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Ministry of Energy Mines and Responsible for Core Review

Construction Aggregates: National and Regional Trends

by R.D. Irvine and G.O. Vagt, Natural Resources Canada, Ottawa, Ontario


This extended abstract is reproduced from:

Bobrowsky, P.T., Massey, N.W.D. and Matysek, P.F. (1996): Aggregate Forum: Developing an Inventory that Works for You!, Report of Proceedings; B.C. Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, Information Circular 1996-6.


This paper provides an overview of production and use of mineral aggregates in Canada. Beginning with a review of the relative importance of structural materials in the context of the Canadian minerals industry that provides information, by means of ten-year time series, on regional trends with respect to:

  • volume and value of production (fob pit or quarry) of all construction aggregates;
  • volume and value of production of sand and gravel (fob pit);
  • the major established uses of sand and gravel in western Canada;
  • long-term trends in the unit values of sand and gravel (in current and constant dollars); and
  • linkages between shipments of sand and gravel and certain key economic indicators.

Finally, we comment on the implications of the above trends for: a) the management of mineral aggregate resources at both the national and regional level and b) the collection of statistical and other data on mineral aggregate production.

Construction aggregate, defined here as sand and gravel, crushed stone and miscellaneous stone, are grouped with structural materials, which collectively were valued at about $2.5 billion in 1994. This represents more than 17% of the value of the minerals industry, excluding fuels. Other commodities or products often categorized as ‘structurals’ include cement, gypsum, lime and other rock (or stone) and clay products that are used mainly for construction purposes.

The ‘structurals’, in particular, and to a certain extent industrial minerals as a whole, are often characterized by relatively low unit values compared to metallic minerals, which, in Canada, attract more attention because of their traditional importance in international trade, foreign exchange earnings and northern resource development.


Based on preliminary figures, the total value of all Canadian shipments of construction aggregates was about $1.2 billion in 1994, or about one-half of the value of all structural materials. Adjusted for inflation, the value of construction aggregates has expanded only about 8.5% over the 10 year period from 1984 to 1993 inclusive.


The total quantity of construction aggregates produced or shipped in Canada is currently about 300 million tonnes per year. Considering the period 1984-1994, the construction boom in Ontario in 1988-89 accounts for much of the peak.

Historically, the importance of the aggregates industry has tended to be understated in the national statistics. The publication of production statistics, generally in collaboration with the provinces, has related mainly to data provided by establishments operating licensed sites, and to a relatively much larger number of companies that require aggregates ancillary to other business activities. Provincial and federal cooperation is ongoing to improve reporting from all relevant establishments, companies and businesses. At the same time, however, there is a need to develop a method for estimating output in order to reduce the paper burden for companies and government.


Sand and gravel accounts for 70-75% of the volume of construction aggregates. Similarly, the peak years were in 1988-89, with declines in output and consumption since this peak period. Sand and gravel production is currently valued at about $800 million a year; this accounts for 60-65% of the value of all construction aggregates. In real terms, values have been expanded about 17% over the 10 year period from 1984-1994. This relatively small average annual increase of less than 2% understates the importance of aggregates, considering the final in-place costs associated with new and repair infrastructure. Trade in construction aggregates is very small relative to the total volume of aggregates consumed in Canada, however, it is important in some regions.


Based on reported figures for 1993, the consumption of sand and gravel in western Canada is broken down as follows:

  • road bed and surfacing (60%);
  • concrete aggregate (13%);
  • asphalt aggregate (7%);
  • fill material (6%);
  • other including rail road ballast, ice control, mortar sand, backfill and other miscellaneous uses (14%).

The total value of all building and engineering construction in Canada is expected to be about $100 billion (1993), based on surveys by Statistics Canada. Surveys designed to estimate current year construction spending have been discontinued. Nation wide, the total value of construction is relatively stable in terms of real expenditures (1986 dollars). In 1993, total cumulative expenditures in all of Canada amounted to nearly $80 billion, with British Columbia accounting for about 15% of this amount.


Building and engineering construction in Canada ($85-100 billion per year including costs of repair) is very dependent on the domestic supply of aggregates. Combined with the fact that there has been a long-term trend away from rail and water transportation in some areas, toward a more flexible trucking mode, it is expected that regional resource planning, via sequential land use and rehabilitation, will become more important.


The ideas and recommendations presented in this abstract are the views of the individual author and do not necessarily represent the official policies of the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources.