Population Distribution: 1825, 1851
During the first half of the 19th century the Canadas (Québec and Ontario) experienced considerable population growth in response to immigration and high birth rates. The population of Québec almost doubled from some 480 000 in 1825 to 890 000 in 1851, while that of Ontario multiplied sixfold from 158 000 in 1825 to 952 000 in 1851. The period also witnessed an expansion of the settled area. Whereas Québec's 1825 population had been concentrated in the Québec City-Montréal heartland, by 1851 settlement had spread into the Eastern Townships and along the Chaudière valley, and was stretching out along the north and south shores of the St Lawrence and the Gaspé coast. During the same period the concentration of Ontario's population along the Great Lakes-St Lawrence corridor extended some 50 km inland but had not yet expanded into the area between the Ottawa River and Lake Huron. By 1851 the Toronto-Hamilton-London region was emerging as the economic core of the province.
Both provinces continued to be predominantly rural with less than 20% of their population living in the eight largest urban centres. By 1851 the urban system was dominated by Montréal (58 000) and Québec City (42 000), although Toronto had exploded from under 2 000 in 1825 to over 30 000. Kingston (11 700) had fallen behind Hamilton (14 100) and was being challenged by Ottawa (7 800) and London (7 000).
Through the first half of the 19th century the Maritime population grew from about 80 000 to less than 200 000 in the mid-1820s, and to over 500 000 in 1851. Much of this expansion derived from large-scale immigration. For over two decades after 1815, people mainly from Scotland and Ireland poured into the region, settling in districts bordering the Gulf of St Lawrence. Meanwhile, high rates of natural increase enabled older settlements, occupied primarily by those of American and Acadian extraction to achieve consolidation. Except in central Prince Edward Island, population density remained low. All but 10% of Maritimers lived in rural communities. As a result of prosperity derived from the timber trade, Saint John (22 700) edged ahead of Halifax (29 000) to become the largest city in the region by mid-century.
Population Distribution: 1871, 1891
Canada in 1891 had attained a population of approximately 4.8 million, a doubling of its numbers since 1851. The rate of increase varied both by decade and by region. In the central and eastern provinces a substantial growth of over 50% from 1851 to 1871 fell off to an increase of only 21% from 1871 to 1891. By contrast, in the new farmlands of the West dramatic increases occurred in the latter period, setting the stage for major growth to follow.
By 1871 the main areas of population concentration were well in place. Three-quarters of the country's inhabitants lived in the southern parts of Québec and Ontario, almost all of them (over 90%) in areas occupied in 1851. In the Maritimes as well increases reinforced the existing pattern, a coastal distribution inherited from earlier in the century. In the West population had begun to spread westward, beyond Manitoba, following the newly built railway lines.
The population was predominantly rural. At the same time the rate of urban growth had surpassed that in rural areas. In urban centres with at least 1 000 inhabitants population increased from 23% of the total population in 1871 to 33% in 1891, with much of the growth in larger centres. In 1891 over 38% of urban residents lived in centres with populations over 25 000.