From 1891 to 1961 the population of Canada almost quadrupled from 4.8 million to 18.2 million. Before the Great War much of the growth was rural, especially in the rapid occupation of the western prairies. From the 1920s, and especially after the Second World War, urban population growth outstripped rural and by 1961 at least 70% of the population lived in urban centres, two-thirds of which lived in metropolitan centres (over 100 000). Throughout the period the historical character of the population, largely British or French in origin, was significantly modified in much of Canada as a result of two great waves of European migration (1896-1913, 1946-61). Ukrainian, German, and other European groups established rural settlements in the Prairies, and in the 1950s a combination of large-scale immigration and migration from rural to urban areas increased the ethnic diversity of most Canadian cities dramatically.
Different ethnic groups in Canada had very different kinds of links to their nation of origin. French Canadians, descended from the 10 000 French who had immigrated to Canada prior to the British Conquest of 1760, saw themselves primarily as Canadiens although the elite still had limited connections to France. Until the 1950s most Canadians of British descent identified themselves as British Canadians, their identity reinforced by the persistence of British institutions and immigration. Typically other immigrants maintained distinctive cultures which were an adaptation of their cultures of origin to North American realities.
Except in the Eastern Townships, the Ottawa River valley, parts of Montréal, and parts of the Gaspé peninsula, Québec in 1961 remained almost exclusively French-speaking as it had been from the early 18th century. The expansion of French Canadians into eastern Ontario in the 19th century and onto the Shield in the 20th created distinctive French-speaking communities alongside English-speaking ones. French-speaking Acadians in northern and eastern New Brunswick were for many generations intermixed with and in close proximity to English-speaking communities. Thus there was a 'bilingual belt' extending from northern Ontario to eastern New Brunswick.