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In 1981, 36% of households in Fort St. John had four or more persons, making it the largest category of households at the time. In 2016, one and two-person households had grown to account for 59% of households in Fort St. John. What does the growth in smaller households mean for Fort St. John?


Between 1981 and 2016, the proportion of households with four or more persons decreased from 36% to 23% (-13%), while one and two-person households increased from 44% to 59% (+15%).

Part of the explanation for the decreasing size of households in the community is the 15% increase in the proportion of couples without children, from 30% in 1981 to 45% in 2016. Another factor is the trend toward fewer children. In 1981, the average family size was 3.3 people. In 2016, it was 2.9 people.

Given that families are now smaller, the number of households in Fort St. John has increased. Between 1981 and 2016, Fort St. John experienced a 73% growth in the number of households from 4,590 to 7,935. In 2016, 2,725 (29%) of these were non-Census households, that is a household comprised of people living in the same residence who have no familial relationships, such as the living arrangements among roommates or co-workers.

Private households by household size, Fort St. John, 1981-2016
Source: Statistics Canada. 1981-2016. Census Program.

Average size of census families, 1981-2016
Source: Statistics Canada. 1981-2016. Census Program.

Private households by household type, percentage of private households, Fort St. John, 1981-2016
Source: Statistics Canada. 1981-2016. Census Program.


The shift towards smaller households aligns with provincial and national trends of an aging population, producing ‘empty nesters’, and people marrying later in life and having fewer children. Both of these have implications for communities.

One of the key implications relates to housing stock. In Fort St. John, more than 60% of homes have three or more bedrooms. These family homes were designed and built on large lots for large families. In contrast, only about 35% of the housing stock in Fort St. John features just one or two bedrooms.

The need for more housing to accommodate the same number of people points to the need to densify neighbourhoods. Building smaller homes on smaller lots, or infilling with small scale multi-family dwellings, can help avoid the servicing costs associated with urban sprawl. Small scale multi-family housing would also provide options for meeting the growth of non-census households of roommates or co-workers.

Growth in the number of households provides good news for businesses and the service sector. There are new opportunities to provide the goods, including furnishings and equipment, and the services needed by singles and couples, whether seniors or young adults.


In recent years, there has been increased density and greater diversity in the available housing stock. For example, as will be described in a later post on Fort St. John’s housing stock, there has been more recent growth in higher density housing options.

With respect to the growing population of smaller seniors households, the City of Fort St. John is conducting an Age-Friendly Assessment and developing an Age-Friendly Action Plan. The assessment and action plan will consider housing, urban design, programs, and services for an aging population.


Fort St. John has a very mobile population. In 2016, the census reported that 59% of Fort St. John’s population had moved in the past 5 years. This group of ‘movers’, includes 51% who moved within the city, and 49% who came from outside the city. What does this mean for Fort St. John?


As reported by the 2016 Census, there is considerable mobility to and within Fort St. John. In 2016, 59% of the population had moved within the last five years. This, however, is a reduction from 1991, when 69% of the population had moved within or to Fort St. John in the previous five years. Mobility over time is, of course, impacted by many things including the general health of the local and regional economy.

To break this data down further, in 2016, 51% of movers were people who relocated within the City, while the remaining 49% were new residents. Looking more closely at the new residents, in 2016, 80% came from elsewhere in Canada or BC, while people from other countries accounted for 20% of new residents. This proportion of new residents moving to Fort St. John from other countries has increased 16%, from 4% in 1991.

It should be noted that Statistics Canada’s Census program does not take into account the population engaged in long distance labour commuting. For resource-based communities, such as Fort St. John, there is a ‘shadow population’ of mobile workers who complete the census in their home community, and are, therefore, not enumerated as residents of Fort St. John.

Mobility status 5 years ago, Fort St. John, 1991-2016
Source: Statistics Canada. 1991-2016. Census Program.

Mobility status 5 years ago, percentage of population, Fort St. John, 1991-2016
Source: Statistics Canada. 1991-2016. Census Program.

Source: CDI Community Profile Fort St. John.


It has long been said that people will move to a community for the jobs, but will stay for the quality of life. Whether people are coming from other parts of BC and Canada or from other countries, being a welcoming community is important to retaining them. New residents will be looking for ways to connect. ‘Welcome programs’, in the workplace, in the neighbourhood, and in the community can be helpful. Reaching out to invite people to join organizations and groups can create opportunities for friendships and support networks to form. New residents use services and buy goods, contributing to the local economy. They also add to the total population, which is often used by senior levels of government to determine service and funding levels.

