Canada’s population grew by 1.7 million between 2011 and 2016

Census 2016: Here are the biggest takeaways
WATCH: Here are the main takeaways from Canada's 2016 census.

More than 35 million people now live in Canada, according to the 2016 census.

The population grew by 1.7 million since 2011, an increase of 5 per cent. This makes Canada the country with the highest population growth among G7 nations, according to Statistics Canada.

But Canadians didn’t get there by having lots of children. Immigration accounted for about two-thirds of population growth during that five-year period, a trend that Statistics Canada predicts will continue in the coming years.

A total of 35,151,728 people were counted on census day, May 10, 2016.

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Regional differences

Canada’s population didn’t grow evenly though. Ontario’s population grew by 4.6 per cent, close to the Canadian average.

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But Western Canada – especially Alberta – is booming. That province’s population grew by a whopping 11.6 per cent between 2011 and 2016, with much of that growth happening in Calgary, where the population grew by 14.6 per cent – the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the country.

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Edmonton was close behind in second place with 13.9 per cent growth.

“Alberta is a very interesting case because all three components of a province’s growth are adding up to high growth in Alberta,” said Laurent Martel, director of the demography division at Statistics Canada.

Alberta gains people through immigration, through interprovincial migration and through natural increase – having more births than deaths. All Prairie provinces have higher fertility rates than the national average, Martel said, and Albertans are also a bit younger on average, meaning fewer deaths.

Manitoba grew by 5.8 per cent, which Statistics Canada attributes to international migration. Saskatchewan grew by 6.3 per cent. This is the first time since the Prairies joined Confederation that the three Prairie provinces had the highest population growth rates in Canada, said Martel.

Alberta is special though, said Martel.

“This is the only province where all three phenomena are contributing on the same level.”

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Atlantic stagnation

The exact opposite is happening in Atlantic Canada, he said.

PEI grew the most, at just 1.9 per cent. Newfoundland and Labrador held steady at 1 per cent growth, Nova Scotia at 0.2 per cent.

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New Brunswick was the only province or territory to actually shrink: losing 0.5 per cent of its population.

“And the reason why, it’s because [Atlantic provinces] receive few immigrants,” said Martel.

“Even though it’s increased slightly they receive few immigrants, and they have what we call negative interprovincial migration. So people living in these regions, these four Atlantic provinces, are moving elsewhere, notably to Alberta and to Ontario.”

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Additionally, they have a lower fertility rate and a higher average age – meaning more deaths. Newfoundland and Labrador actually had more deaths than births in 2013, he said.

The fastest-growing province or territory was Nunavut, which saw a population increase of 12.7 per cent, attributed to a high fertility rate. Nunavut women have 2.9 children on average, well above Canada’s average of 1.6.

Urban nation

Despite Canada’s huge land mass, most Canadians live in cities, and mostly near the U.S. border.

Eighty-three per cent of Canadians live in an urban area with a population core of at least 10,000 people, and 40 per cent live in one of the country’s 15 biggest municipalities.

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In fact, about 8 per cent of Canadians live in Toronto alone.

“Canada has one of the highest proportions living in metropolitan centres across the world,” said Martel.

Canada’s big cities are spreading out, too, showing lots of population growth in suburban or adjacent areas – like Warman, Saskatchewan, near Saskatoon, which is Canada’s fastest-growing municipality. It’s followed by three Calgary-area cities: Cochrane, Airdrie and Chestermere.

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“Remember that two thirds of our population growth is related to immigration. Immigrants are settling mostly in large cities. That’s contributing to the urbanization of Canada,” he said.

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In contrast, many municipalities that aren’t near urban centres – defined as areas having a core of at least 10,000 people – are shrinking. Forty-five per cent of those municipalities shrank between 2011 and 2016, reflecting Canada’s growing urbanization, as people move to larger cities or their outskirts.

The population of Bonnyville, Alberta decreased by 12.9 per cent in just five years, for example. Grand Falls, New Brunswick shrank by 6.7 per cent.

“Some rural areas located further away have been declining in population for quite a while now,” said Martel.

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He attributes this largely to migration to bigger cities in the province, or elsewhere in Canada altogether.

In contrast, only about 11 per cent of municipalities located near a major metropolitan area shrank since the last census.

Vancouver is Canada’s most densely-populated municipality, which likely won’t come as a surprise to anyone paying rent or a mortgage in the region. The next most-densely populated municipalities are outside Montreal: Westmount and Côte-Saint-Luc.

High response rate

The first batch of data from the 2016 census was released on Wednesday and looked at population counts and density. Subsequent data releases, over the rest of 2017, will reveal information about things like marital status, immigration, Aboriginal Peoples and education.

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Over 98 per cent of people filled out the census, said Martel, the highest response rate in 15 years.

Two-thirds of Canadians filled out their questionnaires online, which he says is a world record and contributes to high-quality data.

Canadians showed “lots of enthusiasm” this time around, he said, and he thanks them for answering the census.