Environmental conditions were harsh and the survival of early settlements depended to a great extent on the continuing flow of traders, soldiers, priests and administrators from France. In 1666 the population of New France was just 3215. As was typical of early settlements, most of the inhabitants were single and male, but increasing numbers of settlers arriving from France ultimately established a population capable of sustaining itself through natural increase.
During the next 100 years, birthrates ranged from 50 to 65 births per 1000 population and produced a sufficient excess of births over deaths for the population to reach 70 000 at about the time that the British had won political control from the French at the end of the SEVEN YEARS' WAR. Rapid population growth continued and the non-French population increased dramatically under the impetus of the migration of British Empire LOYALISTS from the American colonies after the Revolution and increasing IMMIGRATION from Europe. By 1867 the population was over 3.4 million.
Population growth was alternately stimulated and depressed by recurring fluctuations in economic conditions and immigration. The economy was depressed at Confederation and EMIGRATION consistently exceeded immigration during the last 4 decades of the 19th century. Population would have declined had it not been for the high levels of fertility that still characterized the population towards the end of the century. Crude birthrates varied between 45 and 36 births per 1000 population, while death rates declined moderately from 21 to 18 deaths per 1000 during this period.
The Nation's Growth
Population growth is the result of two components--migratory increase and natural increase. At the turn of the century, with both fertility and mortality rates declining, high natural increase combined with the heavy immigration of the early 1900s to boost the average annual rate of growth for the country to a high of 3%. Unsettled times followed the FIRST WORLD WAR, culminating in the GREAT DEPRESSION of the 1930s. By 1941 growth rates had declined to 1%, but the long-term decline in fertility was interrupted by the approach of the SECOND WORLD WAR and a period of increasing political and economic activity. During the postwar period, both immigration and birthrates were greatly stimulated by the unexpectedly high level of economic development. Canada's average annual rate of growth reached 2.8% during the BABY BOOM of the late 1940s and the 1950s.
By the beginning of the 1960s, a weakening economy and continuing social change brought an end to the unprecedented postwar growth; the consistent decline in birthrates was relatively unaffected by fluctuations in the economy. During the early 1960s, immigration was encouraged by changes in IMMIGRATION POLICY. Longstanding restrictions based on racial and ethnic origins were removed and selection criteria were introduced based on education, occupational skills and LABOUR FORCE needs. Despite these factors the average annual growth rate by 1966 had declined to 1.7%. During the 1970s it declined further to 1.3% and by 1986 it was as low as 0.8%, the lowest annual rate ever recorded.
During the 1970s it declined further to 1.3% and by 1986 it was as low as 0.8%, the lowest annual rate ever recorded.
By 1996 this figure climbed to 1.3%. Despite worsening national and global economics, the same numbers of immigrants (1.4 million) arrived in both the decades of the 1970s and the 1980s as between 1961 and 1971 (only slightly less than the numbers that had arrived during the decade of the baby boom). In 1978 Canada introduced annual global ceilings on admissible numbers of immigrants to achieve better control over the continuing influx of immigrants. Today these ceilings are established after consultations with provincial governments.
During the latter half of the 1971-81 decade, Canada was one of the three main immigrant-receiving nations in the world. From 1976 to 1981, immigration varied between 149 429 and 86 313, averaging about 122 000 annually. In spite of continuing high levels of unemployment in 1982, Canada publicly committed itself to maintaining immigration ceilings of between 135 000 and 145 000 for the three-year planning period ending in 1984, and raising them in subsequent years as a means of partially offsetting the effects of a declining rate of population growth. However, between 1980 and 1985, immigration declined from 143 117 to 84 302, while pressures to admit increasing numbers of immigrants and refugees remained high. The number of immigrants entering Canada as permanent residents rose during the latter half of the 1980s to peak in 1993 at 256 000. Overall target levels for immigrants and refugees in 1999, tabled in 1998 by the government in Parliament, were set at the same levels as those for 1998, which had been set at 200 000-225 000. The range for total immigrants was increased slightly while the target level and range for refugees was reduced accordingly.
In 2010 more than 280 700 individuals immigrated to Canada of which 9% were refugees; these were the highest immigration levels since the 1950s.
