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THEME · WHO WE ARE
OUR POPULATION
A YOUNG POPULATION

As of 2016, Fort St. John's median age is 31.5 years. Canada's population is getting older. The Canadian population median age increased from 31.5 years to 41.2 years in the last 30 years. Fort St. John has defied provincial and national trends. Why has Fort St. John bucked provincial and national trends in population aging? And what does having a young population mean for the community?

THE DATA

Canada’s population is getting older. In 1984, the median age in the Canadian population was 31.5 years. In 2016, the median age was 41.2 years. BC’s median age is 43 years.

Fort St. John has defied provincial and national trends. As of the latest census (2016), Fort St. John’s median age is 31.5 years. Why has Fort St. John bucked provincial and national trends in population aging? And what does having a young population mean for the community?

To get at the first question, there are four factors that affect both the size and age of the population. First, there is “natural change” that is determined by the number of births and deaths. If there are more births than deaths, as is happening in Fort St. John, then there will be a natural increase in the size of the population, at the same time as a decrease in the population’s overall age.

The remaining three factors affecting population size and age all have to do with migration. First, there are migrants arriving to Fort St. John from other communities in BC, which Statistics Canada records as “intra-provincial migration.” Second, there are migrants coming to Fort St. John from other provinces, which Statistics Canada records as “inter-provincial migration.” Third, there are migrants arriving from other countries, which Statistics Canada records as “external migration.” It is worth noting that migrants to Fort St. John tend to consist of younger working-age families. Families are often attracted to Fort St. John because of the high wages and low costs of homeownership.


Population pyramid, Fort St. John, 2016
Source: Statistics Canada. 1996. Census Program


Population pyramid, British Columbia, 2016
Source: Statistics Canada. 1996. Census Program

IMPLICATIONS

Let’s now turn to what having a young population means for the community. In Fort St. John, the largest age bracket is 25 to 29-year-olds. This age group has been the largest for the last 35 years in Fort St. John. Many people in this age group are just starting families or have young children. Young families need access to child care, schools, and recreational amenities like municipal parks and public swimming pools. For singles in the 25 to 29-year-old age bracket, there is a different set of community needs to consider, with downtown amenities such as theatres, libraries, cafes and art exhibits. Of course, young families also enjoy and benefit from many of these same amenities, and this is part of the reason why the City of Fort St. John is revitalizing the downtown core. By making the downtown family-friendly, the downtown will be more than a shopping and entertainment centre for singles and parents who have a night off courtesy of the babysitter; the City hopes that, by encouraging family-friendly activities, such as festivals, public art, and car free days, the downtown will be transformed into the heart of the community.



AN AGING POPULATION

Fort St. John has a growing seniors population, but some seniors are leaving because of a lack of services and housing options. Over the last thirty years, the number of seniors living in Fort St. John increased by 119%! How can the community ensure it is age-friendly to retain its seniors population?

THE DATA

Fort St. John has a relatively young population when compared with the provincial and national populations. Nevertheless, the population of seniors has been growing quickly in Fort St. John. The Community Profile revealed that, in the last 30 years, the percentage of the population aged 65 years and older grew by nearly 3% to 7.3% of the total population. Put another way, over the last thirty years, the number of seniors living in Fort St. John increased by 119%!

Fort St. John seniors have long been aware of their growing numbers and their unmet needs. This is especially true of seniors housing. Save Our Northern Seniors (SONS) was created in 2004 to advocate for seniors housing. At the same time, the provincial government, Northern Health, and the City of Fort St. John have been addressing the pressing need for seniors housing in the community. For instance, in 2012, the City contributed land valued at $313,000 towards Heritage Manor III, with federal and provincial governments contributing funds for the construction of eight units of affordable seniors housing. That same year Northern Health opened Peace Villa with 123 beds for long term care.

Presently, SONS has been urging the construction of an addition to Peace Villa in order to accommodate 60 residents, and the North Peace Senior Housing Society is looking into constructing a fifth apartment complex to provide independent and affordable housing to the 102 seniors currently on the waiting list. SONS’ most recent estimate (2017) sets seniors housing capacity in Fort St. John at 346 beds, with a waiting list of 261 persons.

In 2018, the Community Development Institute, in partnership with the City of Fort St. John, conducted an Age-Friendly Assessment and Action Plan to find out the barriers to active and healthy aging in Fort St. John. The Age-Friendly Assessment and Action Plan is a critical first step towards making the community more age-friendly. Changes in the retention rate will indicate how much of an impact these actions are having, as more and more new retirees decide to stay in Fort St. John.



Census Data for Seniors (65 years and older) in Fort St. John
Source: Statistics Canada. Census of Population. 1981-2016


Fort St. John population aged 55 years and over by sex
Source: Statistics Canada. 2016. Census Profile of Fort St. John.


Peace River North LHA population change by age cohort, 2011 to 2041.
Source: BC Stats. 2018. Peace River North. Sub-Provincial Population Projections P.E.O.P.L.E.

