Retail sales increased by 2.1 per cent to $44.2 billion in January, more than three times better than expected.
Statistics Canada reported Friday that seven of 11 sectors of the economy the agency tracks saw increased. But none were larger than motor vehicles and parts dealers, which increased by 4.8 per cent.
Convenience stores, wine and liquor stores, and gas stations all saw lower sales.
Economists polled by Bloomberg were expecting an overall gain of about 0.6 per cent following a weak December. The 2.1 per cent increase is the largest gain since March 2010.
"Before busting out the party hats, recall the extreme volatility that has become typical around the turn of the year," BMO economist Robert Kavcic said, noting that January's increase was the same size, in percentage terms, as the previous month's decline.
Still, the three-month average gain for the busy holiday shopping period is up a "very solid" four per cent, Kavcic noted.
And total sales were 6.4 per cent higher in January than they were a year earlier.
Across the country, retail sales were up in eight provinces in January, with the exception of Prince Edward Island and Alberta.
Sales were up both in volume and dollar terms, the data agency noted.