The natural increase in a population is the difference between births and deaths during a given time period, excluding migration. Between 1851 and 2001, natural increase and not immigration was the major factor in the nation's growth, that is, an excess of births over deaths. As birthrates were declining during this period, the positive contribution by natural increase largely reflected the improvement in the general quality of life and the decline in the death rate. With an annual rate of natural increase below 1% since 1971, Canada is characteristic of industrialized and urbanized populations that have experienced the demographic transition from high to low levels of vital rates.
Since 2001, natural increase has accounted for approximately 1/3 of the population growth. Canada's fertility rate has continued to decline since the 1960s and there has been a steady rise in the number of deaths due in part to the aging of the population.
Mortality levels have been declining since the latter part of the 18th century, but the decline has been more pronounced since 1867. The major gains in life expectancy have been attributed to improved nutritional levels, personal hygiene and better housing than to medical science or improved medical services. The gradual elimination of infectious and parasitic diseases as major causes of death has significantly increased life expectancy for Canadians. The most dramatic improvements have resulted from reductions in infant mortality rather than gains for the older population, and women have benefited more from these improvements than have men.
In 1931 the number of years a person could expect to live at birth under prevailing mortality conditions was 60 for males and 62.1 for females. By 2009 life expectancies had reached 78.8 years for men and 83.3 years for women. Life expectancy in Canada have consistently been longer than that in the US, but virtually identical to many European countries (eg, France, Sweden, Norway and Iceland).
Mortality in Canada has increased due to the aging of the population and the numbers of births and deaths have converged since the end of the baby boom. Improvements in living conditions, the STANDARD OF LIVING and healthier lifestyles have drastically altered the health concerns and medical-care problems of Canadians. The major causes of death among Canadians are degenerative diseases (cancer, cardiovascular diseases). In 2009, cancer was the leading cause of death (30%), followed by cardiovascular and heart diseases and stroke; together the three causes accounted for almost 56% of all deaths in Canada.
Before the 19th century, fertility levels in North America were as high, or higher, than present levels in many of the world's less-developed countries. As Canada developed and living conditions improved, birthrates declined steadily from their early levels of around 50 births per 1000 population. By the 1920s the crude rate had dropped below 30 and during the 1930s had reached a low of 20 births per 1000 population (1937). The Second World War revived the economy and reversed the declining trend in birthrates; they reached record highs during the baby boom, of 28.9 in 1947 and again in 1954 before resuming the long-term historical decline beginning in the 1960s.
Since the mid-1970s, the number of births has been below 400 000 per year, and the fertility rate (the average number of children that a woman would have if the current age-specific fertility rates prevail over her reproductive period) has ranged between 1.5 and 1.7 children per woman. There was little evidence to indicate that fertility rates would return to replacement levels and by 2009, the fertility rate had fallen to 0.8%.
The significance of declining birthrates for future population growth is more evident in the total fertility rate (TFR), which describes how many female children women may expect to have, on average, if they live through their reproductive years experiencing the age-specific fertility rates of a given year. The TFR for Canadian females had dropped from a rate of 1.7 in 1921 to a low of 1.3 in 1937, before increasing to 1.9 during the latter half of the 1950s at the end of the baby-boom years. The rate again dropped sharply and after 1971 the TFR fell below the replacement level, reaching 0.98 in 1972. By 1985 the rate had reached 0.81 and women were even less likely than before to produce enough daughters to replace themselves during their lifetime. Continuation of such low fertility levels for an indefinite period would eventually lead to an actual decline in Canada's population, provided there was no significant revival of immigration. In 2009 the TFR was 0.8, was below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman which must be maintained to replace the population in the absence of migration.
Historically, Canada's birthrates have remained somewhat higher than those of the US, with almost identical patterns of change. North American birthrates have tended to remain somewhat higher than those reported for northern and western European countries. In contrast, birthrates for most of the less-developed regions of the world have been more than twice that of Canada's.
Relatively greater numbers of young adult men than women immigrated to Canada in the early years. Following the heavy immigration during the first decade of the 20th century, the census of 1911 reported 113 males for every 100 females living in Canada. Since 1921 the ratio of males to females has gradually declined for the country as a whole, reaching parity shortly after the 1971 census. The AGING of the population, with longer life expectancies for females, and the increasing proportion of women among arriving immigrants have continued to erode the gender ratio. In 1981 the gender ratio had reached 98, by 2001 women accounted for 50.7% and by 2008 there were more women immigrants than men (52%).
