The first batch of data from the latest Canadian census shows the country's population increased 5.9 per cent between 2006 and 2011, to 33,476,688 people.

For the first time, the data showed that Western Canada – which includes British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba -- has surpassed Eastern Canada in population, Statistics Canada said as it released its first batch of data on Wednesday. Eastern Canada includes Quebec and the provinces to its east. Ontario is not considered part of Eastern or Western Canada for the purposes of the census.

About 30.7 per cent of Canadians lived in the west when the data was collected, just edging out the east, which had 30.6 per cent.

Over the period between the two censuses, forestry and mining in eastern Canada were impacted by the 2008 recession, while business was comparatively booming in the energy-rich west. As such, economic opportunities continued to draw people westward -- newcomers in particular -- at a faster rate than in past census periods.

While it's impossible to make a direct connection since the short-form census doesn't ask why people moved, Statistics Canada census manager Marc Hamel said it is likely people are following the job market.

"We can probably make some of those associations," he told CTV News Channel on Wednesday. "We have seen the population increase higher in places where people believe there are jobs.

The east also faces an aging population -- something clearly not a problem out west, which had much higher fertility rates.

The country's two fastest growing cities were in Alberta; Calgary and Edmonton, while the only cities to show a decline were in Ontario; forestry-dependent Thunder Bay and Windsor, Ont., a manufacturing town.

The census also showed that more people than ever are moving to the suburbs. Toronto bedroom community Milton -- not so long ago, a small town far away from the city's sprawl -- was the fastest growing municipality in the country. Its population grew 56 per cent over five years, up to 84,362.

The fastest-growing city on the last census -- Barrie, Ont. -- was also a home to thousands of residents commuting to Toronto.

While Ontario remains the most populous province (with 38.4 per cent of the country's people), the attentions of immigrants and long-time residents are shifting elsewhere, causing its growth rate to continue to slow

Wednesday's release of data includes basic information on the Canadian population: where people live, which areas are stagnating and population counts. According to the data, Canada's population rate grew faster than any other G8 nation between the same five-year period, the second time in a row it earned that distinction.

It attributes growth to "slightly higher fertility" and an increase in immigrants and non-permanent residents.

"Net international migration (the difference between immigrants and emigrants) accounted for two-thirds of Canada's population growth during the last 10 years, and natural increase (the difference between births and deaths) for about one-third," said a release posted on the Statistics Canada website. "In contrast, recent population growth in the United States has been mainly the result of natural increase."

Canada's growth comes as other industrialized nations struggle to keep their populations from shrinking.

The census is conducted every five years, counting Canadians and collecting details on where they live, how old they are, and information about various aspects of their lifestyle. It paints a detailed portrait of the country, telling Canadians about our housing, origins, religion, habits, work and quality of life. The 2011 census was conducted last May, and was filled out by 98 per cent of Canadians, said Hamel.

However, this release will different than those in the past, as 2011 was the first census year after Prime Minister Stephen Harper replaced the long-form census with the non-mandatory National Household Survey, the results of which will be released in 2013.

The controversial decision led to the resignation of Statistics Canada head Munir Sheikh, one of many statisticians who have complained the new data will be less reliable.

The census was first conducted in 1666, when French colonial administrator Jean Talon went door-to-door in New France to count its 3,215 people.

With files from The Canadian Press