According to official government estimates, the population of Canada at the start of 2016 was 36,048,521.

This figure is based on estimates of how much Canada’s population has grown since the last census, which took place in 2011 and recorded a total population of 33,476,688. A new census is being conducted in 2016, and new population data will be published in February 2017.

Canada is the second largest country in the world by area (after Russia) and, as a result, it is also one of the least densely populated countries in the world – just 8.3 people live in every square mile in Canada.

Canada’s population is growing rapidly, largely because of immigration. Immigration accounts for approximately two thirds of Canada’s population growth, and several hundred thousand people immigrate to Canada every year. The remaining one third of growth is due to natural population growth.

Population Growth in Canada

Nobody is certain what the original aboriginal population of Canada was at the time the first European settlers arrived. Estimates vary widely from 200,000 at the low end to 2 million at the high end. The most widely accepted estimate comes from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Health, who argue that there were approximately 500,000 native Canadians.

The Royal Commission goes on to argue that the native population of Canada fell by as much as 93% after sustained contact with Europeans. This fall was mainly because of the spread of infectious diseases such as smallpox, starvation, and armed conflict. An estimate from 1871 records an aboriginal population of 102,358.

Image source: Pinpin

Image source: Pinpin

European settlers, mostly British and French, rapidly colonised Canada. Detailed estimates are not available for the British population of Canada at the time, as it formed a part of the wider British North America, including what is today the United States of America.

The first census ever held in Canada took place in New France in 1666. It reported a population there of 3,215 people, a number which had grown to 55,000 by 1754, the time of the last French census in Canada.

Once Canada had been united under British rule, its population grew rapidly. This growth was boosted at times by conflict and famine elsewhere, for example the influx of loyalists who fled to Canada after defeat in the American war of Independence and the Irish settlers who came in the wake of the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s.

Detailed statistics show that Canada’s population has grown in every year since censuses began in 1871. The strongest period of growth came during the ‘Baby Boom’ years of the 1950s and 1960s.

Today, population growth in Canada continues to be driven by a combination of immigration and natural population growth. Around two thirds of Canada’s population increase is the result of people coming into Canada. The other third is the result of natural population growth because the number of births in Canada continues to exceed the number of deaths.

For a detailed table Canada’s population growth, click this link which will take you to the end of this page.

Canadian census 2016

The Canadian census, which is run by Statistics Canada, is one of the world’s most regular and well regarded censuses.

The first census took place in 1871. The most recent census took place on 10 May 2016, although results are not expected until February 2017.

Population of Canada

By law the Canadian government must conduct a census at least once every ten years, but since 1971 the census has been held every five years. By law, every household in Canada is required to complete the census form.

2016 sees the return of the mandatory long form census and Canadians were encouraged to complete the census online.

Click here to read an official history of the Canadian census.

Click here to find out more about the 2016 census.

Ethnic groups in Canada

Canadians are asked to record their ethnic origin in the census. They were able to record more than one origin, so the total number of responses added up to more than 100%.

Canadian10.5 million / 32.6%
English6.5 million / 19.8%
French5.1 million / 15.4%
Chinese1.5 million / 4.5%
First Nations1.4 million / 4.2%

The most popular choice in the 2011 census was Canadian (32.6% or 10,563,805 people), followed by English (19.81% / 6,509,500) and French (15.42% / 5,065,690).

Chinese (4.54% / 1,487,580) and First Nations (4.17% / 1,369,115) were other common groups of ethnic origin.

This statistics demonstrate the diversity within Canada today, with distinct groups of ethnic origin representing the country’s aboriginal history, its French and British colonial history, and its more recent history of welcoming immigrants from around the globe.

Religion in Canada

Canada does not have a state religion, but the dominant religion is Christianity.

Christian67.3%
No religion23.9%
Other religions7.2%

In 2011, 67.3% of Canadians reported that they were Christian. This is split mainly between those who are Catholic (38.7%) and Protestant (17.2%). Other groups, including Orthodox, make up a further 6.2%.

A further 7.2% of Canadians reported that they follow other religions, including Islam (3.2%), Hindu (1.5%), Sikh (1.4%), Buddhist (1.1%) and Jewish (1.0%).

The number of people reporting no religion has almost doubled in the last two decades, from 12.6% in 1991 to 23.9% in 2011. This is matched by a fall in the proportion of Canadians who report that they are Christians.

Languages in Canada

Canada has two official languages – English and French. These two languages are, by far, the most commonly spoken languages in Canada.

However, Statistics Canada reports that, at the time of the 2011 census, there were more than 200 languages spoken in Canada, including 77 indigenous (aboriginal) languages in Canada.

English18.9 million / 56.9%
French7.1 million / 21.3%
Punjabi0.4 million / 1.3%
Chinese0.4 million / 1.3%
Indigenous language0.2 million / 0.7%

English is the mother tongue of more than half of all Canadians (56.9% / 18,858,890 in 2011) and French is the mother tongue of one in five Canadians (21.3% / 7,054,975 in 2011).

