Canadian wholesale trade surged to a record high of $59.1 billion in January, driven by a big gain in the auto sector, Statistics Canada said Monday.

For the first month of the year, wholesale trade rose by 3.3 per cent from Dec. 2016 for the largest monthly percentage gain since November 2009, when wholesale sales expanded by 3.8 per cent.

Statistics Canada said the motor vehicle and parts subsector recorded the largest gain in dollar terms in January, rising 17.1 per cent to $11.9 billion, the first increase in three months.

January sales in the motor vehicle industry rose by almost 21 per cent from December, hitting a record high of $9.27 billion.

"There were higher imports and exports of motor vehicles and parts in January, and motor vehicle manufacturing sales increased for a second consecutive month," Statistics Canada said

Factoring out the auto sector, wholesale sales increased by 0.3 per cent in January.

In the personal and household goods subsector, sales rose by three per cent to $8.5 billion, propelled by a 30.6 per cent  increase in the home entertainment equipment and household appliance industry. The January increase more than offset the industry's combined declines during the last two months of 2016.

On the downside, sales of machinery, equipment and supplies slipped by 0.3 per cent, the sector's first decline since September 2016.In the building material and supplies subsector, sales edged down 0.2 per cent to $8.0 billion, their first decline in four months.