Analysis: Rural Halifax

Although Halifax is a provincial capital, a regional centre for business and public services, one of Canada’s major cities, and an international gateway, it also has the largest rural population of any county in Nova Scotia. Additionally, one in five of the municipality’s people live in rural communities.

For analytical purposes, aggregations of census tracts are used to define three rural areas: an Inner Rural/ Commuter area plus Eastern and Western Rural areas, as shown in Figure 15.


Rural and Urban Regions Within Halifax


This proximity between a vibrant urban core and rural areas that offer inexpensive real estate, a wealth of recreational opportunities, and the feel of small-town living provides a tremendous advantage for attracting both businesses and people to Halifax. The rural-urban blend presents some challenges though, as issues and policy priorities may be quite different across these divisions. Now that data from the 2016 census are available, Halifax’s rural areas can be profiled in detail across several dimensions.


Just as there are some key distinctions between Urban and Rural Halifax, so too are there differences within the rural portion of the municipality. From 2011 to 2016, the population of Rural Halifax actually grew at a higher rate than did Urban Halifax, resulting in a slight increase in the rural share of the population. However, the rural increase was concentrated in the rapidly growing Inner Rural area, whereas population growth in the Western Rural area was below the growth rate for the municipality overall, and the population of the Eastern Rural area contracted over the 2011 to 2016 period.

Differences also are apparent in the age profiles of these areas. Compared to urban Halifax, the Eastern Rural area stands out for having a lower proportion of youth and a higher proportion of the elderly, while the converse is true in the Inner Rural area. All three rural areas have lower shares of working-age population compared to Urban Halifax. The average ages for Rural and Urban Halifax are almost identical at 40.9 and 40.8 years, respectively. The average age for the Inner Rural area is lower at 38.9 years, while the Western Rural (42.0 years) and Eastern Rural (44.9 years) areas are older on average.

In terms of population diversity, Urban Halifax has larger shares of immigrants and of those who identify as members of a visible minority, in general, and who identify as Black, specifically. In all geographies included in Table 4, Black is the most common selection for visible minority self-identification except for the Western Rural area where the most common answer was Chinese (0.6%). The Aboriginal population share is greater in the rural areas than in Urban Halifax.


Average income statistics are generally higher in the Inner Rural and Western Rural areas, but lower in the Eastern Rural area as compared to Urban Halifax. The exception is average income from government transfers, where the relative positions are reversed. Lower levels of employment income and higher levels of government transfers in the Eastern Rural area are consistent with that region’s older population profile.

More households fall under both low-income thresholds in urban Halifax as compared to all rural areas. Among rural areas, the prevalence of low-income is similar in the Inner and Western areas, but substantially higher in the Eastern area.


Post-secondary credentials, in general, and university degrees, specifically, including graduate degrees, are more common among the urban population than the rural population. The proportions of the population with only high school education or less are substantially higher in the Eastern Rural area.


Halifax has been experiencing a steady decline in its labour force participation rate—the percentage of the working-age population who are either working or looking for work—as its population grows older and more people transition to retirement. The same connection between population age and the participation rate can be seen in Table 7 as the Inner Rural area with its relatively young population has the highest participation rate and the older Eastern Rural area has the lowest. Rural Halifax overall has a lower unemployment rate than does Urban Halifax, but again there are significant variations among the different rural areas.

As would be expected, in rural areas the share of workers in occupations such as trades, transport, equipment operators, and natural resources and agriculture are higher, while service occupations are more common in Urban Halifax.

Industrial Structure

Although the service sector is larger than the goods sector in terms of business location counts across both Rural and Urban Halifax, the goods sector is more prominent in rural areas, with large shares of businesses in construction and in the Eastern Rural area in agriculture, fishing, and forestry. Employment by industry skews more heavily to the service sector, with professional services and public administration, education, and health care and social services dominating in all areas.


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