec
  3. Ontario
  4. Prairies
  5. British Columbia
  6. Territories

The following conventions were used to create the coding system and continue to be used in its maintenance.

  1. The codes usually follow a serpentine pattern beginning in the southeast corner of each province/territory or CD. In this way, adjacent code numbers usually represent geographical units that share a common boundary. Exceptions are found in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where census divisions are numbered in a straight line from east to west, returning to the eastern border when the western border is reached. Also, in Quebec, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia, Indian reserve codes are included in the 800 series of numbers, whereas in the other provinces they are accommodated within the serpentine numbering pattern for census subdivisions.
  2. In order to provide the flexibility required to maintain the coding system over the years, the numbering is not sequential (except for CDs, which are more stable). Gaps in the numbering sequence leave opportunities to incorporate new geographical units within the numbering sequence.
  3. Codes should not be used more than once. However, a code could be reused if at least two editions of the SGC have appeared. For example, a code deleted in 1981 would not become eligible for use again until 1996.
  4. Component parts of codes are preserved as much as possible. For example, when a new CD is created, the original CSD codes are retained where possible.

Naming Geographical Units

The following procedure is applied in selecting names for geographical units:

  1. Official names are used where they are available. The names of incorporated local and regional municipalities are taken from provincial gazettes, where official notification of acts of incorporation for new municipalities and changes to existing municipalities are published.
  2. Most official names are accepted as published, but some are edited by Statistics Canada for the sake of consistency and clarity. For example, the official name "City of Ottawa" was edited and appears in the SGC as "Ottawa".
  3. The remaining names are created by Statistics Canada in co-operation with provincial and other federal officials.

SGC Update

The 1996 SGC presents standard geographical areas as of January 1, 1996. It includes any changes to municipalities, effective on that date or earlier, received by Statistics Canada before March 1, 1996.

Information received after March 1, 1996, has not been included, therefore provincial or territorial authorities may notice some small discrepancies compared to their official records.

Several hundred changes are made to census subdivisions every year. These changes may affect boundaries, codes, names, or types. Changes to the census division level also occur periodically. Most changes originate from provincial legislation (revised statutes and special acts), changes to Indian reserves originate with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, and other changes come from Statistics Canada.

Legislated changes are effective as of the date proclaimed in the legislation. Other changes are effective January 1, usually of the reference year for the SGC.

The Standard Geographical Classification is released every five years, coincident with the Census of Population. For most statistical applications, holding the geography in a statistical series constant for this length of time is an acceptable compromise between stability and existing reality. Observations at five-year intervals are suitable for historical trend analysis, yet for current series, a tolerable degree of distortion occurs.

An annual summary of changes is available from the Geography Division, upon request. This may be of interest to data collectors wishing to compile data that reflect the actual boundaries of census subdivisions.

The 1996 Concordance tables present for the period between January 2, 1991 and January 1, 1996 the changes that impact directly upon the SGC, such as changes of code, name, or type, and indicate how the new and old codes relate to one another.

The other changes such as partial annexations, and boundary and population revisions, which do not affect the SGC codes and usually involve very small areas and populations, are not shown in the Concordance tables. They are available however in the "Interim List of Changes to Municipal Boundaries, Status and Names" prepared by Geography Division.

Census Division Changes

A significant revision at the CD level since 1991 affected the province of British Columbia. A new CD, named Fraser Valley Regional District (59 09), was created from the following three Regional Districts: Fraser-Cheam (59 09), Central Fraser Valley (59 11) and Dewdney-Alouette (59 13). This change has resulted in a decrease of 2 in the number of CDs, the 1996 total reaching 288. In addition, the Regional District of Greater Vancouver (59 15) was extended with the annexation of five census subdivisions that were components of the Regional District of Dewdney-Alouette (59 13). As result, in 1996, the Regional District of Greater Vancouver (59 15) is equivalent to the Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) of Vancouver. Finally, a transfer of the southwest tip of Kitimat-Stikine Regional District (59 49) to Skeena-Queen Charlotte Regional District (59 47) led to the revision of two SGC codes.