A relative excess of males was found in the more rural populations and in the West and North as late as 1986. The highest ratio in 1996 was found in the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, where the number of males per 100 females was 107 however ten years later the ratio was almost even. In contrast, relatively more women are found in the larger urban centres, presumably attracted by greater employment opportunities.
The ratio of males per 100 females varies by age group and between rural and urban areas. Gender ratios at birth are consistently about 105 in favour of males, but the relative number of males compared to females gradually declines with increasing age. In 2010, the population 65 years of age and older comprised 56% women, increasing to 67% for those aged 85 and older and to 80% for centenarians.
As recently as 1981, no age group under 80 in the rural population had a gender ratio less than 100, while for urban populations only the age group under 20 years still had more men than women. For the first time in 1991 gender ratios in the rural 25-29 year age group and the oldest age group (65+) declined below 100 and the rural gender ratios were considerably higher than the urban gender ratios for all age groups. The 2006 census reported the rural population growth was less than growth in urban areas therefore the total rural population has continued to decline.
Canada's population has gradually aged as the importance of immigration has waned and birthrates have declined. By 1951 the average (median) age had increased to 27.8 years before the unprecedented birthrates of the 1950s (baby boom) lowered the median age to 25.6 years in 1966. Between 1971 and 2011, the median age of the population increased from 27.8 to 39.9 years. The 2006 census reported that seniors accounted for 13.7% of the population which climbed to 14.8% in 2011; this increase was more than double the 5.9% increase than the age of the Canadian population as a whole.
Canada's population has shifted from an "early mature" status in 1881, when 4.1% of the population was 65 and over, to, since the 1971 census, an "aged" population, signifying that the proportion of the population that was 65 years of age and over exceeded the 8% criterion established by the United Nations. As the baby boom generation ages and fertility levels remain low, the relative numbers of the latter group will continue to show significant increases.
While the relative size of the young, dependent population was quite similar to that in the US and the northern and western European countries, the proportion of those aged 65 and over for most European countries continues to be somewhat higher. By contrast, some of the least economically developed countries continue to be characterized by proportions of their populations under 15 years of age and over 65 years.
Native and Foreign-Born Population
The 1901 Canadian census recorded 25 different ethnic groups; by 2006 more than 200 different groups were enumerated in the census.
Variations in immigration and the natural increase of the indigenous population have altered the relative size and importance of the indigenous and foreign-born populations. When colonization by the French first began, the indigenous population were the Aboriginal and Inuit, and the foreign-born were the European explorers, traders, military and government personnel, priests, missionaries and settlers. The Aboriginal population was hard pressed to survive in the face of the European encroachment, and by the mid-20th century their numbers were estimated to be fewer than they had been when New France was first established. During the interim period, the Aboriginal population was greatly augmented by the children of the European immigrants and tended to grow more rapidly through natural increase than the foreign-born population did through immigration. Because the Aboriginal population had great difficulty in maintaining their numbers, their long-term survival was seriously threatened.
Just before Confederation, the foreign-born population accounted for 21% of Canada's total. Emigration during the late 1800s reduced the proportion to 13% in 1901, but the heavy immigration of the early 1900s boosted their relative size to 22% between 1911 and 1931. The Aboriginal population grew more rapidly during the Depression and early war years, but heavy postwar immigration reinforced the numbers of foreign-born in Canada. It was not until the 1930s that the Aboriginal population began to show consistent increases, and by 1971 the combined populations of North American Aboriginal people and Inuit had a growth rate exceeding 3% and a population of 313 000. With decreasing mortality and continuing high fertility, their population reached 845 000 in 1986, one million by 1991, and almost 1.2 million of aboriginal ancestry in the 2006 census. Of these, approximately 75% reported North American Aboriginal ancestry, 20% of Métis origins and about 5% of Inuit ancestry.
Accurate enumerations of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit populations are still difficult to obtain. Political factors are becoming of equal or greater importance than their general social and physical isolation that have prevented complete and accurate enumerations. However, there is little question that this particular Aboriginal population, unlike the Aboriginal-born Canadians of European descent, will continue to experience strong growth from natural increase.
