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Western Team Designs Platform to Illustrate Canadian Census Data Since 1951

16 Apr 2024 9:25 AM | Anonymous

First, they found a way to release the “trapped” data from the Canadian census over the last 70 years. 

Then, Western researchers translated the information into an easy-to-use format by creating an online map and portal illustrating the changes across the country. 

The potential is immense.  

Zack Taylor

Professor Zack Taylor (Christopher Kindratsky/Western Communications)

Click on a neighbourhood, and you can find population details on everything from age to household income to religion to transportation choices. The UNI-CEN Canadian Neighbourhood Change Explorer allows researchers to track shifts in census areas dating back to 1951.

“There’s all kinds of trapped data that people can’t really use, because it’s stuck in ancient formats, practically back to the punch card. All that information is just sitting there,” said Western political science professor Zack Taylor, who led the project. 

The census is conducted every four years by Statistics Canada. 

The new platform was created by researchers at Western’s Network for Economic and Social Trends (NEST), an umbrella group for eight research centres within the Faculty of Social Science. The team partnered with Esri, a geographical analysis software company and Mitacsa non-profit research agency that works to connect academics, government and public and private sectors. 

To create the new digital tool, Taylor and his team had to grapple with a major challenge: Each census release isn’t necessarily compatible with the one before it.  

The questions posed to Canadian households change from one census to the next. So do geographic boundaries, like those of cities or individual neighbourhoods. Those tweaks, even when minor, make direct comparisons difficult. To further complicate analyses, census data is often shared in different formats. 

UNI-CEN Neighbourhood Change Explorer

A screenshot showing one elment of the UNI-CEN Neighbourhood Change Explorer platform. 

“While it is possible to join things up across time, to a limited degree, it’s really hard to do over a long period of time,” Taylor said. 

“With support of the Faculty of Social Science dean’s office, we started to convert this data that’s there but rarely used, because it’s so inaccessible in a common format. But then we thought, ‘how do we help people understand the potential of this? How do we dramatize the use of it?’”  

Not just for researchers 

Taylor hopes the UNI-CEN Canadian Neighbourhood Change Explorer will be used well beyond the university environment. It can provide key details to government departments, high school students and non-profit organizations seeking data on the people they serve, he said. 

Taylor also wants to see teaching materials developed to encourage use of the tool. 

Among the population data that can be mined: 

  • Age 
  • Types of dwellings and when they were built 
  • Commute to work 
  • Education 
  • Household size 
  • Languages spoken 
  • Mobility 
  • Occupation and income 

You can read more in an article by Megan Stacey published in the web site at:


  • 16 Apr 2024 2:10 PM | Anonymous
    Western = Western University = University of Western Ontario
    Link  •  Reply

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