Other changes have affected the boundaries of some CDs to a greater or lesser extent. Among those are revisions of SGC codes that have modified the boundaries of two counties in New Brunswick: Restigouche (13 14) and Gloucester (13 15), the boundaries of four MRCs in Quebec: D'Autray (24 52), Joliette (24 61), Matawinie (24 62), and Les Pays-d'en-Haut (24 77), and the boundaries of four census divisions in Alberta: Division No. 3 (48 03), Division No. 12 (48 12), Division No. 15 (48 15), and Division No. 16 (48 16). These revisions of SGC codes are listed in the 1996 Concordance tables.

In addition, five CD names were changed in Quebec. Two new names: Minganie – Basse-Côte-Nord and Nord-du-Québec were adopted (previously Minganie – Côte-Nord-du-Golfe-du-Saint-Laurent and Territoire nordique), and the orthography of the three "communautés urbaines" (Communauté-Urbaine-de-l'Outaouais, Communauté-Urbaine-de-Montréal, and Communauté-Urbaine-de-Québec) was modified to follow the writing rules of "La Commission de toponymie du Québec".

Census Subdivision Changes

The changes affecting CSDs have been grouped into twelve types for the manual, each represented by a particular code. (For the Internet version, see also How to Read a Concordance Table).

New SGC codes (code 1) are assigned to newly created CSDs. Such CSDs are:

  1. created out of another census subdivision, typically a municipality created from a populated area located in a rural or unorganized census subdivision; or
  2. created when two or more census subdivisions amalgamate.

In the latter case the entries, including SGC codes, for all of the census subdivisions contributing to the newly created census subdivision are deleted (code 4).

Also affecting the SGC code are revisions arising from structural changes, such as the reorganization of CDs. This type of change (code 7) simply indicates a revised code number, with no other change having affected the CSD.

Changes in CSD name (code 2) or CSD type (code 3) do not affect the SGC code, but the Classification file is updated. For 1996, all CSD types "sans désignation" (SD) in Quebec have been changed to the CSD type "municipalité" (M) to conform with provincial terminology. This global change does not appear in the Concordance tables because the whole province is affected. Instead, an explanatory note is included to explain that change in CSD type.

The most numerous changes are partial annexations (codes 5 and 6), boundary revisions (codes 8 and 9) and population revisions (codes 10 and 11), which do not affect the SGC codes, and usually involve very small areas and populations. These changes are not listed in the Concordance tables, but they can be found in the publication entitled "Interim List of Changes to Municipal Boundaries, Status and Names" prepared by Geography Division.

Since January 2, 1991, a total of 3,442 CSD changes have been recorded. Excluding CSD type revisions (from "SD" to "M") in Quebec, these changes affected 1,489 of the 6,006 CSDs that existed in 1991, and resulted in a net reduction of 22 CSDs over the period. Of the total number of changes, 458 affected the CSD code (28 of them due to structural changes), 157 affected the name and 587 affected the status (485 of them due to a global change for Quebec). Boundary changes and revisions (2,158), and population revisions (82) accounted for the remaining 2,240 changes. Since 1991, CSD boundary changes affected 84 census divisions.

Metropolitan Area (MA)

Metropolitan areas are part of the standard statistical areas and include the Census Metropolitan Areas (CMA) and the Census Agglomerations (CA). Metropolitan areas represent a small portion of the Canadian territory. Each CMA and CA is assigned a three-digit code that identifies it uniquely in Canada. As a rule, the first digit is the same as the second digit of the province code in which the CMA or CA is located (except in the Territories).

The general concept of these standard units is one of an urban core, and the adjacent urban and rural areas that have a high degree of social and economic integration with that urban core.

A CMA is delineated around an urban core with a population of at least 100,000, based on the previous census. Once an area becomes a CMA, it is retained as a CMA even if the population of its urban core declines below 100,000. Census agglomerations (CAs) are centred on urban cores with populations of at least 10,000.

A CMA/CA describes the zone of influence of an urban core according to the measure of commuting flows derived from census place of work data. It is delineated using adjacent municipalities (census subdivisions) as building blocks. These census subdivisions (CSDs) are included in the CMA or CA if they meet at least one delineation rule. The three principal rules are:

  1. The CSD falls completely or partly inside the urban core.
  2. Given a minimum of 100 commuters, at least 50% of the employed labour force living in the CSD, as determined from the 1991 place of work commuting flow data, works in the urban core.
  3. Given a minimum of 100 commuters, at least 25% of the employed labour force working in the CSD, as determined from the 1991 place of work commuting flow data, lives in the urban core.

