New census data shows the population of the metropolitan area of Winnipeg fell below the national growth rate over the last five years — a period of time that saw the country spiral into the most serious economic tailspin since the Great Depression.

Statistics Canada released the first batch of numbers from the 2011 census on Wednesday and the population of what the government agency refers to as the census metropolitan area of Winnipeg increased by 5.1 per cent since the last census in 2006.

The area's growth rate was below the national growth rate of 5.9 per cent, while the population of Manitoba increased by 5.2 per cent.

Census metropolitan areas do not conform to established municipal boundaries. Statistics Canada defines them as a metropolitan area with a population of at least 100,000, where the urban core of that area has at least 50,000 people.

Commuting patterns and other factors are used in determining these census metropolitan areas.

Looking at metropolitan areas this way takes in to account the growing impact of suburban areas on Canada's largest cities.

When the 2011 census was taken last May 10, the population of the census metropolitan area of Winnipeg was 730,018, compared with 694,668 from the 2006 census. The population of the actual city of Winnipeg was 663,617 up from 633,451 in 2006.

Canada's population on census day was 33,476,688, Statistics Canada reported.

The census indicated that Winnipeg ranked No. 8 among the country's 33 census metropolitan areas.

The national census is conducted every five years. The information published Wednesday is the first of several releases of data to come from Statistics Canada over the next year and longer that will eventually paint a detailed picture of the country, right down to the local level — including age breakdowns of the population, family makeup, languages spoken, immigration and ethnic origin, the level of education attained and income earned.

At the national level, the 2011 census showed Canada's population grew the fastest of the G8 countries over the last five years — ahead of the United States (4.4 per cent), the United Kingdom (3.5 per cent), Italy (3.2 per cent), France (2.8 per cent), Russia (0.1 per cent), Japan (no change) and Germany (which had a population decrease of 0.8 per cent).

The western provinces, where the recession had less of an impact than in central and eastern Canada, led the way in population growth. Alberta saw the highest increase at 10.8 per cent, followed by British Columbia  (7.0 per cent) and Saskatchewan (6.7 per cent).

Manitoba (5.2 per cent) was the only western province with a population increase below the national average. Other provinces below the national growth rate were Nova Scotia (0.9 per cent), Newfoundland and Labrador (1.8 per cent), New Brunswick (2.9 per cent), Prince Edward Island (3.2 per cent), Quebec (4.7 per cent) and Ontario (5.7 per cent).

Among the northern territories, the population changed by 0.0 per cent in the Northwest Territories, 11.6 per cent in the Yukon and 8.3 in Nunavut.

Ontario is still the country's most populous province, with a population of 12,851,821. The population of other provinces and territories: Quebec, 7,903,001; British Columbia, 4,400,057; Alberta, 3,645,257; Manitoba, 1,208,268; Saskatchewan, 1,033,381; Nova Scotia, 921,727; New Brunswick, 751,171; Newfoundland and Labrador, 514,536; Prince Edward Island, 140,204; Northwest Territories, 41,462; Yukon, 33,897 and Nunavut, 31,906.