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It wasn't all bad times during the recession.

For the first time in half a century, the number of children aged four and under increased across Canada between 2006 and 2011. Results of 2011 census data released Tuesday show that the number of young children is on the rise in every region, ranging from a 1.9 per cent increase in the Northwest Territories to 20.9 per cent in Alberta.

The increase may be a surprise for most Canadians, who are mostly aware of the country's aging population, said Statistics Canada senior demographer Laurent Martel.

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"The population is getting older, on average, in Canada," he said. "But obviously we're showing today, at the same time we have population aging we can have an increase in the number of young kids."

Mr. Martel said the increase is due to a higher fertility rate in Canada – going from 1.5 in 2000 to 1.7 children per woman in 2011. As well, there's been an increase in the number of women in their "prime child-bearing years," between 20 and 34.

The highest fertility rate among Canadian provinces is in Saskatchewan, where the number of children per woman was 2.06 in 2009.

Although it's a "significant increase" and the largest since the end of the baby boom, between 1956 and 1961, Mr. Martel said he would stop short of calling the recent increase a "boom."

"The baby boom period, between 1946 and 1965, it was a different scope, it was a really different magnitude," he said. "At that time, the number of children per woman was about four so it was way different than what we're seeing right now."

What Canada is seeing mirrors what's already happening in other industrialized countries, said Mr. Martel, adding that a similar increase has been seen recently in the U.K.

Demographers need more information to predict whether the increase will last much longer, he said, but initial provincial statistics from Quebec and British Columbia suggest fertility rate increases have stopped in those provinces.

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