Statistics Canada says the national population almost hit 37 million last year as it grew at the fastest rate among G7 nations.

The agency says Canada's population was just over 36.9 million on census day last year, growing by 5.2 per cent between 2016 and 2021.

The five-year growth rate was double that of any peer country in the G7, and Statistics Canada says most of the growth happened prior to the onset of the pandemic in 2020.

Statistics Canada says the main reason for the slowdown in growth was border restrictions that, while meant to slow the spread of COVID-19, also slowed the pace of newcomers arriving in Canada.

The agency says population growth was at a record high before the pandemic, and then slowed to its lowest rate in a century in 2020. 

Statistics Canada says there were about 1.8 million more people calling the country home in 2021 compared with 2016, with four in every five being immigrants. 

Immigration has been key to driving population growth as the birthrate has declined, but the agency notes that rate in 2021 hit its lowest level of record.

Statistics Canada says some of that slowdown might be pandemic-induced. The agency points to one of its studies done late last year that suggested adults under 50 wanted to have fewer children than previously planned.

At this point, the agency says, Canada's isn't headed to a situation where deaths outnumber births like in Italy and Japan, at least within the next 50 years.

The details released this morning are the first set of findings from last year's census taken against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Today's release also notes that the Maritimes grew faster than the Prairies for the first time since the 1940s, largely on the back of immigration. Newfoundland and Labrador was the lone province to see a decline. 

The country's large urban centres witnessed a growth in their populations between 2016 and 2021, and the number of cities with more than 100,000 people grew to 41 from 35. Rural areas, too, grew, albeit at a far slower pace than their metropolitan cousins. 

Statistics Canada plans to add more flourishes to the paint-by-numbers exercise as the year rolls on to reveal more information about how the country has aged, changes among Indigenous populations, and working during the pandemic.

The pandemic is expected to have an effect on census results, although experts suggest the country may have to wait a few years to learn whether COVID-19 caused a permanent or temporary shift in the portrait of the population.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press