The Neptis Foundation's Toronto-Related Region Futures Study defined "Toronto-related region," which includes the Greater Toronto Area, the City of Hamilton, the Regional Municipalities of Waterloo and Niagara, parts of Wellington and Peterborough Counties, Dufferin, Simcoe and Northumberland Counties, and the City of Kawartha Lakes. This definition will be used in this report (see Map 3).
Regional Growth Trends
The population of the Toronto-related region grew from 4.8 million people to 7.3 million between 1976 and 2001, an increase of 52%. While the GTA plus Simcoe County (GTA+S) accepted an average of 50,000 people a year between 1976 and 1981, it accepted more than 100,000 a year between 1996 and 2001.
Figure 1: Population Increase and Share of Population Growth, Toronto-Related Region, 1976-2001
Share of TRR Pop. Growth
Outer Ring (selected)
When the four regional municipalities surrounding Metro Toronto were created in the mid-1970s, they all had populations smaller than that of Simcoe today (see Figure 1). Indeed, the population of Peel Region in 1976 was identical to that of Simcoe in 2001. At that time, Simcoe had a population larger than York Region's and comparable to Halton's. In the subsequent 25 years, Simcoe has grown more rapidly than Halton, though not nearly as fast as Peel and York, which have more than doubled and tripled their respective populations.
Although Simcoe's share of the Toronto-related region population has grown only slightly -- from 4.4% in 1976 to 5.6% in 2001 -- its share of population growth almost doubled between the 1976-1981 and 1996-2001 periods. Overall, Simcoe's share of growth over the 1976-2001 period is about the same as Waterloo Region's, at 6.6%. Nowhere else in the "outer ring" (the non-GTA part of the Toronto-related region) comes close to this performance. Between 1996 and 2001, Simcoe was the leader in the outer ring, attracting 34.3% of all population growth. Waterloo Region was in distant second place, at 25.4%.
Although Simcoe County's average annual population growth rate is not the largest in the Toronto-related region, at 2.8% its rate now vies with Peel Region (3.0%) for the second-place spot.
Figure 2: Average Annual Population Growth Rates, 1976-2001
Simcoe's strong growth is also reflected in the proportion of dwelling units built in each decade since the Second World War. Simcoe County is the only jurisdiction in the GTA+S in which more units were built between 1991 and 2001 than between 1981 and 1991.
Affordability may also be attracting people to Simcoe. Approximately 60% of units sold in Ontario over the last 10 years were in the $260,000 to $310,000 range.6 According to the 2001 census, the average value of a dwelling was $199,884 province-wide. In Simcoe County, the average house price was $177,070.
Settlement and Growth Patterns within Simcoe County
There are four major urban areas within the boundaries of Simcoe County: Midland and Penetanguishene in the north, Orillia in the east, Barrie in the south, and Collingwood and Wasaga Beach in the west. Together these municipalities account for about half of the area's population. Scattered between these are about 100 smaller settlement areas: towns, villages and hamlets (see Map 4).7
It is useful to distinguish between North and South Simcoe, which for the purposes of this report will be defined as the municipalities to the north and south of county road 90, which extends west from Barrie.8 Most of the growth in the County has occurred in South Simcoe. North Simcoe attracted only 28.9% of the increase in population in the 1996-2001 period.
Barrie accounted for half of all population growth in South Simcoe between 1996 and 2001, increasing its population by 31% to 103,710. Innisfil, Bradford West Gwillimbury, and New Tecumseth each posted growth of between 10% and 16% between 1996 and 2001.
Even though Simcoe County's -- and especially South Simcoe's -- growth rate is rapid, the population increase is in absolute terms quite small. The Toronto-Related Region Futures Study's "business-as-usual" population projections to 2031 show a region-wide increase from 7.36 million to 10.53 million people. Of that increase, Simcoe County accounts for approximately 300,000 people or 9.5%. In 2031, under "business-as-usual" assumptions, Simcoe's population is projected to be just 6.5% of the Toronto-related region, up from 5.1% today.9