Sioux Lookout mayor not surprised by population increase in latest census

The mayor of Sioux Lookout doesn’t seem surprised the latest census numbers show the population of the community has increased over 10 per cent.

The population of the municipality rose from 5,272 in 2016 to 5,839 in the most recent census in 2021. This is in contrast with much of the northwest, where communities like Kenora, Fort Frances, Atikokan, Red Lake and Dryden, which all had their recorded population decline in the 2021 census from 2016.

Sioux Lookout Mayor Doug Lawrance said there are a few reasons for the change.

“I think it's a bit of a catch up on being underestimated in some previous censuses undercounted,” he said. “I also think it was a push by Stats Canada a fair bit in the news and we did a local push to have people participate in the census.

Lawrance said there's always been a sense that the Indigenous population is under reported on the census for various reasons.

“I think there are many people who live in on there might be here for a few years, a year or two for health reasons or to support a family member while they're in education, for employment,” he said.

Lawrance said many people still consider their First Nation as their home and feel that’s where they should be counted, even if they may be living in Sioux Lookout

He said after the census in 2016 the municipality even considered conducting its own census because it felt the numbers were too low, but realized the costs would be extremely expensive and weren't sure that the results would be accepted.

“It was going to be difficult to overturn the national Stats Canada data,” he said. “So we opted not to do it. We decided to just put ads in the paper, [to] try and encourage people through media releases to participate in the census.”

He said the new numbers are probably pretty close to where the municipality should be.

Lawrence said the [Municipal Property Assessment Corporation] count shows Sioux Lookout has about 2,700 properties.

“You can always do a ratio of property count to population,” he said. "And then and if you get two point something people per property count, you're getting into the right range.”

Lawrance said getting the census right is very important as some provincial and federal funding is directly tied to population account.

“Having good data is always a key to good decisions,” he said. “It goes across many sectors.

Lawrance said having accurate data is important in knowing whether the community is growing or shrinking and what is the demographic breakdown.

He also said an undercount could affect how they can attract industry or even fast food franchises and hotels, as they'll often only consider communities over a certain population threshold.

“We found that in the past that we have to emphasize the how busy Sioux Lookout is in terms of people coming and going as well as what the population is,” he said. “So [an accurate population count is] important for good planning, for economic development reasons, for many things.”

Eric Shih, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Thunder Bay Source