IMPLICATIONS

An aging population in Fort St. John provides many opportunities for the community to grow and develop in a progressive manner, ensuring consideration of needs specific to seniors. Opportunities to provide adequate housing and appropriate accessibility to existing and new buildings are available. Similarly, there is a need for expanded transit options for ensuring seniors have opportunities to participate in daily life as well as community events. There are also plenty of opportunities to grow and expand the non-profit sector, which supplies a variety of supports and services to seniors. For more details, please access the CDI’s Age-Friendly Assessment and Action Plan for Fort St. John.



AN INCREASINGLY DIVERSE POPULATION

The population of Fort St. John is becoming more diverse. From 1996 to 2016, the visible minority population grew from 3% to 12% of the total population. Employment and education opportunities bring newcomers to Fort St. John, but what keeps them here?

THE DATA

According to Statistics Canada census data, between 1996 and 2006, Fort St. John’s visible minority population increased only 1%, from 3% to 4% of the total population. Between 2006 and 2016, however, Fort St. John’s visible minority population increased by 8%, such that visible minorities now represent 12% of the total population.

Statistics Canada does not count temporary residents, so the visible minority population is actually larger than what is revealed in the census data. For instance, in 2015, local employers hired 300 immigrants through the temporary foreign workers program. Northern Lights College’s Fort St. John campus has 220 international students, many of whom are visible minorities. It should be pointed out that many temporary foreign workers and international students eventually seek to obtain permanent residence.


Visibility minority population, Fort St. John, 1996-2016
Source: Statistics Canada. 1996-2016. Census Program.

IMPLICATIONS

Newcomers from out of country face a number of challenges because of differences in culture, language, and climate. A community that is welcoming to new people and visible minorities offers immigration services, language and skills training. A welcoming and inclusive community celebrates diversity and encourages mutual understanding and connections between cultures.

WHAT'S HAPPENING IN FORT ST. JOHN?

Fortunately, Fort St. John has several organizations dedicated to ensuring that newcomers are successful in adapting to the changes that come with a different community, climate, and culture. The S.U.C.C.E.S.S. immigrant settlement program has been in operation for many years. More recently, the Fort St. John Local Immigration Partnership was set up. There are supports for newcomers in the school system, such as the SWIS (Settlement Workers in Schools) program. The Fort St. John Literacy Society provides English as a Second Language (ESL) training. There are organizations that provide newcomers with a cultural and spiritual network. Even though Fort St. John might be cold outside, the community is welcoming and well positioned to embrace its growing cultural and ethnic diversity.



A GROWING INDIGENOUS POPULATION

Fort St. John has a higher percentage of self-identified Aboriginal people, 11% of the total population, when compared with BC (5% of total provincial population). How is the community planning for the trend towards urban reserves and welcoming our neighbours to the City?

THE DATA

Archaeologists have found artifacts from Tse’K’wa (Charlie Lake Cave) near Fort St. John that date human occupation up to 11,000 years ago. The Dane-Zaa (Beaver) and Tsé-’kéh-ne (Sekani) inhabited the Peace River valley area around present-day Fort St. John for millennia. The Peace River derives its name from a peace treaty negotiated between the Dane-Za and neighbouring Cree. In addition to the First Peoples, there were Métis families living in the area around present-day Fort St. John at the beginning of the fur trade. In 1899, the Cree, Dunne-Za, and Chipewyan (a total of 39 First Nations communities) entered Treaty 8 with the British Crown, which was intended to allow First Nations people the ability to exercise rights to the entire Treaty 8 territory.

The reserves located in proximity to Fort St. John include the Doig River First Nation, Blueberry River First Nation, Halfway River First Nation, West Moberly First Nation, and Saulteau First Nation. As First Nations people sometimes alternate between living on-reserve and in Fort St. John, census data from Statistics Canada must be interpreted with caution. This is reflected in the census data for people identifying as First Nations in Fort St. John, with considerable fluctuation between 1996 and 2011, and stabilization between 2011 and 2016. Nevertheless, the overarching trend is towards an increase in First Nations living in Fort St. John. This is part of a larger trend in Canada of migration from reserves to urban centres.


Aboriginal identity, Fort St. John, 1996-2016
Source: Statistics Canada. 1996-2016. Census Program.


Aboriginal identity, percentage of population, Fort St. John, 1996-2016
Source: Statistics Canada. 1996-2016. Census Program.

IMPLICATIONS

There has been interest in establishing an urban reserve in Fort St. John from the Doig River First Nation and Halfway River First Nation, which are respectively located 30 kilometres northeast and 100 kilometers northwest of Fort St. John. As the name implies, an urban reserve is reserve land located in or near an urban centre. The City of Fort St. John, in the latest revision to the Official Community Plan, has committed to a proactive and transparent planning process for the establishment of an urban reserve(s) in Fort St. John. The aim is to ensure that urban reserves are compatible with surrounding land uses and that urban reserve lands are developed according to the same standards that apply to all properties in the City.

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