In the early 1820s the Native population of what is now Canada was about 175,000, a large drop from the 250,000 estimated for the early 17th century (Southern Ontario, 8600 BC, Volume I, pl 3). Until the late 18th century epidemic disease and, to a degree, warfare were the principal causes of population decline. In the 19th century, starvation took an increasing toll as some areas were overhunted, and as European settlement increasingly restricted the seasonal mobility of Native peoples. The search for provisions and furs led to gradual movements of population, particularly towards the grasslands and tundra (for food) and the northwest (for furs and food). In some areas where the population was expanding, bitter warfare ensued as traditional enemies came into closer contact. Seasonal movement was extensive where Native groups had access to migratory game.
On the east coast Native hunting was destroyed, seasonal movements disrupted, and the transition to agriculture made difficult as Natives were confined to small parcels of poor land. Harassed and barred from coastal resources, the Beothuk were nearing extinction. Along the upper St Lawrence and lower Great Lakes traditionally agricultural peoples, most ethnically and linguistically diverse refugees from the United States, practised a viable mixed farming. The groups of the eastern boreal forest, still masters of their land, were deeply involved in the fur trade and fishing, but faced seasonal food shortages as big game became scarce. Throughout the west and northwest, traditional economies based on hunting and fishing persisted, enmeshed with the fur and pemmican trades. The sea-otter trade had all but disappeared from the northwest coast, but other marine resources remained plentiful and supported large populations. Throughout the intermontane area and the eastern Arctic, European-Native contact was infrequent, and it had not yet taken place in the High Arctic.
Estimates of Inuit populations are based on fragmentary late-19th century observations, except in Labrador where, in 1828, the Moravians took a census. Estimates for the Athapaskan groups of the Yukon are modern; those for Indian groups in British Columbia are based on the partial Hudson's Bay Company censuses of the 1830s and 1840s. Population data for southern Ontario and the St Lawrence lowlands are from a government census of 1827, while data for the Maritime provinces are from censuses compiled between 1838 and 1841. The Newfoundland data are estimates compiled in 1822. For the rest of Canada and New Caledonia and Columbia data are from the census ordered by Governor Simpson of the HBC in 1822. Data for the Tlingit, from a Russian census of 1863, are adjusted for the smallpox epidemics of the 1830s. Estimates for areas south of the international border were compiled by American expeditions between 1823 and 1832 (see end notes).