Langley solidifies claim as most-populous Fraser Valley city
Chilliwack has become a 'metro,' Harrison Hot Springs booms, and Abbotsford is on pace to hit 200,000 people in 2037.
Langley is now firmly the Fraser Valley’s most-populated community.
For 20-plus years and five census cycles, Abbotsford had bragging rights as the region’s largest city. But sometime between 2011 and 2016, the combined population of Langley Township and Langley City overtook their eastern neighbour. And ever since, the Langleys have been pulling away.
New census figures released Wednesday show that Langley now has about 8,000 residents more than Abbotsford—and the gap is growing. Langley’s combined population grew by 12.8% between 2016 and 2021, while Abbotsford’s grew by 8.5% over the same five years.
One change in Langley: for the first time in decades, growth in the City of Langley nearly matched that in the Township. Through the first 15 years of the 2000’s, the City’s population had stagnated while the Township added tens of thousands of new residents.
Once you add the populations of their various component municipalities together, Chilliwack, Abbotsford, and Langley have all been able to claim to be the largest Fraser Valley community for significant lengths of time over the last century.
(The years indicate the census counts in which each community was the most populous.)
Chilliwack: 1931 – 1966
Langley: 1971 – 1986
Abbotsford: 1991 – 2011
Langley: 2016 – Present
Abbotsford’s Official Community Plan sets out a course for the community to reach a population of 200,000. The thought was the city would hit that milestone around 2040. But the current growth rate would see the city hit 200,000 people, three years earlier than forecast when the plan was adopted in 2016.
The Langleys will get there even sooner. At the current rate of growth, the combined population of Langley City and Township will surpass the 200,000 mark in just eight years, in 2030. The Township of Langley’s population alone is on pace to pass 200,000 by 2038. It would overtake the City of Abbotsford that same year.
Chilliwack will likely welcome its 100,000th resident sometime in 2025 if the current rate of growth continues, as seems likely. And Mission is on target to reach 50,000 residents by 2035.
Of course, a community’s growth is never steady. All the above dates, particularly those well in the future, can change as growth accelerates or slows over the coming years and decades. Although the last five years have seen an influx of new residents across the valley, the pace of change isn’t unprecedented. In fact, the Fraser Valley’s annual rate of growth is less than half what it was in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s.
A new Census Metropolitan Area
With the 2021 census, Chilliwack has reached its own milestone: it is now considered a “census metropolitan area” (CMA) because the city and, crucially, its neighbouring rural areas now have a combined population exceeding 100,000.
Chilliwack’s CMA includes Kent, Harrison Hot Springs, Cultus Lake, the Columbia Valley, the Chilliwack River Valley, and Popkum.
The status means that Chilliwack will now be included in a myriad of Statistic Canada reports and analyses that the agency conducts. Abbotsford-Mission is the region’s other CMA. Langley is included in the Vancouver census metropolitan area.
Harrison and Hope grow
After years of stagnation, Harrison Hot Springs and Hope have welcomed hundreds more people to town.
Harrison grew particularly quick, posting the fastest population growth of any Fraser Valley municipality. The village added more than 400 residents between 2016 and 2021, causing its population to grow by 30% in just five years.
The expansion is particularly noteworthy given the amount of change between the two previous censuses: zero. In 2011, census-takers counted 1,468 Harrison Hot Springs residents. When they returned five years later, they counted 1,468 residents. Even before that, Harrison’s population had only risen fractionally since the 2000s began.
In Hope, growth was slower over the last five years but just as transformative. For some 20 years, between 1996 and 2016, the town’s population slightly declined and aged considerably. But over the last five years, Hope has added more than 500 residents.
That’s brought renewed energy and boosted school enrolment, Mayor Peter Robb has previously told The Current. But it has also brought new challenges regarding housing.
Escape to the outside
The fastest-growing parts of the valley aren’t in Langley, Chilliwack, Harrison or any other town. Instead, you have to look to two unincorporated rural areas: Areas D (Popkum and surroundings) and H (Cultus Lake and the Columbia Valley). Each saw their populations grow by more than a third over the last five years. Both areas now have more than 2,000 residents, with around 600 more people in each area than in 2016.
But not all rural areas have seen significant (or any) growth.
Electoral Area C (Harrison Mills, Lake Errock, and Hemlock Valley) grew modestly; the population of Area E (Chilliwack River Valley) was level; and Area G (Dewdney/Deroche/Hatzic Island) and Area B (Yale/Sunshine Valley) now have fewer residents than five years ago.
The fastest-growing neighbourhoods
No Fraser Valley area has welcomed so many new residents as Langley’s Willoughby neighbourhood, located just south of Highway 1 between the 200 Street and 216 Street exits. Nearly 29,000 people now live in the rapidly densifying area, up more than 10,000 from just five years prior.
In Abbotsford, the fastest-growing area is along South Fraser Way and George Ferguson Way. Abbotsford has sought to turn the area into a denser, more-walkable neighbourhood. Between 2016 and 2021, the area’s population increased by 29% and 1,600 people.
Mission saw the vast majority of its growth in its new northern neighbourhoods, where 1,700 more people now live than five years prior. Areas closer to downtown grew modestly, by around 4%.
Chilliwack’s fastest-growing neighbourhoods are along Keith Wilson Road, just north of the Vedder River, and in Promontory, on the flanks of its southern hillsides. The two areas have added more than 4,500 residents between them over the last five years.
Growth on the north side was also substantial, with the area between Highway 1 and the rail line seeing the most new residents.
What’s to come
Wednesday’s census figures are only the first to come out this year. More will be released as the year progresses. The next batch of data will include more details about Fraser Valley residents, including their age, their sex at birth, their gender, and the type of houses they live in. That information will be important in determining how the Fraser Valley is changing demographically. But it will also mark the first time the census will be counting Canada’s transgender and non-binary residents more accurately. The data will need to be interpreted with caution, as those groups are small. How much data will be released at the local level when it comes out in April is unknown, but it will be a significant step forward in getting accurate statistical information about transgender and non-binary populations in the country.
The figures will also suggest how the region’s politics, culture, and infrastructure is changing. And it will be vital in determining what schools, infrastructure, and amenities are needed to support the region’s growing population.
In July, Statistics Canada will release census data on families, households, marital status, military experience, and incomes. That will give us a better understanding into how household sizes and compositions are changing, and whether Fraser Valley residents are getting richer or poorer. August will show us the linguistic diversity of Fraser Valley residents, including which languages are spoken most commonly at home.
In September, data on Indigenous people across Canada will be released. Housing data will be released at the same time. That will show how many renters there are in the valley, as well as how old the houses are, how many are in need of major repairs, and how many people are spending more than 30% of their income on housing.
In October, we’ll find out about the cultural diversity of the Fraser Valley, including which religions residents ascribe to and where they were born. It will also include how people are moving to and from the valley from within the country and the province.
The final 2021 census release is all about work and education. At the end of November, we’ll learn how educated Fraser Valley residents are, where they work, what language they speak at work, and how far they have to commute. All seven of the releases will combine to give us an updated picture of who is living in the Fraser Valley, and what their lives are like. We’ll be able to drill down information to a neighbourhood level, or look at overarching trends. And then, we’ll wait another five years before another census will show us how our valley continues to grow and change.
Files from Grace Kennedy