Concerns expressed by many resource-based communities about the ‘shadow population’ are related to ensuring that funding for the services and programs provided by senior governments, for example health care, education, and emergency services is adequate. A large ‘shadow population’ can result in service shortages and long wait times for everyone in the community.


Fort St. John has long welcomed new residents to the community. Today, there are a number of organizations that provide programs and services for new residents. S.U.C.C.E.S.S. Northern BC provides counselling services to newcomers and informs them of the available community services. The Local Immigration Partnership was recently established to coordinate volunteer and government-run programs and services that are geared towards integrating newcomers.

Recently, Canadian researchers from the On the Move Partnership visited Fort St. John to discuss issues around the ‘shadow population’ and the impact of long-distance labour commuting. They indicated that, in addition to a lack of Census data on the ‘shadow population’, there is a policy void, such that governments are challenged in regulating and mitigating the impacts of Canada’s growing long distance worker phenomena.


In Fort St. John, people living in married and common-law relationships remain the norm, but things are changing. In 2016, 57% of the population (15 years and older) were in a coupled relationship, and 43% were single. This compares to 66% in coupled relationships, and 34% living as singles in 1981. What does this change mean for Fort St. John?


In 2016, 57% of people in Fort St. John were either married or living common-law. The remaining 43% were single. The population living in a coupled relationship outnumbered singles, except for the period between 1996 and 2006, when a strong economy in the region attracted young single workers.

For couples in Fort St. John, marriage has been the norm. However, between 1991 and 2016, the proportion of legally married couples decreased by 11% from 83% to 72%. It is unclear whether this is an ongoing trend; since 2006, the proportion of married couples has more or less remained the same at around 73%.

Marital status, percentage of couple families, Fort St. John, 1991-2016
Source: Statistics Canada. 1991-2016. Census Program.


Changes in the Fort St. John population have implications across the community. Business owners, service providers, and those planning infrastructure such as housing and facilities need to be attentive to these changes and trends. For example, couples, married or common-law, in their family formation years, are more likely to have or be thinking about having children. Communities need to be prepared for the future service needs of young families including having quality schools, health care services, recreation facilities, and programs that are geared to children.

Older singles and ‘empty nester’ couples tend to have more disposable income - something of interest to business owners. Older retired households create opportunities for smaller housing units as they seek to downsize. This segment of the population also tends to have more time - which should be of interest to the voluntary sector and service providers. Older households in the community means that attention must be directed towards services, recreation, and health care that is oriented to the needs and lifestyles of an older or seniors population.Households comprised of young singles, are more likely to be mobile. They are also more likely to have disposable income and so there are significant potential impacts in the housing market and for local businesses and retail sector services. Communities, including businesses, retail, and other services, can find opportunities in this dynamic segment of the population if they understand and prepare for this target market.


There are a range of programs and services offered to couples in the family formation years. School District 60 is building a new elementary school, the Margaret “Ma” Murray Community School, which will provide K-6 schooling for 365 students and include a daycare facility. Planning is also underway for another K-6 elementary school.

Young families can also participate in the Fort St. John Playgroup run by the Parents & Tots Playgroup Society or the North Peace Family Place. The Family Friendly Community has a website with a directory of family-oriented social and recreation programs run by not-for-profit and public agencies. There are also recreational and social programs for older couples and singles provided by community groups and seniors housing organizations.

For the growing number of young singles in Fort St. John, there are several cafes, pubs, sports bars, and microbreweries.


One key to greater financial resilience for households involves managing the costs associated with housing. In 2016, nearly 30% of renter households spent more than 30% of their income on housing. In contrast, only 9% of owner households spend more than 30% of their income on housing costs. What are the implications of housing costs for renter households in Fort St. John?


One key to greater financial resilience for households involves managing the costs associated with housing. In 2016, average rents in Fort St. John were roughly the same as in Vancouver, but homeownership in comparison is much more affordable. This is important as Fort St. John is a city of homeowners. In 2016, 61% of households owned their home compared to 39% who rented. These percentages are virtually unchanged since 1981.Statistics Canada measures housing affordability based on the proportion of households spending 30% or more of their income on shelter. In 2016, 29.5% of renter households in Fort St. John spent more than 30% of their income on housing. In contrast, only 9.4% owner households spend more than 30% of their income on housing.

Housing affordability is related not only to the cost of housing, but also to levels of household income. In future posts we will review the data for Fort St. John in terms of median household incomes, and changes in median incomes over time. We will also look specifically at vulnerable populations through an examination of households living with low incomes.

Housing tenure, Fort St. John, 1981-2016
Source: Statistics Canada. 1981-2016. Census Program.

Costs for owner households, Fort St. John, 1981-2016
Source: Statistics Canada. 1981-2016. Census Program.

