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Government Publications - Census of Canada

Geographical Terminology

Census data are presented according to a standardized, hierarchical system of geographic areas.

For complete geography documentation see Statistics Canada's  Illustrated Glossary.

Note that in all tables, geography is numbered from from East to West according to the Standard Geographical Classification (SGC). The SGC is Statistics Canada’s official classification for geographic areas in Canada. The  SGC covers all of the provinces and territories of Canada and was developed in the early 1960s  to enable the production of integrated statistics by geographic area.

The Census presents data for a wide range of geographical areas, from national level to Census Tracts, Dissemination Areas, and Blocks.

Statistics Canada uses several approaches to dividing Canada geographically for the Census. It does not use 6-digit postal codes. Instead, Census areas are based upon:

  1. legal boundaries (e.g. Census Division, Census Subdivision, Health Region)
  2. urbanization level  (e.g. Census Metropolitan Area, Census Tract)
  3. electoral boundaries (e.g. Federal Electoral District)

Every geographic unit has a unique number.



List of commonly-used Census boundaries, arranged from largest to smallest:

Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) or Census Agglomeration (CA)

An urban area "consisting of one or more neighbouring municipalities situated around a major urban core." A CMA/CA may cover the same geographic area as a Census District (CD).

  • CMA is a large urban area; minimum population = 100,000, with at least 50,000 living in the urban core 
    • e.g. Vancouver CMA = Greater Vancouver 
      note: the Vancouver CMA has the same boundaries as the Vancouver Census District (CD), which is the Greater Vancouver Regional District (see more info below).
  • CA is a small urban area; minimum urban core population of at least 10,000
    • e.g. Penticton is a CA


Census Division (CD):  A regional district (in BC). It is a "group of neighbouring municipalities joined together for the purposes of regional planning and managing common services (such as police or ambulance services)." A legal entity, created by provincial governments.

  • e.g. Vancouver CD = Greater Vancouver Regional District

A CD may cover the same geographic area as its corresponding CMA/CA.

  • e.g. the Vancouver CD covers the same area as the Vancouver CMA

Census Subdivision (CSD)

A city. It is an "area that is a municipality or an area that is deemed to be equivalent to a municipality." A legal entity,

  • e.g. Vancouver CSD = City of Vancouver

Forward Sortation Area (FSA): represents the first three characters of the postal code (an example is V3W) (roughly equivalent to 4 to 6 census tracts). Maps of FSAs are avaiable on the Canada Post website. 

Census Tract (CT): is a stable area of 2500 to 8000 people in CMAs and CAs. 

You can find CT Maps 3 ways

Maps of census tracts for Vancouver are available on the 2nd floor of Koerner Library in the Gov Pubs Census.


Dissemination Area (DA): is a small area of one or more neighbouring blocks, with a population of 400 to 700 persons. This is the smallest area for which statistics are publicly available.

You can find DA maps 2 ways: 

  • Use GeoSearch 2006 (See box on Right) 
  • Choose from list on the Reference Maps webpage

If, however, you require data for Dissemination Areas or Forward Sortation Areas, you must use Profile and Topic-Based Tabulation files available on the Data Services Census webpages for 2001, 2006, and 2011.

Postal Code

 6-digits. Smaller than a DA, but larger than a DB. Statcan does not release Census data by postal code.

Although you can search the CT Profiles by Postal Code, the results will be for the closest matching CT. You will not find Census tables/data broken down by Postal Code. You need to use Statistics Canada's Postal Code Conversion File (PCCF) to 'translate' 6-digit postal codes into the closest Census boundaries, and vice versa. The PCCF is available through the Canadian Census Analyser data service.

Maps: Not available. Canada Post only produces FSA and "Letter Carrier Walk" maps.

Dissemination Block (DB)

An area "equivalent to a city block bounded by intersecting streets." These areas cover all of Canada. This is the smallest geographic area measured in Census. Statistics at this level are not available outside of secure Research Data Centres




GeoSearch 2011

Easy-to-search mapping tool for 2011 Census data and geographic boundaries.

  1. open GeoSearch 2011
  2. click on 'Search' tab below the map
  3. enter a specific address, intersection, or postal code
  4. click on 'Boundaries' tab and use drop-down menu to 'Select main boundary to display on map' (e.g. Dissemination Area)
  5. click on specific area on the map to select it, and to display the geographic code number for that area
  6. scroll down to view 2011 Census Profile statistics for the selected area
  7. click on the 'Thematic maps' tab to produce colour-coded map comparing a specific Census item in surrounding areas

GeoSearch 2006

GeoSearch 2006 is a great tool for mapping basic 2006 Census data, and locating any type of 2006 Census boundary. 

  1. open GeoSearch 2006
  2. click on 'Search' tab below the map
  3. enter a specific address, intersection, or postal code
  4. click on 'Layers (1)' or 'Layers (2)' tab and select radio button for type of area (e.g. Census Tract)
  5. click on specific area on the map to select it
  6. click on the 'Thematic maps' tab to display basic 2006 Census data for selected area (as small as a Census Tract)

To find out the ID number for an area, click on the i symbol ('Identify') and then click on the area.