Following two months of relatively flat sales, May's climb was the highest rate of growth since March 2010, the data office said.
In May, nine of 11 retail segments showed growth, led by a 4.3 percent gain in sales of motor vehicles and car parts.
At car dealerships, sales were up 3.3 percent for a fifth consecutive month of gains. Sales at "other motor vehicle dealers," which includes recreational vehicles, boats and motorcycles, rose 13.1 percent in the month, StatsCan said.
Sales at grocery stores rose 0.7 percent, while sales of food and beverages in general rose 1.1 percent.
Sales of beer, wine and liquor rose 2.2 percent. Perhaps not incidentally, the increase in beer, wine and spirits sales "coincided with a late start to the National Hockey League playoffs," StatsCan said.
Sales rose 3.7 percent at garden supply stores and 1.4 percent at general merchandise stores.
Sales were lower at electronics and appliance stores, down 0.8 percent, and at miscellaneous stores, where sales fell 0.5 percent.