Standard Geographical Classification (SGC) 2021 – Introduction

Status

This standard was approved as a departmental standard on September 7, 2021.

Preface

The Standard Geographical Classification (SGC) is Statistics Canada's official classification for geographic areas in Canada. The SGC covers all of the provinces and territories of Canada. The standard classification version of the SGC 2021 provides standard names and codes for the geographical regions of Canada, provinces and territories, census divisions (counties, regional municipalities) and census subdivisions (municipalities). The names and codes for census metropolitan areas, census agglomerations, census metropolitan influenced zones, economic regions, North and South, census agricultural regions and census consolidated subdivisions are shown as the variants of SGC 2021.

The SGC was developed to enable the production of integrated statistics by geographic area. It provides a range of geographic 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 classification consists of two parts, volume I and volume II. Volume I describes the classification and related standard geographic areas and place names. The Introduction explains the changes between the 2021 version of the SGC and the 2016 version that impact upon the classification, such as changes in name, type or code, and indicates how the new and old codes relate to one another. Volume II contains reference maps showing the boundaries and locations of the geographic areas in the classification.

This update of the Standard Geographical Classification (SGC) 2021 was accomplished through the time, effort and co-operation of numerous people in the Statistical Geomatics Centre (SGC) at Statistics Canada.

The Standard Geographical Classification 2021

The SGC enables the production of integrated statistics by geographic area. Established in the early 1960s, the Standard Geographical Classification was released as a working manual for 1964, 1966 and 1972. In 1974, the manual became an official publication of Statistics Canada and was subsequently issued for 1976, 1981, 1986, 1991, 1996, 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016. This 2021 version is the eleventh (11th) edition.

Conceptual framework and definitions

The SGC conforms to the basic principles of classification. It consists of a set of discrete units that 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 geographic 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 four-level hierarchy of geographic units identified by a seven-digit numerical coding system.

The SGC is one of a family of geographical classifications, approved and promoted by Statistics Canada. These geographical classifications provide the basic definitions of geographic areas which, when adopted for data collection and dissemination, result in statistics that are comparable among series and over time.

Two criteria were used in the selection of geographic 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 geographic units for general statistical purposes. Once again, administrative units were suitable because they are used by those 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.

Geographic units range from the more detailed census subdivisions to the geographical regions of Canada. 'Census subdivision' is the general term for municipalities as determined by provincial or territorial legislation, or areas treated as municipal equivalents for statistical purposes. Municipalities are units of local government. The geographical regions of Canada are groupings of provinces and territories. The range of geographic units in this hierarchical classification allows for the publication of data at different levels of aggregation.

The SGC identifies the following four types of geographic units:

In SGC 2021, there are 6 geographical regions of Canada, 10 provinces and 3 territories, 293 census divisions and 5,161 census subdivisions. 

Classification structure and codes

Each of the four levels of the classification covers all of Canada. They are hierarchically related: census subdivisions aggregate to census divisions, census divisions aggregate to a province or a territory which in turn aggregate to a geographical region of Canada. The relationship is illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1 Standard Geographical Classification hierarchy
Figure 1
Description of Figure 1
  • Level 1 - Geographical regions of Canada
  • Level 2 - Provinces and territories
  • Level 3 - Census divisions
  • Level 4 - Census subdivisions

This structure is implicit in the seven-digit SGC code as shown in the following illustration for the city of Oshawa.

Code for the city of Oshawa
Region PR CD CSD Name
3       Ontario
  35     Ontario
  35 18   Durham (Regional municipality)
  35 18 013 Oshawa (City)

The region code is the first digit of the province and territory code. The code for the city of Oshawa is 3518013.

The SGC coding system

At the outset, numerical codes were adopted for ease of use and clarity. The 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 the geographical region of Canada in which the province or territory is located and the second digit denotes one of the 10 provinces and 3 territories. The codes for geographical regions of Canada are shown in Table A.

