Pilot Butte leads Sask. towns, cities in population growth: 2021 Census

[This is an updated version of the story was first published in the March 3, 2022 edition of the Quad Town Forum.]

Statistics Canada census data released in February shows Pilot Butte experienced the highest population growth rate of any town or city in Saskatchewan from 2016-21.

For the five-year period covered by the report, last year’s census showed Pilot Butte grew 23.4 per cent, from 2,137 residents to 2,638. By way of comparison, Warman was the fastest growing city in the province at a 12.7 per cent growth rate, and Saskatchewan as a whole grew in population by 3.1 per cent.

Further, if Pilot Butte’s population were over 5,000, it would have ranked as the 13th fastest growing city in all of Canada, sandwiched between Neepawa, Man. and Carignan, Que.

Pilot Butte mayor Peggy Chorney attributes the community’s growth rate to the town offering “the best of both worlds.” She speaks of the small-town atmosphere with the benefit of amenities either in town or nearby in Regina.

“We do boast a number of services here, too,” Chorney said, listing restaurants, a grocery store, gas station, pharmacy and insurance agent among the town’s business sector. Pilot Butte is also home to a branch of the Southeast Regional Library, a Canada Post office, hockey rink, spray park, skate park, soccer field, ball diamonds, a Lions Club, seniors’ centre, and rodeo grounds. Chorney said recreation programming and volunteer opportunities give residents the chance to engage.

“We’ve been very strategic and purposeful in engaging community. And working towards designing a community that is attractive to and meets the needs of its residents.”

Chorney said she has heard people choose the community to build on the larger lots that are offered.

“That’s been really appealing to many that are making Pilot Butte their home,” she said.

In 2014, Pilot Butte opened a new water treatment and sewage disposal facility. Wastewater plant upgrades along with the expansion and upgrade of the existing lagoon took place in 2017.

The 2014 Official Community Plan indicates there is an expectation continued growth will result in increased traffic volumes, and town road and traffic studies will need to be completed. An updated draft OCP will be released for public feedback at the end of March and an asset management plan for roadways is currently being updated, a follow-up email to the town stated.

“That’s why can grow, because we have positioned (ourselves) for growth, investing in our infrastructure,” Chorney said.

In July 2020, Pilot Butte council also authorized the town to borrow up to $3.9 million to complete planned upgrades to the local wastewater system. Town administrator Allen Mullen told The Forum at the time that the borrowing was intended to prepare the town for up to 30 years of future population growth.

“Our population couldn’t continue to grow until we had a new sewer system … so right now we’re doing an expansion,” Mullen said at the time. “(Without the upgrades) I think it would have really stopped all developments so I think the water and the sewer are going to be able to support a population of close to nine, 10,000 people. It’s for our long-term growth … so that we don’t just piecemeal it. And it’s a very good system.”

Population growth also means increased pressure on the available space at Pilot Butte Elementary School, which had a projected enrolment of 443 for the 2021-22 year as detailed in the Prairie School Division’s 2020-21 strategic plan. Enrolment numbers as of Sept. 30, 2021 showed the actual enrolment number was 492.

Chorney said modular units have not been added to the school and an email from Prairie Valley School Division noted that “the capacity of Pilot Butte School would range between 475 and 500 students. At the higher end of that range, some non-classroom spaces like science labs and libraries could be used as additional classrooms. Although there are no immediate plans for a new school in Pilot Butte, Prairie Valley School Division is planning for an additional modular classroom … completed in time for the start of the 2022-2023 school year.”

Asked about future growth, Chorney said she has heard from community members that they would like doctors in the town and “like-minded sorts of services” such as physiotherapists, dentists and optometrists.

“I really attribute [our growth] to our residents, because I think they are the best champions and advocates for Pilot Butte,” said the mayor. “I hear from many that say: ’Oh yeah, I told my friend about the great life we have out here and now they’re looking to build or they’re looking to buy.’ It’s the community spirit for sure, and the residents.”

WHITE CITY BOOM CONTINUES, MIXED NUMBERS FOR SURROUNDING AREAS

Beyond Pilot Butte, White City had the next highest population growth rate in the local area at 19.5 per cent, increasing from 3,099 residents in 2016 to 3,702 last year. Among Saskatchewan towns that increase was third overall, trailing only Pilot Butte and Eastend. It also represents 10-year growth of 95 per cent, up from the 1,899 residents recorded in the 2011 census.

Urban population growth was also recorded locally in the village of Edenwold (up 4.29 per cent from 233 to 243), Davin (up 16.3 per cent from 43 to 50 residents), Sedley (up 2.5 per cent from 358 to 367 people), Vibank (up one resident from 385 to 386), Odessa (up 7.3 per cent from 205 to 220 people), and Osage, which was reported to have increased from 20 residents to 25 over the five-year period.

The RMs of Edenwold, Lajord, Montmartre, Chester and Wellington all recorded population decreases, as did the communities of Balgonie, Kronau, Gray, Riceton, Francis, Kendal, Montmartre and Glenavon.

Kronau’s population, as recorded by the census, dropped 26.9 per cent from 394 to 288 between 2016-21. The surrounding RM of Lajord saw its population drop 20.1 per cent from 1,232 to 985. The village of Montmartre’s population fell 8.2 per cent from 490 to 450, and the RM of Montmartre’s population fell 27.5 per cent from 483 to 350.

— with files from Brad Brown