The remaining one in five Canadians have a wide variety of mother tongues – Punjabi (1.3% / 430,705 in 2011) is the most common mother tongue other than English or French, followed closely by Chinese (1.3% / 425,210).

In 2011, 213,500 people reported that an indigenous language was their mother tongue, most of whom speak that language regularly at home. The most commonly spoken indigenous language in Canada is Algonquian, with 144,015 speakers, followed by Cree with 83,475 speakers.

Together, English and French are the official languages of Canada and many government jobs require at least a working knowledge of both languages. English is the official language of most provinces, with the exception of Quebec, where the official language is French, and New Brunswick, where the official languages are both French and English. In practice, however, both English and French can be used in all of Canada’s provinces, including in the courts.

Canada’s territories also give official status to more than one language. Yukon gives official status to English and French; Nunavut gives official status to English, Inuit and French; and the Northwest Territories give official status to eleven different languages – Chipewyan, Cree, English, French, Gwich’in, Inuinnaqtun, Inuktitut, Inuvialuktu, North Slavey, South Slavey and Tlicho.

Education and Literacy Rate in Canada

The literacy rate in Canada (defined as the number of people over 15 years of age who can read and write) is 99% for both males and females – among the highest in the world.

Canada’s education budget is 5.3% of GDP (2011 data), which is mostly funded from local provincial taxes rather than federal taxes.

Public education in Canada is divided into three sectors – primary education, secondary education, and post-secondary education.

School-age education in Canada is decentralised and Canadian public schools (both elementary/primary and secondary) are run by provinces and territories, not by the federal government. Schools are funded through local taxes, rather than national taxes.

Canadian children are required by law to attend school from the age of six, although many begin to attend earlier than this. They are required to attend until they are between 16 and 18 years old – the exact age varies from province to province.

According to Statistics Canada, there are 10,100 public elementary schools in Canada, 3,400 secondary schools, and 2,000 mixed elementary and secondary schools.

There are also many private schools, which are not funded through taxes. Approximately one in twenty (5.6%) Canadian children study at a private school.

Canada has one of the world’s strongest post-secondary (university) education sectors. As with schools, provinces have responsibility for higher education in Canada.

In 2014/15 there were 1.7 million students at Canada’s 98 universities.

Population Density in Canada

The population density in Canada is 3.7 people per square kilometer, making it one of the least densely populated countries in the world. According to the World Bank, Canada is the 10th least densely populated country in the world.

This overall figure, though, hides a wide variation within Canada. Some parts of Canada are quite densely populated – for example, Prince Edward Island is home to 24.7 people per square kilometer. Other parts of Canada have an incredibly low population density – Nunavut and the Northwst Territories both have a population density of less than 0.1 people per square kilometer.

Source: Statistics Canada, Population density, 2006 by Dissemination Area (DA), 2016. Reproduced and distributed on an "as is" basis with the permission of Statistics Canada.

Source: Statistics Canada, Population density, 2006 by Dissemination Area (DA). Reproduced and distributed on an “as is” basis with the permission of Statistics Canada.

As you can see from this map, produced by Statistics Canada, the population of Canada is heavily concentrated in the south, mostly along the border with the United States.

Urban vs Rural population

World bank data shows that 82% of Canadians live in urban areas, compared with 18% of Canadians who live in rural areas.

Urban82%
Rural18%

Largest cities in Canada

Toronto is the largest city in Canada by population and the largest city in the province of Ontario. As of 2011, the latest census data available, the population of Toronto is 2,615,060. Population growth in Toronto is 4.5% since the previous census in 2006. This is slower than the average national growth of 5.9%.

The next largest cities by population are Montreal (1,649,519), Calgary (1,096,833), Ottawa (883,391) and Edmonton (812,201).

The list below includes all eleven Canadian cities with a population of more than 500,000 people.

CityPopulation
Toronto2,615,060
Montreal1,649,519
Calgary1,096,833
Ottawa883,391
Edmonton812,201
Mississauga713,443
Winnipeg663,617
Vancouver603,502
Brampton523,911
Hamilton519,949
Quebec City516,662

Source: Statistics Canada.

Largest provinces in Canada

The term largest province in Canada can refer to either the most populous province, or the largest province by territory.

The most populous province in Canada is Ontario. In 2011 it had a population of 13,729,000 people – that’s almost four in every ten people who live in Canada. The next most populous province is Quebec, with a population of 7,903,001. The least populous province in Canada is Prince Edward Island, with a 2011 population of 514,536. The most populous territory in Canada is the Northwest Territories, home to 41,462 people (0.1% of Canada’s population).

The largest province in Canada by area is Quebec, with a total area of 1,365,128 sq km. In total, Quebec covers 15% of the total land area of Canada. Quebec is almost 50% larger than the next largest province, Ontario, which has a total land area of 917,741 sq km.

