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Canada's North, A Profile
by Allan M. Maslove and David C. Hawkes


The 1986 Census of Canada provided, as did all the previous censuses, a rich source of information on individual, family and household characteristics of Canadians. The census data allow individual researchers as well as academic, business, cultural, social and governmental organizations to undertake in-depth enquiries and analyses on those social issues which interest and concern them.

This study is part of the 1986 Focus on Canada Series. The series is a modest effort by Statistics Canada to provide overviews of a wide variety of subjects on which the 1986 Census collected information. The studies have been written by experts, both inside and outside Statistics Canada, in non-technical language supported by simple tables and attractive charts. The topics include demographic characteristics (population, families, farmers, youth, seniors, the disabled), socio-cultural characteristics (ethnicity, language, education), and economic characteristics (women in the labour force, affordability of housing, occupational trends, employment income, family income).

The present study on "Canada’s North, A Profile” was authored by Professors Allan M. Maslove and David C. Hawkes of Carleton University.

I would like to express my appreciation to the authors, to the reviewers and to the staff of the Bureau involved in managing and producing this series.

We hope that the studies in the Focus on Canada Series will not only provide Canadians with very useful information on various facets of Canadian society, but will also be an inducement for them to undertake further research on the topics.

Ivan P. Fellegi
Chief Statistician of Canada


Chapter 1. Definitions
Chapter 2. Demographic Composition and Change
Chapter 3. Cultural Composition
Chapter 4. Education
Chapter 5. Labour Force Activity and Income
Chapter 6. Family and Household Composition
Chapter 7. Housing Conditions


• Although the total number of persons living in Canada’s North has been relatively stable between 1981 and 1986, aboriginal peoples form an increasingly large proportion of this population. This is partly due to their high birth rates and to the out-migration of non-aboriginal persons during the 1976 to 1986 period. ’

• Although the population of the North is much younger than that of Canada as a whole, it is aging somewhat, among both the aboriginal and non-aboriginal populations.

• The age structure of the entire northern Canadian population, as well as the size of northern Canada’s aboriginal population, are similar to those of other circumpolar regions, such as Greenland and Alaska.

• Although aboriginal peoples form 40% of the northern Canadian population, their numbers range from a high of almost 90% in the extreme North to 37% in the Fort Smith district of the Northwest Territories (which includes Yellowknife and Hay River).

• The retention of aboriginal languages is higher in the North than in all of Canada, but is low in the Yukon.

• Aboriginal language retention rates are low for northern Canadians with mixed aboriginal/non-aboriginal backgrounds, most of whom lack an aboriginal mother tongue to retain.

• In terms of level of schooling, the disparity among aboriginal and non-aboriginal persons is greater in the North than in Canada as a whole. This is because aboriginal Northerners have less schooling than their southern counterparts, while non-aboriginal Northerners are more highly educated than their southern counterparts.

• Aboriginal peoples in the North appear to have made few gains in educational achievement during the 1981 to 1986 period.

• The Inuit have the least formal education, and the Metis the most, among northern aboriginal peoples.

• Northern Canadians, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal, are similar to Canadians as a whole in the fields of study they pursue in postsecondary education.

• Non-aboriginal persons in Canada’s North tend to participate in a high-wage economy, to be strongly attached to the work force, and to be concentrated in professional and administrative activities.

Aboriginal persons in Canada’s North tend to have much lower incomes, be more dependent on government transfers as their principal source of income, have less attachment to the mainstream labour market, and have higher rates of unemployment for those in the labour force.

Northern Canadian families are more likely to be husband-wife families than their southern counterparts.

Aboriginal families tend to be larger than non-aboriginal families, but no differences between Canada’s North and South are apparent.

Aboriginal families are less likely to have both spouses present than non-aboriginal families although the percentage of aboriginal lone-parent families in the North is lower compared to their counterparts in the South.

Housing quality (whether measured by persons per room or by the presence of central heating facilities) in Canada’s North is on average lower than in the rest of Canada.

As in all of Canada, aboriginal housing is of lower quality in the North than non-aboriginal housing (although the disparity is greater across northern regions).

The choice of heating fuels varies across the North in patterns that reflect the availability and relative cost of alternative fuels. However, some differences between aboriginal and non-aboriginal dwellings may also reflect housing quality differences.


The Canadian North has undergone important changes in recent years, especially in demographic, economic and social areas. It has experienced significant economic activity in oil, gas and mineral exploration and development throughout the 1980s, although much of this has been sporadic due to swings in world commodity prices for these resources. Projects such as the Beaufort Sea oil and gas explorations, the expansion of the Norman Wells oil fields, and the building of an 800 km oil pipeline through the Mackenzie River valley to northern Alberta have stimulated the northern economy. Significant slumps in the mining industry have had the opposite effect. At the same time, northern Canadians, and in particular aboriginal peoples, have been strengthening their role in political and economic development, conducting negotiations in such areas as land claims and self-government, and renewing their efforts to preserve traditional cultures.

This study examines some of these changes, based on data from the 1986 Census of Canada. It examines who lives in the North (age, sex, ethnicity, language), as well as migration in and out of the North, education, income, the structure of the labour force, family and household structure, and housing conditions.

Throughout the analysis, the demographic and socio-economic characteristics of the North are compared with those of Canada as a whole. These characteristics of Northern aboriginal peoples are contrasted to those of their non-aboriginal counterparts, and, finally, regions within the North are compared to each other. In order to measure change over time, data from the 1986 Census are contrasted to those obtained from the 1981 Census. In some cases, differences among northern Aboriginal peoples (Inuit, Indian and Metis) are examined, and where information is available, the similarities are highlighted between Northern Canadians and Northern people in circumpolar regions in other countries such as Greenland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Soviet Union, and U.S.A. (Alaska).

You can download a pdf of this report here

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