Everyone knows rural Canada’s population is tanking. Except it’s not.

This afternoon I was browsing a fascinating new publication from Statistics Canada, Canadian Demographics at a Glance, when I came upon this shocking headline:

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 3.52.21 PMNow we rural denizens are used to being reminded of our increasing irrelevance to all things economic and political in Canada, but my gosh, has it really been an unbroken, 163-year decline? As befits a statistical website, the report furnished a suitable, illustrative graph:

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But wait! When you get to the fine print, it turns out it’s not the rural population that’s falling, merely the proportion of Canadians who live in rural areas (defined as places with fewer than 1000 people and fewer than 400 inhabitants/sq. km.). In fact, the report shows more than six million people live in rural Canada, which doesn’t sound quite so trifling. It’s more than live in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba combined, far more than live in BC, and almost as many as live in Quebec.

This got me thinking: Surely there can’t have been six million people in rural Canada in 1851. Rural Canada’s population must have risen, in absolute numbers. So, using StatsCans own numbers, I constructed a graph of my own. And sure enough:

Title-pop graph2Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 1.34.13 PM

Canada’s rural population has been rising quite steadily since 1851. True, the increase has levelled off over the last two decades, but so has the decline in our share of Canada’s total population (as shown in the last three bars of the first graph).

Our influence and political power? That has indeed been falling. Which may be why urban statisticians could publish such a misleading chart.