The Great Migration: Census Insights with Andy Yan

Below is a summary of our Surrey EconomIQ Insights Podcast, where our guest Andy Yan, Director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program, discusses the migration trends seen in the latest Statistics Canada Census release.

The Great Migration – Who is Migrating and Why

  • The trend of migration to South of the Fraser, especially Surrey, has been emerging for the last 20 years and the latest Statistics Canada census release is consistent with this. As we speak about this migration, it touches upon the combination of affordability and livability that Surrey offers.
  • Surrey is one of the fastest growing communities in Canada - #2 in growth rate of Canadian cities larger than 500,000 population.
  • From previous censuses, we see that the people who are moving out to Surrey are young families. They are couples with children who are hitting a point in their lives where they have decided to set roots in Metro Vancouver and want to start in Surrey. They want increased living spaces, while still being connected to schools and recreational facilities.
  • They are also drawn to the job opportunities in Surrey. Surrey isn’t just increasing the number of jobs, but the high quality of jobs, as people typically don’t prefer to move to lackluster economies.

Where the Growth is Happening

  • Much of the growth is happening in the ‘3 poles of Surrey’ - South Surrey, Newton and Surrey City Centre. This is a testament to the planning processes and collaborations with the development community to create communities people want to live in.
  • When talking about this growth, it’s important to note the transportation improvements and densification processes that have made this possible - and densification not just in residential, but also commercial and light industrial.

Private Sector Investment Shifting South of the Fraser

  • The shift of public to private sector investment decisions in Surrey is happening now. The census occurred in the middle of the pandemic, so we may not see the full impact of this until the 2026 census, but we are shifting towards an acceleration in movement as the pandemic lifts. Especially as telework is becoming more accepted, the need to be in a historic, centric downtown core is changing and we see a redistribution of economic activities to the economic centres outside of the traditional downtown core.
  • Private sector recognizes that they need to be where their talent is and are looking South of the Fraser.


  • Simon Fraser University has played a key role over the last two decades that have helped anchor Surrey’s transformation. Their expansions are continuing to create local talent that are choosing to make their first moves in industry and business in Surrey and growing the local talent pool. For example, the SFU Sustainable Energy Engineering Building is producing 300 new grads that are creating new energy. They are also in consultation with the community, especially the Indigenous community, on what a new medical school could look like.
  • The University of British Columbia has also recently expanded in Surrey City Centre and are looking to contribute to building Surrey’s talent pool.

Downtowns of Tomorrow

  • What we are seeing in Surrey is reflective of the changing economic urban relationships we see around the world. In particular, if we look at west coast cities, we see the rise and importance of not just Seattle, but of Bellevue. Not just San Francisco, but San Jose. From this model, you can get a glimpse of what the future is.
  • When looking at the census data, the cities that have seen the most growth are the cities around central cities. Surrey isn’t the traditional kind of central city and that brings it opportunities.
  • While the idea of a downtown core is going to change, the importance of human relationships – being able to have face-to-face encounters – are still going to be important. Yes, there will be changing values where people will want to be working closer to where they live and have access to meeting points, but the death of downtown is greatly exaggerated. The idea of a downtown core is going to change and there is a dynamism to it, which places Surrey City Centre as an attractive option. As a relatively young downtown, Surrey City Centre has a flexibility that may or may not be in more legacy downtowns and the ridigity that occurs there.
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