The census geographic units of Canada are the census subdivisions defined and used by Canada's federal government statistics bureau Statistics Canada to conduct the country's quinquennial census. These areas exist solely for the purposes of statistical analysis and presentation; they have no government of their own. They exist on four levels: the top-level (first-level) divisions are Canada's provinces and territories; these are divided into second-level census divisions, which in turn are divided into third-level census subdivisions (roughly corresponding to municipalities) and fourth-level dissemination areas.
In some provinces, a census division also corresponds to a county or another similar unit of political organization while in other provinces, the boundaries are chosen arbitrarily as no such level of government exists. Two of Canada's three territories are also divided into census divisions.
Canada's second-level geographic units are called "census divisions." In terms of size, they generally lie between the top-level administrative divisions of the province and territory and third-level administrative divisions such as sections, townships and ranges. Census divisions are divided into census subdivisions (see section below).
|Province/Territory||Second-level divisions||Census divisions correspond to second-level divisions?|
|Alberta||Rural municipalities||No||Census divisions consist of groups of rural municipalities.|
|British Columbia||Regional districts||Yes||Census divisions correspond with regional districts.|
|Manitoba||Rural municipalities||No||Census divisions consist of groups of rural municipalities.|
|New Brunswick||Counties||Yes||Census divisions correspond to historical counties.|
|Newfoundland and Labrador||Municipalities||No||Census divisions are delineated without reference to administrative or other forms of division.|
|Northwest Territories||Administrative regions||No||Census divisions do not correspond with the administrative regions of the Northwest Territories.|
|Nova Scotia||Counties||Yes||Census divisions correspond to historical counties.|
|Nunavut||Regions||Yes||Census divisions correspond with the administrative regions of Nunavut.|
|Ontario||Upper-tier municipalities||Yes||Census divisions consist of "upper-tier" municipalities (counties, districts, regional municipalities, single-tier cities).|
|Prince Edward Island||Counties||Yes||Census divisions correspond to historical counties.|
|Quebec||Regional county municipalities||Yes||Census divisions mostly correspond to regional county municipalities or equivalent territories.|
|Saskatchewan||Rural municipalities||No||Census divisions consist of groups of rural municipalities.|
|Yukon||None||Yes||Yukon has no regional government, and is not subdivided by the census.|
In most cases, a census division corresponds to a single unit of the appropriate type listed above. However, in a few cases, Statistics Canada groups two or more units into a single statistical division:
In almost all such cases, the division in question was formerly a single unit of the standard type, which was divided into multiple units by its province after the Canada 2001 Census.
A census consolidated subdivision is a geographic unit between census division and census subdivision. It is a combination of adjacent census subdivisions typically consisting of larger, more rural census subdivisions and smaller, more densely populated census subdivisions.
Census subdivisions generally correspond to the municipalities of Canada, as determined by provincial and territorial legislation. They can also correspond to area which are deemed to be equivalents to municipalities for statistical reporting purposes, such as Indian reserves, Indian settlements, and unorganized territories where municipal level government may not exist. Statistics Canada has created census subdivisions in cooperation with the provinces of British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nova Scotia as equivalents for municipalities. The Indian reserve and Indian settlement census subdivisions are determined according to criteria established by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.
Dissemination areas are the smallest standard geographic unit in Canada and cover the entire country. As small areas, they comprise one or more dissemination blocks and have a population between 400 and 700 people.
A "census metropolitan area" (CMA) is a grouping of census subdivisions comprising a large urban area (the "urban core") and those surrounding "urban fringes" with which it is closely integrated. To become a CMA, an area must register an urban core population of at least 100,000 at the previous census. CMA status is retained even if this core population later drops below 100,000.
The methodology used by Statistics Canada does not allow for CMA-CMA mergers into larger statistical areas; consequently, there is no Canadian equivalent to the combined statistical areas of the United States. Statistics Canada has stated that Toronto, Oshawa and Hamilton could be merged into a single CSA were such an approach utilised. Statistics Canada has described the Greater Golden Horseshoe as the country's largest urban area.
A "census agglomeration" (CA) is a smaller version of a CMA in which the urban core population at the previous census was greater than 10,000 but less than 100,000. If the population of an urban core is less than 50,000, it is the starting point for the construction of a 'census agglomeration'.
CMAs and CAs with a population greater than 50,000 are subdivided into census tracts which have populations ranging from 2,500 to 8,000.
A population centre (PC), formerly known as an urban area (UA), is any grouping of contiguous dissemination areas that has a minimum population of 1,000 and an average population density of 400 persons per square kilometre or greater. For the 2011 census, urban area was renamed "population centre". In 2011, Statistics Canada identified 942 population centres in Canada. Some population centres cross municipal boundaries and not all municipalities contain a population centre while others have more than one.
The population centre level of geography is further divided into the following three groupings based on population:
A "designated place" (DPL) is usually a small community that does not meet the criteria used to define incorporated municipalities or urban areas (areas with a population of at least 1,000 and no fewer than 400 persons per square kilometre), but for which Statistics Canada or a provincial government has requested that similar demographic data be compiled.
A "locality" (LOC) is a historical named location or place. The named location may be a former census subdivision, a former urban area, or a former designated place. It may also refer to neighbourhoods, post offices, communities and unincorporated places among other entities.
...application of the American combination criteria could result in the consolidation (combining) of the CMAs of Oshawa and Hamilton with the Toronto CMA.
In 2006, nearly half of all Canadians, 13.9 million people, were living in the country's three largest urban areas: the Montréal census metropolitan area, the Vancouver census metropolitan area, and the Greater Golden Horseshoe in southern Ontario.