Costs for tenant households, Fort St. John, 1981-2016
Source: Statistics Canada. 1981-2016. Census Program.


Housing market prices follow a number of signals over time. Important among those signals are the health of the local economy and the income levels that can be found in that economy. In Fort St. John, there are a number of sectors that pay relatively high incomes. For those with these higher incomes, homeownership is more affordable. Over time, homeownership not only reduces long-term housing costs for the household but also provides a key opportunity for accumulating wealth through the value of that property and housing. Given the importance of homeownership in the Canadian economy, and for individual households, communities need to be attentive to opportunities for people of all incomes to access homeownership.

For those individuals and households in an economy who are not earning the high incomes found in some sectors, local housing markets can be a challenge. Homeownership may not be in reach if the price of housing is geared towards the higher income segments in a community. The same can hold true for access to rental housing when rents are geared to the higher incomes that are earned in a limited number of employment sectors. This is especially important as households with low incomes are more likely to be renters. High housing costs for those with limited incomes underscores the need to be attentive to a range of housing and household supports in the community. It also identifies opportunities to create a range of housing options and types geared towards different income levels.


There are financial supports and programs to help people with housing affordability issues. Fort St. John currently has 283 units of housing subsidized by the provincial government. There is also the Shelter Assistance For Elder Residents (SAFER) program run by BC Housing, which provides low-income seniors with a rental subsidy. Elderly and disabled homeowners are also eligible for the province’s property tax deferral program. In addition to housing support from the provincial government, low-income families in Fort St. John can receive shelter and food from the Salvation Army, Meaope Transition House, and Fort St. John Women’s Resource Society.


In Fort St. John, 54% of the housing stock is comprised of single-detached houses. This is changing, however, as between 2011 and 2016, 160 new single-detached houses were built, while 280 semi-detached houses were built. How will changes in Fort St. John’s population impact demand across the housing stock?


In 2016, the majority of homes in Fort St. John remained single-detached homes; however, there have been notable recent changes in the housing stock. Between 2011 and 2016, a total of 160 single-detached homes were built, representing a 4% increase. During that time, a total of 280 semi-detached homes were built, representing a 51% increase. Despite this, in 2016, semi-detached houses, row houses, and apartments represented just 37% of the total housing stock. In 1991, these housing types also accounted for 37% of the total housing stock. The census data shows that the increases in semi-detached and row houses were offset by decreases in the number of apartment buildings in Fort St. John.

As with many other communities in northern BC, Fort St. John has an older housing stock. Forty-eight percent (48%) of private residences are more than 35 years old. Fort St. John differs from other northern communities as it is replacing its aging housing stock. Twenty-two percent of the total housing stock was built after 2006. This newer housing stock is more energy efficient and is typically of higher construction quality than older homes.

Occupied dwellings by type, Fort St. John, 1991-2016
Source: Statistics Canada. 1991-2016. Census Program.

Condition of private dwellings, Fort St. John, 1991-2016
Source: Statistics Canada. 1991-2016. Census Program.


Given that the majority of the housing stock in Fort St. John was built before 1990, attention will need to be given at this time to ongoing repair and maintenance. There are also opportunities to retrofit existing housing to increase energy efficiency and to address future costs in both operating and maintaining these homes. Because building codes have become more detailed and stringent over time, newer housing units tend to be cheaper to operate and maintain. For older households, downsizing to new and smaller housing, these advantages can be significant.

The housing stock in Fort St. John will continue to be dominated by single detached homes. This is both a legacy of past construction trends, as well as continued strong demand for this market segment. The diversifying population, however, indicates that decreasing the share of single detached houses being built and diversifying the local housing stock are trends to be further encouraged. In the context of smaller households and families, the relatively high costs of maintaining large properties and their infrastructure and service requirements, will create further incentives to reduce the cost, maintenance, and ecological footprint associated with larger housing units.

As a community of homeowners, Fort St. John must also remain vigilant to changes in the rental housing market. Newcomers to a community often start in the rental housing market, and access to good quality rental housing is a first step in helping retain these new residents. As a resource-based economy, higher rents are quite common. That said, vacancy rates and prices will also vary with the economy. Economic upswings can bring more people to the community and drive up competition for available housing with the opposite of being true when the economy cools.


The provincial and federal governments offer grants and assistance programs to a variety of homeowners looking to renovate, modify, or adapt their home to make it more energy efficiency, accessible, and age-friendly. The diversification of the housing stock is one of the strategic objectives that the City of Fort St. John identified in its latest Official Community Plan. Similarly, to bring about a more sustainable community, the City will be looking to intensify infill development in older neighbourhoods and encourage the construction of mixed-use buildings (businesses on the ground floor with apartments above) in the downtown core.

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