Neither province comes close to the size of Canada’s largest territory however. Nunavut, in the north of Canada has a total area of 1,936,113 sq km and makes up 21% of Canada’s total area. This makes Nunavut the fifth largest territory or state in the world, after Sakha Republic (Russia, 3,103,200 km2), Western Australia (Australia, 2,615,602 km2), Krasnoyarsk (Russia, 3,339,700) and Greenland (Denmark, 2,166,086).

Here is a table which lists the population of each province and territory in Canada in 2015, its size and its population density.

NameStatus
Population
Area
(km2)
Population Density
(people per sq km)
OntarioProvince13,729,000917,74114.96
QuebecProvince8,263,6001,365,1286.05
British ColombiaProvince4,683,100925,1865.06
AlbertaProvince4,196,500642,3176.53
ManitobaProvince1,293,400553,5562.34
SaskatchewanProvince1,133,600591,6701.92
Nova ScotiaProvince943,00053,33817.68
New BrunswickProvince753,90071,45010.55
Newfoundland and LabradorProvince527,800373,8721.41
Prince Edward IslandProvince146,4005,66025.87
Northwest TerritoriesTerritory44,1001,183,0850.04
YukonTerritory37,400474,3910.08
NunavutTerritory36,9001,936,1130.02

Sources: PopulationLand Area.

Other Canadian demographic data

Sex ratio

The sex ratio at birth in Canada is 1.06 males to every female. Across the entire population the ratio is 0.99 males to every female, and among over 65s it is 0.79 males to every female.

At birth: Male 1.06 (53%)Female 0.94 (47%)
0-15: Male 1.05 (52.5%)Female 0.95 (47.5%)
15-24: Male 1.06 (53%)Female 0.94 (47%)
25-54: Male 1.03 (51.5%)Female 0.97 (48.5%)
55-64: Male 0.98 (49%Female 1.02 (51%)
Over 65: Male 0.79 (39.5%) Female 1.21 (60.5%)

The ratio decreases with age because, as noted below, male life expectancy is lower than female life expectancy. The ratio in Canada is comparable with the ratio in other European and North American countries.

Life expectancy

Life expectancy in Canada is 81.57 years. Male Canadians can expect to live for 78.98 years, and female Canadians can expect to live for 84.31 years.

Male Life Expectancy78.98 years
Female Life Expectancy84.31 years

Life expectancy for aboriginal Canadians is considerably lower. Inuit men, for example, can expect to live for just 64 years, fifteen years lower than the national average. Inuit women can expect to live for 73 years, eleven years lower than the national average.

Inuit Male Life Expectancy64 years
Inuit Female Life Expectancy73 years

Median age

The median age in Canada is 40.6 years. For Canadian men it is 39.6 years and for Canadian women it is 41.5 years.

Median Age40.6 years
Male Median Age39.6 years
Female Median Age41.5 years

Birth rate and death rate

The birth rate in Canada is 10.9 births per 1,000 population (2014 figures). The death rate is 7.6 deaths per 1,000 population.

Birth Rate10.9 births per 1,000 population
Death Rate7.6 deaths per 1,000 population

Fertility rate

The fertility rate in Canada (2011) is 1.61 children per woman. This rate has remained relatively stable since the 1980s but is a long way below the long term replacement rate.

Fertility Rate 20111.61
Fertility Rate 19583.93

At its baby boom peak of 3.93 children per woman in 1959, Canada’s fertility rate was more than double today’s rate.

Fertility rate is much higher in two of Canada’s territories – 2.08 in Northwest Territories and 2.98 in Nunavut. The fertility rate of 1.64 in Yukon is close to the national average, however.

Canadian population pyramid

Here is a Canadian population pyramid based on 2016 data. The bulge of people in their fifties and early sixties represents Canada’s baby boom generation.

Canada population pyramid

Historical Canadian population data

The table below lists the population of Canada at the time of each census, and the percentage increase in population. From 1871 to 1971, the census was held every ten years. From 1971 onwards, the census has been held every five years.

Census yearPopulationPopulation increasePercentage increase
18713,689,257N/AN/A
18814,324,810635,55317.20%
18914,833,239508,42911.80%
19015,371,315538,07611.10%
19117,206,6431,835,32834.20%
19218,787,9491,581,30621.90%
193110,374,1961,586,24718.10%
194111,506,6551,132,45910.90%
195114,009,4292,502,77421.80%
196118,238,2474,228,81830.20%
197121,568,3113,330,06418.30%
197622,992,6041,424,2936.60%
198124,343,1811,350,5775.90%
198625,309,331966,1504.00%
199127,296,8591,987,5287.90%
199628,846,7611,549,9025.70%
200130,007,0941,160,3334.00%
200631,612,8971,605,8035.40%
201133,476,6881,863,7915.90%

Related resources

This article could not have been produce without the comprehensive and fantastic resources that Statistics Canada provide. If you want to explore further their website, which is available in French and English, is a one stop shop.

You may also want to look at the statistics resources listed on the Government of Canada website.