A CMA or CA represents an area that is economically and socially integrated. However, there are certain limitations to the manner in which this goal can be met. Since the CSDs that are used as building blocks in CMA and CA delineation are administrative units, their boundaries are not always the most suitable with respect to CMA and CA delineation. Especially in western Canada, CSDs may include large amounts of sparsely settled territory where only the population closest to the urban core is integrated with that core. Furthermore, since CMA/CA boundaries for the 1996 Census are based on 1991 place of work commuting flow data, they may not reflect the current boundaries or the current social and economic integration of the urban area.

CMAs and CAs, because they are delineated in the same way across Canada, are statistically comparable. They differ from other types of areas, such as trading, marketing, or regional planning areas designated by regional authorities for planning and other purposes, and should be used with caution for non-statistical purposes.

For the most part, the delineation rules for CMAs and CAs are the same in 1996 as they were in 1991. However, in order to provide an improved representation of social and economic integration, a minor adjustment was made to the spatial contiguity rule: a minimum set of CSDs was substituted for the census consolidated subdivisions (CCS).

Metropolitan Area Changes

There were no new CMAs in 1996, whereas two new CAs in Ontario were created (Smiths Falls and Strathroy) and three CAs (Kirkland Lake, Ont.; Selkirk, Man.; and Weyburn, Sask.) were retired because the population of their urban core declined below 10,000 in 1991.

Between 1991 and 1996, a number of component CSDs of the CMAs and CAs underwent name changes, amalgamations, annexations, and dissolutions. As a result, in 1996, a part of the former St. John's Metropolitan Area was excluded from the CMA of St. John's and there were changes to four CA names: Fort McMurray, Matsqui, Sarnia - Clearwater, and Sydney were respectively changed to Wood Buffalo, Abbotsford, Sarnia, and Cape Breton.

Economic Region (ER)

This is a standard unit created in response to the requirement for a geographical unit suitable for the presentation and analysis of regional economic activity. Such a unit is small enough to permit regional analysis, yet large enough to include enough respondents that, after data are screened for confidentiality, a broad range of statistics can still be released.

The regions are based upon work by Camu, Weeks and Sametz in the 1950s. At the outset, boundaries of regions were drawn in such a way that similarities of socio-economic features within regions were maximized while those among regions were minimized. Later, the regions were modified to consist of counties which define the zone of influence of a major urban centre or metropolitan area. Finally, the regions were adjusted to accommodate changes in CD boundaries and to satisfy provincial needs.

An ER is a geographical unit, smaller than a province, except in the case of Prince Edward Island and the Territories. The ER is made up by grouping whole census divisions, except for one case in Ontario, where the city of Burlington, a component of the Halton Regional Municipality at the CD level, is excluded from the economic region of Toronto and is included in the Hamilton – Niagara Peninsula ER, which encompasses the entire CMA of Hamilton. ERs appear as a hierarchy covering all the country.

ERs may be economic, administrative or development regions. Within the province of Quebec, economic regions are designated by law ("les régions administratives"). In all other provinces, economic regions are created by agreement between Statistics Canada and the provinces concerned.

Economic Region Changes

For 1996, the ER replaces the 1991 standard unit called the "Subprovincial Region (SPR)", as a result of the adoption of a single set of areas in which SPRs and the Labour Force Survey (LFS) economic regions were merged. The main geographic change has been the adoption of eleven LFS economic regions for Ontario, which replace the five subprovincial regions from 1991. In addition, the economic region codes and names have been standardized.


Geographic terms
Census Division
Census Subdivision
Census Metropolitan Area
Census Agglomeration
Economic Region
Census Division Type
Communauté urbaine
Census division
District municipality
Metropolitan municipality
Municipalité régionale de comté
Regional district
Regional municipality
United counties
Census Subdivision Type
Chartered community
County (municipality)
Canton (municipalité de)
Cantons unis (municipalité de)
District municipality
Improvement district
Indian government district
Local government district
Township and royalty
Municipal district
Northern hamlet
Northern town
Northern village
Paroisse (municipalité de)
Indian reserve
Rural community
Regional municipality
Rural municipality
Resort village
Indian settlement
Special area
Subdivision of county municipality
Specialized municipality
Subdivision of regional district
Subdivision of unorganized
Summer village
Terre inuite
Terres réservées
Village cri
Village naskapi
Village nordique
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