Countries of Origin
The countries of origin of Canada's foreign-born have both established and altered the nature of Canada's cultural mosaic. Its bicultural nature is a consequence of the early settlement by the French and the subsequent acquisition of military and political control by the British, after which most immigrants came from the British Isles, the US and Europe. In 1871, 84% of the foreign-born had been born in the UK. As the character of immigration shifted during the early decades of the 20th century and again after the Second World War, the proportion dropped to 36% (1971) as immigration from other European countries, notably Germany and Italy, increased.
The main birthplace of those born outside Canada was originally Europe, however the proportion of Canadians with European ancestry has decreased from 52% in 1971 to 15% in 2009. Canada's immigration sources have significantly increased in the proportion of Asian-born immigrants, from 4% in 1971 to 57% in 2009. The shift to non-European countries as the major source for Canada's immigrants resulted partly from the elimination of the discriminatory aspects of Canada's immigration policies during the 1960s and 1970s. Also, changes in census reporting not only recognized but encouraged citizens to report multiple ethnic/racial origins which contributed to an increase in the ethnic and racial diversity of the census.
Although the Canadian population is more multicultural in terms of its ethnic origins, it is largely a bilingual and bicultural nation. In 1996, 17% of the population reported British Isles-only ancestry, 9.5%, reported only French ancestry, and 53%, of the population reported some British or French ancestry. Approximately 20% of Canada's population spoke a language other than English or French at home in 2011, either alone or in some combination with English or French, with Asian languages showing the largest growth.
In 1983, China was the most common place of birth for immigrants who arrived in Canada, with India in close second place. Between the 2001 and 2006 there was a 27.2% increase in Canada's visible minority population which grew five times faster than the 5.4% growth rate of the total population. South Asians had surpassed Chinese as the largest visible minority group, followed by Chinese and Blacks that were respectively, the second and third largest visible minority groups. More than 41% of the population reported more than one ethnic origin, compared with 38% in 2001 and 35.8% in 1996. In the 2006 census there were more than 200 ethnic origins reported however Canadian was the other most frequently reported origin.
The population's ethnic diversity has increased considerably since the liberalization of Canada's immigration policies, and nowhere has this been more apparent than in the larger urban centres which have been attracting the largest share of immigrants. Upon entering Canada, most immigrants settle in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, for example, in 2009, almost 80% of immigrants went to these three provinces.
In 2012, Canada's population growth was the highest among the G8 countries; international migration has been Canada's main source of population growth since 1993, and in 2012 represented two-thirds of the population growth. Regardless of the future levels of immigration to Canada, world conditions will continue to maintain pressure for increases to immigration from non-European sources. Canada's population, particularly in its more highly urbanized areas, is expected to increase in its ethnic and cultural diversity.
In 2012 the median age of Canadians was 40 years; the demographic aging of the population is expected to continue therefore immigration, fertility and public policies such as retirement and pensions will be the challenges facing governments and Canadians. Using a medium-growth estimate, Statistics Canada predicts Canada's population will be close to 43 million by 2056.
See also: POPULATION BY MOTHER TONGUE: TABLE.
Author WARREN E. KALBACH
Frank Trovato, Canada's Population in a Global Context (2009); Wayne W. McVey, Jr, and Warren E. Kalbach, Canadian Population (1995); Warren E. Kalbach and W.W. McVey, Jr, Demographic Bases of Canadian Society (1979).
Links to Other Sites
PASSAGES TO CANADA
Immigrants to Canada from around the world have encountered many hardships, opportunities, and successes as they set out to establish a better life for themselves and their families in their adopted country. Listen to some of their personal stories at the "Passages to Canada" website. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21
The website for a museum devoted to history of Pier 21 in Halifax, once the primary point of entry for immigration to Canada. Check out the virtual exhibits, lesson plans, and online copies of "The Passport" newsletter.
Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples
The website for the "Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples." Click on the links for feature articles about Canada's many multicultural communities, access to their extensive digital archives collection, learning modules, and much more. From "Multicultural Canada."
A history of the "census" in Canada. Check the menu on the left for data on small groups (such as lone-parent families, ethnic groups, industrial and occupational categories and immigrants) and for information about areas as small as a city neighbourhood or as large as the entire country. From the website for Statistics Canada.
Cahiers de géographie du Québec
This website offers abstracts in English of selected article from the journal "Cahiers de géographie du Québec." Click on the cover image to access content.
Population of Canada
See information about the population of Canada. From Statistics Canada.
Canada's population clock
See a live "population clock" from Statistics Canada. Population counts are rough estimates based on Statistics Canada data.