While the city is greying along with the rest of Canada, census numbers released Tuesday show the number of toddlers here grew at twice Kamloops’ population rate — a hopeful sign that schools and playgrounds are no longer emptying.
Stats Canada’s release of detailed population data shows the number of children under five in Kamloops increased by nearly 500 between 2006 and 2011.
That 12.25 per cent increase is nearly double the city’s overall population growth of 6.6 per cent. It is also about 50 per cent higher than the five-year growth rate provincially of those aged 0-4 years.
School and city officials welcomed the bump but a demographer cautioned that birth rates remain low and growth in children is tied to growth in the local economy.
“That’s a good sign,” said City of Kamloops community development supervisor Randy Lambright. “It will be interesting to know where it came from. Is it from natural increase or immigration?”
Fraser Gibson’s family represents that growth story in Kamloops. Gibson and his wife moved here from Williams Lake in the fall, in part because of the city’s appeal to families.
“This is where we wanted to end up. We thought it was a nice mix of city and country,” said the 38-year-old stay-at-home dad.
Ryan Berlin, a partner in economic and demographic forecasting firm Urban Futures in Vancouver, said Canada saw an uptick in the fertility rate through the 2000s.
“It was good times, especially out west.”
That increase dropped in the 2009 recession, when young Canadians began worrying about the economy and the birthrate slowed. But even with the increase in the birth rate, Berlin said it remains “far below replacement level” at about 1.5 children per couple.
At the peak of the baby boom the average couple had four children.
Kamloops-Thompson school district superintendent Terry Sullivan said he will wait to delve into the numbers before declaring an end to a decade-long decline in the number of school-aged children.
The number of students entering kindergarten each year recently is about 980, while the number graduating is 1,200.
The district predicts the enrolment decline to stop in two years and gradually increase from there.
The census information released Tuesday also shows a predictably older population, with the median age 41.5, making Kamloops slightly younger than the provincial average of 41.9 measured in May last year.
The most common age among city residents are those 50-54, about 7,000 of them in a population of 86,000. That compares to the 4,300 children under five.
City resident Dianne Dreyer, who moved here in her high school years and is in that age group, said the statistics come as no surprise.
“Typically the places I go to, there’s a lot of people my age… . I wouldn’t say it’s (city) filled with young people.”
When Dreyer was in elementary school the number of children in B.C. was exploding, causing a building boom. Sullivan said he recently found a statistic that in the1967-68 school year the province “opened a new school for every day that school was open.”
That’s roughly 185 new schools in that year. Nearly 50 years later the province has shuttered hundreds of schools, including five in this district.
Gibson, who grew up in a family with two siblings, said he and his wife finally decided to have a child late in their lives, so they plan on making daughter Isobelle an only child.
But Krissy Benton, mother of two, said she and her husband are considering adding a third.
“You have to weigh finances and it’s an extra strain,” said the mother of a three-year-old and a toddler. “But they’re so sweet it’s hard to stop.”
Both Gibson and Benton, enjoying the YM/YWCA’s interactive playcare Tuesday, said Kamloops has excellent facilities and programs for children, something that should help attract more young families.
At the other end of the demographic spectrum are Pat Richardson and Dusty Dodds, who were busy Tuesday at the Desert Gardens seniors centre preparing for the Diamond Jubilee lunch at the centre Friday.
“There’s lots for seniors,” said Dodds, who lives nearby downtown and visits the seniors centre frequently. “You just have to get off your butt and do it.”
Lambright said planning for needs of seniors is just as important as for children, perhaps more important considering the wave of baby boomers becoming seniors.
Recent development in Brocklehurst, designated as a town centre to receive more dense growth, is an example of the growing market for seniors, Lambright said. That includes a publicly funded residential care building, market housing and a seniors centre.
“From a housing perspective an older society has different needs,” said the city planner. “They don’t want large lots. They want one level… . They’re looking for a townhouse or apartment, central and close to services.”
In 2016, the date of the next census, it’s a certainty that those residents still here will be five years older than the last census. Urban Futures’ Berlin said the question is whether the bump in pre-schoolers will last.
Those communities that grow need to attract a demographic of 25-35-year olds, people who will have children.
“Part of the issue is with a below-replacement birth rate if you don’t get an increase in people of child-bearing age, you won’t see that number go up.”