Recent History – 2002
March 14, 2002
By Mark Nielsen and Nathaniel Swires
PRBDN and Alaska Highway News
The population of Dawson Creek has dropped slightly in the five years between censuses according to numbers recently released by Statistics Canada.
A comparison of figures for 1996 and 2001 shows that the city’s population fell from 11,125 to 10,754, a drop of 371 people or a decrease of about 3.5 per cent.
Mayor Wayne Dahlen said he was shocked by the outcome, particularly since the July 2001 numbers from B.C. Stats showed the city’s population at 11,789.
“I’d have expected an increase,” he said.
But he stressed that while the population in rural Dawson Creek also dropped slightly, from 6,020 to 5,857, the overall population for the city and the immediate rural area remains above 15,000.
“15,000 is what you need before any of the big retailers will look at you,” he said.
About the only bright spots in the Peace region according to the figures were Fort St. John and Taylor. The Energetic City’s population rose by 1,013 or 6.7 per cent to 16,034 from 15,021 while Taylor’s increased by 112 or 10.9 per cent to 1,143 from 1,031.
Even so, the mayors of both communities say the increases should have been greater. Fort St. John mayor Steven Thorlakson said he expected that the increase would have been about 1,000 people higher — especially since B.C. Stats estimated Fort St. John’s population at 17,129.
Nonetheless, Thorlakson saw the figure in a positive light.
“The census demonstrates growth in the city that exceeds the growth of B.C. It puts us as one of the fastest growing communities in the province,” said Thorlakson.
Taylor mayor Fred Jarvis was not so happy. New houses are being built every year in Taylor, according to Jarvis, but the population, according to the census, increased by only 112 people in five years.
“We don’t know where all those people went (who built houses),” Jarvis said sarcastically.
According to Wim Kok, a geography instructor at Northern Lights College, the jump in population in those two communities is due largely to a boom in the oil and gas industry.
He believes that the two towns are closely linked to the oil and gas resource economy, unlike many of the other areas of the Peace, which rely on forestry, mining and agriculture.
Dawson Creek and District Chamber of Commerce manager Wayne Hiebert said that he’s disappointed with the drop. “We would have rather seen it on the positive,” he said.
But Hiebert also pointed out that since putting up the tourism and economic development aspects on the city’s website, there has been a ten-fold increase in requests for information.
“We are getting more requests everyday so that is very positive. And with our community magazine recently out, we feel confident.”
The drop will also mean a slight decrease in the amount of funding the city will get from provincial and federal sources, but it will only amount to about $8,000, Dahlen said.
Elsewhere, Chetwynd, declined by 389 people, or 13.1 per cent, between 1996 and 2001.
“I suspect that it may be associated with the forest industry and workers in the coal mines who commuted to Tumbler Ridge,” said Kok.
Tumbler Ridge saw the greatest decrease in population. In the five years between censuses that town saw 51 per cent of its population leave. Kok attributes the drop to mine closures in the area.
Alberta led all provinces in growth. According to the census it grew by 10.5 per cent.
The census is conducted every five years by Statistics Canada and is based on information filled out by Canadians on Census Day, May 15, 2001.
The data released Tuesday is the first in a series of census information that will be released periodically over the next 15 months.
Future data will give demographic breakdowns on dozens of topics, including age, sex, marital status, language, ethnic origin, education and income.