It’s a population boom


Five years of steady population growth would have been hard to grasp a number of years ago, when Manitoba was more noted for the export of its citizens to other provinces. But now there is a renewed confidence in Manitoba — people are staying put and more immigrants are opting to call the province home. 
It’s a rather pleasant change of circumstances.
The most recent Statistics Canada data shows that Manitoba had boosted its population by 5.2 per cent since 2006 to 1,208,260 people in 2011. The percentage of increase is below the 5.9 per cent national average, but for Manitoba it’s significant. Typically, the population increase in oil-rich Alberta led all provinces with a jump by 10.8 per cent.
Statistics Canada reported that the population growth in Manitoba doubled for the five-year period between 2006 and 2011, when compared to the previous five-year period, due to “high immigration levels.” In fact, Manitoba hasn’t  seen such high immigration numbers since 1946. There was even a time when people thought so poorly of the province’s prospects that it was feared its population would drop below one-million people as a result of out-migration.
For some Manitoba communities, the increase has been quite dramatic. For example, in Niverville, the population jumped from 2,464 in 2006 to 3,540 in 2011. Over the span of just five years, the town rose in population by 43.7 per cent.
When interviewed by Richard Cloutier on CJOB, Niverville Mayor Greg Fehr said that part of the increase can be attributed to a “lifestyle choice;” that is, people seeking the quiet of rural Manitoba as opposed to the bustle of cities. 
He also said people opting for Niverville from Winnipeg are not going there for a property tax break. “You’re not going to save a pile of cash moving out of Winnipeg,” he told Cloutier.
Another great advantage is that Niverville is roughly equidistant from two major centres — Steinbach and Winnipeg. Residents of the town have the best of both worlds. It takes just a 20-minute drive to nip into either major centre to work or play and then pop back home in the evening to relax in a country setting.
The transformation of formerly so-called “sleepy” rural communities has been spectacular over the last decade or two. Blumenort had just 834 people living within its borders in 2006, but by 2011 there were 1,133 people calling it home, which represents a 35.9 per cent increase in population.
Smaller communities than Niverville, such as Grunthal, Lac du Bonnet, Oakbank and Lorette, witnessed increases in population ranging from 32 to 21 per cent.
In larger centres, such as Steinbach, the increases have also been rather high. The “Automobile City” saw its population jump from 11,066 souls in 2006 to 13,524 in 2011, an increase of 22.2 per cent.
Last year, WinnipegREALTORS® noted that over 500 homes were sold in Steinbach last year, which was a big chunk of the total home sales in rural Manitoba.
Steinbach, similar to nearby Winkler and Morden are benefiting from a boom brought on by attracting immigrants.  Steinbach now ranks as Manitoba’s third largest city. Five years ago it was over 1,000 people behind Portage la Prairie, but it’s population has since surpassed Portage, knocking to fourth place in the standings.
 Morden now has a population of 7,812, which is an 18.9 per cent increase from 6,571in 2006. Meanwhile, during the same period, Winkler’s population rose by 17.5 per cent to 12,005 people and ranks sixth in population.
Selkirk, which virtually abuts Winnipeg, had a population jump of just four per cent, and is now in seventh place with 9,934 people.
WinnipegREALTORS® president Shirley Przybyl said immigration is spurring on new housing developments not only in Winnipeg, but outside the city.
She also agrees with Niverville’s mayor that the attraction to smaller communities is a matter of seeking an alternative lifestyle.
“Sometimes the homes are a little cheaper” and people are wiling to drivethe extra distance to work in the city, she added, but that isn’t the overriding reason. “People are looking to the countryside for alternatives” to urban living.
Brandon, Manitoba’s second largest city, experienced a 11 per cent population boom in the five years between 2006 and 2011, rising to 46,061 residents. Much of the increase can be attributed to the immigrants coming to the “Wheat City” to work in the Maple  Foods hog-processing plant. People originally from El Salvador, China, Columbia and elsewhere now call the city home.
Neepawa, an hour’s drive north of Brandon, also has a hog-processing facility to attract new immigrants. It’s 6.5 per cent population increase was less dramatic than Brandon’s, but the communitiy had 3,174 people living within its boundaries in 2011.
Population decreases primarily occurred in northern communities. Flin Flon, The Pas and Thompson, all experienced population losses between 2006 and 2011 of between over one per cent and over four per cent. Thompson ranks as Manitoba’s fifth largest city with a population of 12,829 people. It had 13,446 people in 2006. What these communities have in common is that their economies are reliant on resources, and demand for metals and forestry products rises and falls in the marketplace.
Meanwhile, Winnipeg isn’t faring too badly in the resident count. It’s population rose by 4.7 per cent during the five-year period. The city’s population was 641,551 people in 2006 and by 2011 had risen to 671,551.
As Przybyl said, Winnipeg is a happening place. “There are so many things happening that are bringing people back to the city,” she added. That would include the return of NHL hockey, the new football stadium, new airport and the building of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
Thanks to immigration, Manitoba and its communities are growing. And the Provincial Nominee Program, which targets specific immigrants comfortable with living in a smaller Canadian province, deserves most of the credit for the influx.
Now, if only enough affordable housing can be found to accommodate those who want to call Manitoba home. That’s one problem that remains to be adequately addressed.