Table A
List of geographical regions of Canada with codes, 2021
Code Geographical region of Canada Map
1 Atlantic HTML | PDF
2 Quebec HTML | PDF
3 Ontario HTML | PDF
4 Prairies HTML | PDF
5 British Columbia HTML | PDF
6 Territories HTML | PDF

The provincial and territorial codes are shown in Table B.

Table B
List of provinces and territories with codes and abbreviations, 2021
Code Provinces and territories Abbreviation Internationally approved alpha code Footnote 1

Internationally approved alpha codeFootnote 2

Map
10 Newfoundland and Labrador N.L. NL CA-NL HTML | PDF
11 Prince Edward Island P.E.I. PE CA-PE HTML | PDF
12 Nova Scotia N.S. NS CA-NS HTML | PDF
13 New Brunswick N.B. NB CA-NB HTML | PDF
24 Quebec Que. QC CA-QC HTML | PDF
35 Ontario Ont. ON CA-ON HTML | PDF
46 Manitoba Man. MB CA-MB HTML | PDF
47 Saskatchewan Sask. SK CA-SK HTML | PDF
48 Alberta Alta. AB CA-AB HTML | PDF
59 British Columbia B.C. BC CA-BC HTML | PDF
60 Yukon Y.T. YT CA-YT HTML | PDF
61 Northwest Territories N.W.T. NT CA-NT HTML | PDF
62 Nunavut Nvt. NU CA-NU HTML | PDF
Footnote 1

Canada Post, Canadian provinces and territories(accessed January 1, 2021).

Return to footnote 1 referrer

Footnote 2

International Organization for Standardization, ISO 3166 code lists (accessed January 1, 2021).

Return to first footnote 2 referrer

The following conventions are used in the coding system:

  1. The codes usually follow a serpentine pattern beginning in the southeast corner of each province, territory or census division. In this way, adjacent code numbers usually represent geographic units that share a common boundary. Exceptions are found in Saskatchewan and Alberta, 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, the numbering is not sequential (except for census divisions, which are more stable). Gaps in the numbering sequence leave opportunities to incorporate new geographic units within the numbering sequence.
  3. Codes are not generally used more than once. However, a code may be reused if at least two editions of the classification have been published since it was last used. For example, a code deleted in 2006 may be reused in 2021.
  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 geographic units

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

  1. Official names are used where they are available. The names of incorporated local and regional municipalities are taken from provincial and territorial gazettes, where official notifications of acts of incorporation for new municipalities and changes to existing municipalities are published.
  2. Most official names are accepted as published, but many are edited by Statistics Canada for the sake of consistency and clarity. For example, Statistics Canada drops the CSD type and uses the geographical name only (i.e., the official name City of Ottawa appears in the SGC as Ottawa).
  3. Six municipalities (i.e., census subdivisions) in Canada have different official names in English and French: Beaubassin East / Beaubassin-est, and Grand Falls / Grand-Sault in New Brunswick; and Greater Sudbury / Grand Sudbury, French River / Rivière des Français, The Nation / La Nation, and West Nipissing / Nipissing Ouest in Ontario. For English products, the official name in English is used (i.e., Greater Sudbury), for French products, the official name in French is used (i.e., Grand Sudbury), and for bilingual products, the bilingual name is used with English followed by French (i.e., Greater Sudbury / Grand Sudbury).
  4. Prior to May 25, 2009, the convention for the naming of a CMA or CA was based on the name of the principal Population centre (POPCTR) or largest city at the time the CMA or CA was first formed. This standard had been used since the 1971 Census. Through the years, the CMA and CA names have remained stable. The most important changes resulted from name changes to the census subdivisions (resulting from municipal dissolutions, incorporations and name changes). The key revision to the convention is the establishment of guidelines for CMA name change requests as described here: Census metropolitan area (CMA) and census agglomeration (CA).
  5. The remaining sub-provincial geographical names are created by Statistics Canada in cooperation with provincial, territorial and federal officials (e.g., when creating names for most economic regions).
  6. Some statistical areas (e.g., census metropolitan areas and census agglomerations) straddle provincial boundaries (e.g., the census metropolitan area [CMA] of Ottawa–Gatineau). In such a case, when data are presented for the provincial parts, the name of the province must follow the name of the statistical area. For the CMA of Ottawa–Gatineau, each part of the CMA will be identified as Ottawa–Gatineau (Ontario part) and Ottawa–Gatineau (Quebec part).
  7. Where the CD or CSD type (e.g., county, town, city) is part of the legal name of the CD or CSD as legislated by provincial or territorial governments, Statistics Canada uses the language form of the legal name. In all other cases, where the CD or CSD type is not embedded in the legal name, Statistics Canada uses the language of the publication. As a consequence, this means that in an English language publication there may be some French language type names, and that in French language publications there may be some English language type names. For example, in the case of Calgary, Alberta, the legislation specifies that the legal name is "City of Calgary". Accordingly, the type is presented as City (CY) in English publications; City (CY) in French publications; and as City (CY) in bilingual publications.

