Standard Geographical Classification (SGC) 2001

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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 (13),
  2. census division (288),
  3. census subdivision (5,600).

Province or Territory (PR)

Reflecting the primary political subdivision of Canada, this most permanent level of the SGC was affected on April 1, 1999 by the creation of a new territory called Nunavut. Nunavut includes the eastern portion of the Northwest Territories.

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 and territories. In 2001, the CD type "Metropolitan Municipality" (MM) is discontinued.

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 2001, there is a total of 1,052 Indian reserves and 28 Indian settlements classified as CSDs. These are populated (or potentially populated) Indian reserves, which represent a subset of the approximately 2,800 Indian reserves across Canada. Statistics Canada works closely with Indian and Northern Affairs Canada to identify the reserves and the settlements to be included as CSDs. Furthermore, the inclusion of an Indian settlement is dependent upon the agreement of the provincial or territorial authorities.

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 46 types according to official designations adopted by provincial or federal authorities. Two exceptions are CSD type "Subdivision of Unorganized" in Newfoundland and Labrador, and CSD type "Subdivision of County Municipality" in Nova Scotia which are geographic areas created as equivalents of municipalities by Statistics Canada in co-operation with those provinces for the purpose of disseminating statistical data.

The census subdivision type accompanies the census subdivision name in order to distinguish CSDs from each other, for example, Granby, V (for the "ville" of Granby) and Granby, CT (for the "municipalité de canton" of Granby).

Changes to CSD types for 2001 include:

CSD types added

  • island municipality (IM) in British Columbia;
  • Nisga'a Land (NL) in British Columbia;
  • Nisga'a Village (NVL) in British Columbia;
  • regional district electoral area (RDA) in British Columbia;
  • region (RG) in Newfoundland and Labrador;
  • Teslin Land (TL) in Yukon Territory.

CSD types deleted

  • borough (BOR) in Ontario;
  • northern town (NT) in Saskatchewan;
  • subdivision of regional district (SRD) in British Columbia.

Other changes

  • in Newfoundland and Labrador, the CSD type "community" (COM) was changed to the CSD type "town" (T);
  • in Ontario, the CSD type "improvement district" (ID) was changed to the CSD type "township" (TP).

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 SGC have appeared. For example, a code deleted in 1986 would not become eligible for use again until 2001.
  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 2001 SGC presents standard geographical areas as of January 1, 2001. It includes any changes to municipalities, effective on that date or earlier, received by Statistics Canada before March 1, 2001.

Information received after March 1, 2001, has not been included, therefore provincial or territorial authorities may notice some small discrepancies compared to their official records. The only exception is the name change of the province of Newfoundland to Newfoundland and Labrador which became effective on December 6, 2001.

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 2001 Concordance tables present for the period between January 2, 1996 and January 1, 2001 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

When Nunavut came into being on April 1, 1999, three census divisions were taken from the Northwest Territories and assigned to Nunavut. It was necessary to adjust the boundaries of these census divisions because the Nunavut boundary did not conform to the existing geography. This adjustment did not have an impact on the original census division codes; however, the territory code changed from 61 to 62.

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 seven "municipalités régionales de comté" in Quebec: Le Haut-Saint-François (24 41), Le Val-Saint-François (24 42), la Région-Sherbrookoise (24 43), Coaticook (24 44), Drummond (24 49), Rouville (24 55) and La Vallée-du-Richelieu (24 57); the boundaries of four counties in Ontario: Hastings County (35 12), Northumberland County (35 14), Sudbury District (35 52) and Greater Sudbury Division (35 53); and a transfer of the northwest tip of Kitikmeot Region (61 08) to Inuvik Region (61 07) led to the revision of the SGC code of Holman, HAM in the Northwest Territories. These revisions of SGC codes are listed in the Concordance tables.

In addition, as a result of the amalgamation of municipalities (census subdivisions) in Ontario, there are five cases where the census division (CD) is now composed of only one census subdivision (CSD), and two cases where the CD is composed of only two CSDs. For these seven cases, the CD type and names of Ottawa-Carleton Regional Municipality (35 06), Prince Edward County (35 13), Victoria County (35 16), Toronto Metropolitan Municipality (35 20), Hamilton-Wentworth Regional Municipality (35 25), Kent County (35 36), and Sudbury Regional Municipality (35 53) were respectively changed to Ottawa Division, Prince Edward Division, Kawartha Lakes Division, Toronto Division, Hamilton Division, Chatham-Kent Division, and Greater Sudbury Division.

Finally, in Quebec, three new CD names were adopted: Pabok, Denis-Riverin and Sherbrooke were respectively changed to Le Rocher-Percé (24 02), La Haute-Gaspésie (24 04) and La Région-Sherbrookoise (24 43) while, in British Columbia, the CD name Fort Nelson-Liard Regional District was replaced by Northern Rockies Regional District (59 59).

Census Subdivision Changes

The changes affecting CSDs have been grouped into eighteen 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 (codes 7 and 7C) simply indicates a revised code number, with no other change having affected the CSD.

