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Religious geography

Religious geography

Statistics Canada takes a nationwide survey of religious affiliation every ten years. The most recent data is from the national household survey in 2011, with new data to be collected in the 2021 survey.

The largest religious affiliation in Canada is Christianity, which has 22.1 million adherents, or about 67% of the population. The largest group within that is Roman Catholicism at 12.7 million, with the next largest group being the United Church of Canada at just over 2 million. The largest non-Christian group is Muslims, having just over 1 million believers in 2011. There are a number of religious groups ranging from 100,000 to 1 million represented in Canada – Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and Sikh spirituality are all represented. There are a significant number of other religious groupings which are present in Canada at under 100,000 self-identified adherents – Traditional (Aboriginal) Spirituality, Taoism, Scientologists, Zoroastrians, the Hutterian Brethren and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, to name just some. If it were to be counted as a religious belief, those with no religious affiliation would be the second largest religious group in Canada, at 7.8 million or around 23% of the population.

The most populous province in Canada, Ontario, is also among the most religiously diverse. It has the highest proportion of Muslims, Jews, and Hindus. The second most populous province of Quebec is unique in that almost 75% of its population identify as being Roman Catholic – but church attendance is very low. Quebec has a complicated history in relation to religious identity, with one particularly notable development being what is commonly referred to as the Quiet Revolution which occurred during the 1960s and 70s. During this time church attendance plummeted and the state took control of social institutions such as schools, hospitals and social services. For more on this topic, see also the following entries: Quebec’s 2019 ‘An act respecting the Laicity of the state’, or The Catholic Church in Canada. The third most populous province is British Columbia on the west coast which has a significant number of people who identify as being non-religious, with about 44% identifying as such. The Maritime provinces on the east coast have fairly small populations and proportionately higher religious adherence, with New Brunswick for example having 84% of the population identifying as Christian. Similarly, the geographically large but very sparsely populated province of Saskatchewan identifies as about 72% Christian and 24% no religious affiliation, so it has little diversity compared to much of the rest of Canada. Religious minorities are far more likely to be concentrated in major cities, with two thirds of Muslims in Canada living in the three largest cities of Toronto (Ontario), Montreal (Quebec), and Vancouver (British Columbia). Similarly, Ontario has 73% of Canada’s Hindu population of which 88% live in Toronto. The general pattern in Canada is that the five largest cities – Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary, and Edmonton – attract the most immigration and are more densely populated. Correspondingly in terms of religious diversity they tend to look most similar to each other, and very different from rural or smaller cities in the same province.

Data is taken from the Statistics Canada 2011 National Household Survey, which is available here.

D 1 March 2021    ATed Malcolmson

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