Due to system constraints, Statistics Canada is unable to maintain certain characters within geographic names. This results in a difference between the official names and those used in census products. For example, the economic region with the official name 'Campbellton–Miramichi' will be published as 'Campbellton--Miramichi'.

Appendix A and Appendix B provide the standard abbreviations and titles for all CD and CSD types for English, French and bilingual publications respectively.

Changes to Municipal Boundaries, Status, and Names

This Interim List of Changes provides a summary of the changes to census subdivisions (e.g., municipal boundary changes) in effect between January 2, 2016 and January 1, 2021. This list presents the changes which have been processed by Statistics Canada based on the information received and, therefore, may not include all the changes that may have occurred in this time period.

The SGC 2021 presents standard geographic areas as of January 1, 2021. It includes any changes to municipalities, effective on that date or earlier, received by Statistics Canada before the spring of 2021.

Information received after the spring of 2021, 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 five years. 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 Crown Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC): formerly Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), 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 published 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.

Presentation of classification and related maps

The Standard Geographical Classification (SGC) (2021) is divided into two separate products:

The basic presentation of the classification with tables illustrating the classes is available in Volume I. Maps illustrate the boundaries of individual geographic areas effectively describing the class boundaries of each class in the classification. Maps are included in Volume I and Volume II of the classification.

Volume I, The Classification

Volume I is the basic presentation of the system of geographic units. It describes the SGC 2021 consisting of the four levels of geographic areas:

  1. Geographical region of Canada
  2. Province or territory
  3. Census division
  4. Census subdivision

The SGC is the centrepiece of the classification, providing a complete list of its geographic units. These units are the building blocks for all other standard geographic areas. The SGC provides a code, name and type for each census subdivision (CSD).

Volume I also describes the classification variants that present census metropolitan areas (CMAs), census agglomerations (CAs), census metropolitan influenced zones (MIZs), economic regions, North and South, census agricultural regions and census consolidated subdivisions, and displays them in a variety of configurations for easy access and understanding. The introductory text explains the background and context for using standard geographic units.

Volume II, Reference Maps

This product contains a series of 23 maps depicting the boundaries in effect on January 1, 2021 for census divisions, census subdivisions, census metropolitan areas, and census agglomerations. The boundaries are plotted on base maps, showing water features. The maps identify each CSD by name and code, and CDs and CMAs/CAs by code.

Also included are four maps of Canada, which illustrate:

  1. The boundaries of census divisions
  2. The locations of census metropolitan areas and census agglomerations
  3. The spatial distribution of CSDs among CMAs, CAs, census metropolitan influenced zones (MIZs), and territories
  4. The boundaries of economic regions with their component CDs

An index to census division and census subdivision reference maps is also included.

References

  1. Standard Geographical Classification (SGC)
  2. Interim List of Changes to Municipal Boundaries, Status, and Names, Catalogue no. 92F0009X
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