Changes in CSD name (codes 2 and 2C), CSD type (codes 3 and 3C), or CSD name and type (code 23) do not affect the SGC code, but the Classification file is updated.

The most numerous changes are partial annexations (codes 5 and 6), boundary revisions (codes 8, 8C, 9 and 9C) 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, 1996, a total of 4,434 CSD changes have been recorded. These changes affected 2,282 of the 5,984 CSDs that existed in 1996, and resulted in a net reduction of 384 CSDs over the period. Of the total number of changes, 1,476 affected the CSD code mainly due to municipal restructuring in many provinces (910 dissolutions, 526 incorporations and 40 revisions of code), 226 affected the name, 224 affected the status and 27 affected both the name and status. Boundary changes and revisions (2,451), and population revisions (30) accounted for the remaining 2,481 changes. Since 1996, CSD boundary changes affected 59 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 works in the delineation urban core as determined from commuting data based on the place of work question in the last decennial census (1991 Census).
  3. Given a minimum of 100 commuters, at least 25% of the employed labour force working in the CSD lives in the delineation urban core as determined from commuting data based on the place of work question in the last decennial census (1991 Census).

Another rule concerns the merging of adjacent CMAs and CAs. A CA adjacent to a CMA can be merged with the CMA if the total percentage commuting interchange between the CA and CMA is equal to at least 35% of the employed labour force living in the CA, based on place of work data from the decennial census. The total percentage commuting interchange is the sum of the commuting flow in both directions between CMA and CA as a percentage of the labour force living (resident employed labour force) in the CA.

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 2001 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.

Metropolitan Area Changes

There were 27 CMAs and 113 CAs in 2001. Two CAs from the previous census became CMAs: Kingston, Ont. and Abbotsford, B.C. Seven new CAs were created: Amos, Que., Amherstburg, Ont., Caledon, Ont., Petawawa, Ont., Brooks, Alta., Squamish, B.C. and Parksville, B.C. However, the Amherstburg CA was then merged with the Windsor CMA due to its high commuting interchange with that CMA and similarly the Caledon CA was merged with the Toronto CMA. Finally one CA was retired because the population of its urban core dropped below 10,000 in 1996: Smiths Falls, Ont. whereas the CA of Strathroy, Ont. was merged with the CMA of London.

Between 1996 and 2001, a number of municipalities underwent name changes, amalgamations, annexations, and dissolutions mainly due to municipal restructuring in many provinces. This situation has resulted in boundary and name changes for some CMAs and CAs: the CMA name of Sudbury was changed to Greater Sudbury, and the CA names of Dolbeau, Sorel, Port Hope, Lindsay, Simcoe, Chatham, and Grand Centre were respectively changed to Dolbeau-Mistassini, Sorel-Tracy, Port Hope and Hope, Kawartha Lakes, Norfolk, Chatham-Kent, and Cold Lake.

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

There were 76 ERs in 2001, a gain of two ERs from 1996 as a result of the addition of one economic region with the introduction of the new territory: Nunavut in 1999 and, in Quebec, the replacement of the "région administrative" of Mauricie – Bois-Francs (ER 24 70) by two new "régions administratives": Mauricie (ER 24 70) and Centre-du-Québec (ER 24 33).

Other changes concerned the names or boundaries of some ERs. In Quebec, the boundary between Centre-du-Québec (ER 24 33) and Estrie (ER 24 30) was affected when the "municipalité" of Ulverton (CSD 24 49 010) was taken from the "municipalité régionale de comté" (MRC) of Drummond (CD 24 49) and annexed to the MRC of Le Val Saint-François (CD 24 42). Also, the name of the "région administrative" Québec (ER 24 20) was changed to Capitale-Nationale (ER 24 20).

In Ontario, the boundary between Muskoka – Kawarthas (ER 35 20) and Kingston – Pembroke (ER 35 15) was affected when Murray Township (CSD 35 14 001) was taken from Northumberland County (CD 35 14) and annexed to the newly incorporated City of Quinte West (CSD 35 12 015) in Hastings County (CD 35 12).

Finally in Alberta, five economic regions were affected by changes in the composition of census divisions making them up, as well as name changes. Boundary changes include moving CD 48 09 from ER 48 50 to ER 48 40, moving CD 48 10 from ER 48 80 to ER 48 20, and moving CD 48 13 from ER 48 40 to ER 48 70. The name changes include ER 48 20 Camrose – Drumheller, ER 48 40 Banff – Jasper – Rocky Mountain House, ER 48 50 Red Deer, ER 48 70 Athabasca – Grande Prairie – Peace River, and ER 48 80 Wood Buffalo – Cold Lake.


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
Island municipality
Local government district
Township and royalty
Municipal district
Northern hamlet
Nisga'a land
Northern village
Nisga'a village
Paroisse (municipalité de)
Indian reserve
Rural community
Regional district electoral area
Regional municipality
Rural municipality
Resort village
Indian settlement
Special area
Subdivision of county municipality
Specialized municipality
Subdivision of unorganized
Summer village
Terre inuite
Teslin land
Terres réservées
Village cri
Village naskapi
Village nordique
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