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Sault Ste. Marie's population at highest level since 1996 after big three-year spike

Mayor says Statistics Canada estimates show a healthy boost, driven by immigration, internal migration and non-permanent residents
USED 2017-04-14 Good morning Sault DMH-17
Flags from countries all over the world fly near the "Algoma's Friendliest City" welcome arch in Sault Ste. Marie. The most recent estimates from Statistics Canada suggest the Sault's population has grown by more than 5 per cent since 2021. Donna Hopper/SooToday

The most recent census data released by Statistics Canada shows Sault Ste. Marie experienced a significant spike in population in the 2023 calendar year.

The annual population estimates, released on May 22, show the city's population in 2023 was 78,574, an increase of 2,560 over the previous year. 

That is almost 4,000 more than the 2021 total of 74,679 — a 5.2 per cent increase over just three years.

If the latest estimate is correct, it means the city's population is at its highest recorded level since 1996, when confirmed census data put the number at 80,054. By the next census in 2001, the population in the city had dropped to 74,566.

Mayor Matthew Shoemaker says the estimated population increase for the Sault is a healthy increase, driven by immigration, internal migration and non-permanent residents.

"We have been working towards increasing our populations since I was elected to council in 2014," Shoemaker said by phone on Wednesday. 

The municipality focused on attracting and retaining skilled workers to Sault Ste. Marie through programs like the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP) and through the hiring of a labour force development officer at city hall.

Shoemaker lauded his predecessor, Mayor Christian Provenzano, for spearheading the effort to have Sault Ste. Marie included in the RNIP program, which not only attracted skilled labourers, but also their families.

"RNIP is critical because it's economic immigration," said Shoemaker. "It's attaching people with skills to vacant jobs that cannot otherwise be filled. And so that is key to keeping our industry strong, to keeping our economy strong and to attracting those folks and their families to our community and giving the opportunity that so many people had — like my mom when she immigrated to Sault Ste. Marie in 1969 — the opportunity to better their lives for themselves and create a hopeful future for their children."

Those investments, as well as a post-pandemic shift to flexibility in work schedules, appear to have paid dividends in the number of people who have decided to relocate to the Sault.

With that influx of people comes an increase in the need for housing. Last year, the Sault exceeded its housing targets, breaking ground on 213 new housing units. 

The city's 2023 Housing Needs Assessment reported that Sault Ste. Marie's population is expected to grow by an additional 8,400 people by 2036. Shoemaker said the most recent estimates by Statistics Canada suggest that could be just the tip of the iceberg. 

"That report some years ago was based on the status quo at our industry, status quo in our economy," he said. "What I think presents an even greater opportunity is, if you see things like the renewal of all the technology at Algoma steel to make steel and the spin-off that it could potentially create for secondary industries, you might see us greatly exceed that 8,400 person number."

Shoemaker said not only are diverse populations of people moving to the Sault, but they are also contributing to the economy and adding to the overall quality of life.

"They create social spaces for other immigrants with either similar backgrounds or similar interests to have quality of life here because they like it so much," he said. "There's those folks who I think love the Sault and have really made a purposeful effort to find a place and Sault Ste. Marie fit their criteria."

- SooToday