Census learning centre
Role of geography

Release date: November 17, 2021 Updated on: June 21, 2023

Catalogue number: 982000032021001

Hello and welcome to the "Role of geography" video.

The objective of this video is to describe the role of geography in the census. It explains how the three stages of the census cycle define geographic areas to make it possible to locate them on the ground and link them to census data. It also covers the hierarchy of the standard geographic levels and the National Geographic Database.


Watch the video

Concept videos: Role of geography - Transcription

(The Statistics Canada symbol and "Canada" wordmark appear on screen with the title: "Concept courses: Role of geography.")

Welcome to the online geography course!

The objective of this course is to describe the role of geography in the context of the activities of the 2021 Census and previous censuses.

In this course, you will find a series of videos, which will teach you more about these topics.

The role of geography in the census is to combine data and produce analyses for various geographic areas in order to paint a geographic portrait of Canada and its population.

These geographic areas, which range from provinces and territories to blocks, are defined by boundaries, names and other information that make it possible to locate them on the ground and to link them to census data.

To do this, the census is divided into a cycle of three very specific stages: consultation, collection and dissemination.

First, users are consulted about the geographic concepts used by Statistics Canada and about the different options for disseminating standard geographic data and products.

Then, small geographic areas, like collection blocks, are defined and mapped in detail so that every dwelling can be located during the data collection phase.

Finally, census data are disseminated for all standard geographic areas and are designed specifically for dissemination, along with supporting reference maps and other geographic data products.

During collection, the standard geographic areas used by Statistics Canada are illustrated in the form of a hierarchy called the hierarchical model of geographic areas for collection.

This hierarchy is divided into five vertically stacked geographic levels, which include Canada, the provinces and territories, census divisions of the previous census, collection units, and collection blocks.

In the census data dissemination stage, the geographic areas range in size, from Canada and the provinces and territories to dissemination blocks.

(A flow chart for the National Geographic Database appears on screen, and which is also available to view here: Hierarchical model of geographic areas for dissemination.)

These are organized into a much more complex hierarchical model called the hierarchical model for the dissemination of geographic areas.

The purpose of this hierarchy is to illustrate the hierarchical relationship between the standard geographic areas used to disseminate census data.

(The words "For more detailed information of this image, click on the 'Hierarchical model of geographic areas for dissemination' link in the link section above," appear on the bottom of the screen.)

The standard geographic areas that Statistics Canada uses for census and survey collection and dissemination activities are created, maintained and supported by detailed geographic data that are stored in a specific geographic database called the National Geographic Database.

It is a spatial database that supports a wide range of census operations and comprises roads with attribute information, such as names and addresses, reference layers like lakes and rivers and the rail network.

It also contains administrative boundaries that delineate geographic entities such as census subdivisions, census divisions, and provinces.

A priority of this database, which is also shared by Elections Canada, is to constantly improve the quality of its data and the accuracy of its geographic coverage using geospatial data.

These data are provided by the provinces, territories, and local sources.

In short, the National Geographic Database is the main tool used by Statistics Canada for its collection and dissemination activities.

(The words, "Thank you for watching the first module on the role of geography in the census cycle!" appear on screen.)

This concludes the first module on the role of geography in the census cycle.

(The census logo appears with a link, which is also available to view here: Census of Population. The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) 978-0-660-40860-6 appears underneath the link.)

For more detailed information regarding concepts, variables, methodology, historical comparability and other elements, please refer to Statistics Canada's census pages.

(The "Canada" wordmark appears.)

Report a problem on this page

Is something not working? Is there information outdated? Can't find what you're looking for?

Please contact us and let us know how we can help you.

Privacy notice

Date modified: