It is estimated that in 1800 the population of what is now Eastern Canada was about 340,000, by 1825 it had grown to about 850,000, and by 1851 to 2.4 million. In 1871 the population of Canada as a whole was 3.7 million; it rose to 4.8 million by 1891, and to 18.2 million by 1961. In 1998 it was over 30 million. This section analyses Canadian population changes over the period 1800-1961, using maps and diagrams that summarize some of the country's most basic historical and geographical features. The plates depict three important elements of population: distribution patterns; demographic processes that explain the distributions; and selected characteristics of the population, such as rural-urban proportions and ethnic composition.

By 1800 a Europe-based civilization was overpowering Native lands and Native civilizations and bringing immigrants into north­eastern North America. The map in Eastern Canada, ca 1800 shows a necklace of outports in eastern Newfoundland, narrow belts of settlement in the Maritimes, and a fuller band along the St. Lawrence River in Lower Canada. Tiny impressions of settlement were evident in the forests of Upper Canada and in the Eastern Townships of Lower Canada, just north of the American boundary. The map reveals fundamental contrasts in language. The swirling trade patterns of Native peoples and fur traders in the vast northern country make a striking contrast with the solidly occupied area of the United States in the south, where 5.3 million people lived and sent population spurs edging northward. Close Native contact with Eurocanadians was occurring at this time not only on the Canadian Shield; in the Montreal district the Native communities of Caughnawaga and Lac-des-Deux-Montagnes were in place, as were the communities on the Grand River, north of Lake Erie, in Upper Canada.

In all the colonies the first half of the 19th century was a time of clearing forests to make farmland. Populations expanded quickly through large migrations, especially from Great Britain. Numbers almost tripled between 1825 and 1851 (Populations in the Canadas and the Atlantic Region to 1857, Concise Plate 13). By 1851 a net of urban centres was dispersed over Canada West, just before the first railways opened. The plate makes apparent the intriguing changes that were taking place in Canada East: the push into the Canadian Shield had begun along the Saguenay River and around Lac Saint-Jean; the Eastern Townships were filling in; and the Gaspé Peninsula finally had a population on the St Lawrence River shore to match that on the Chaleur Bay side. In the Maritimes the valleys and periphery were filling out. By mid-century every colony had its leading urban centres - cities of great importance today - and the initial lead of Montreal is clearly seen in the plate.

By 1871 a transcontinental Canada had been created, and The Canadian Population, 1871, 1891, Concise Plate 14 follows some of the consequent population changes, to 1891. In the Maritimes the limits of rural agricultural settlement had become evident, and an urban system serving most parts had emerged, with Saint John and Halifax clear rivals. Quebec's frontier lands were filling up, and in Ontario colonization roads had assisted settlers in penetrating the southern margins of the Canadian Shield. Farther west the only settlement sites evident in 1871 are those at the Red River (Winnipeg) and in southwestern British Columbia, along with tiny clusters in the BC interior that in part are relicts of the gold rushes. By 1891 the impact of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) is seen in the settlements on the Prairies. An urban system, led by Montreal and dependent on the railways, was in place throughout Canada. Regional centres in different sections of the country were poised to fight for supremacy nationally or regionally in the next century.

Canada is generally thought of as a country to which people came, but it has simultaneously been a place from which many departed (The Exodus: Migrations, 1860-1900, Concise Plate 15). Immigration exceeded emigration in the 1850s, but outflow was greater than inflow for every decade over the rest of the century. Because of a high rate of natural increase, however, Canada's population did not actually fall. The rate of out-migration from many rural areas in Eastern Canada between 1871 and 1891 is astonishing; only a few rural counties in Quebec and Ontario still received immigrants. People were moving from farms to the cities and the new industrial jobs they offered. A considerable proportion of the outflow headed to the United States, to factory jobs in New England and New York, and to farmlands farther west, before the Canadian Prairies were made easily accessible by the CPR.

From the mid-1800s to 1914 Canada experienced both enormous immigration and large internal population shifts (Migration, 1891-1930). There were two great international waves of immigration, one from Europe and one from the United States, as well as a trickle from Asia. Canada had not seen such large numbers of immigrants before, nor has it since. The British Isles continued to provide the largest numbers of people, but many poured in from elsewhere in Europe, especially the central and eastern parts. Most migrated to the Prairie farmlands and towns, but many also took industrial and service jobs in other provinces, particularly Ontario. Many of the American immigrants were experienced farmers from North Dakota and Minnesota seeking larger farms in the Prairies. Emigration resulted in concentrations of Canadian-born people in New England, New York, and the Great Lakes states, as would be expected. Washington state, Oregon, and the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas were other popular destinations. Within Canada, large numbers of easterners moved to the West. Ontario and the Maritimes together contributed more than seven times as many migrants as did Quebec.

After the Second World War two significant population forces were at work: renewed migration to Canada and the post-war baby boom (Population Changes, 1941-1961). The map of demographic change between 1951 and 1961 (centre), relating natural increase and migration within small areas, reveals the complexity of the factors at work. International migrations resumed after the war, producing the largest flows since before the First World War. British immigrants led in numbers, followed by Italians, Germans, and Dutch, and then many others. Canada's ethnic composition (map, lower left) quickly changed, particularly in Ontario, Quebec (mainly Montreal), and British Columbia. Though interprovincial migration numbers (upper centre) were not great in relation to the total population, they reflect the fact that there were always some internal migrants whose destinations were governed largely by where the best economic opportunities were to be found.

It is particularly difficult to map the distribution of ethnic groups in Canada, because people of either British or French origin predominate so overwhelmingly in distinct sections of the country. The maps in Population Composition, 1891-1961 are therefore drawn to show the ethnic origin of the dominant non-British groups outside Quebec and the dominant non-French groups inside Quebec. These maps, for 1901, 1931, and 1961, demonstrate the penetration of French Canadians beyond Quebec, the pronounced ethnic diversity of the Prairie Provinces, and the strong presence of German Canadians in many parts of Canada. In most parts of Quebec, people of British origin were persistently second in numbers to French Canadians. The three-dimensional block diagrams of ethnic groups in major cities illustrate what the maps cannot: Canada's sheer ethnic diversity. The pie charts on the maps reveal that, over the course of these sixty years, French Canadians were consistently dominant in Quebec, British Canadians began to relinquish dominance in Ontario, and the ethnic mix remained fairly stable in the Maritimes. British Canadians have stayed numerically strong in the West, but there has been considerable ethnic diversity in that region since 1901.

Printed Historical Atlas of Canada source:

Concise Historical Atlas of Canada, pp. 3-4.