At the best of times, Canada’s initial public offering market is fragile and flighty. Faced with the recent, unprecedented financial crisis, that corner of the market was particularly skittish. However, there are now signs of recovery.

Even with a solid bullish trend in place, taking a new company public can be a tricky proposition in the relatively small Canadian equities market. The window for IPOs in Canada is a narrow one that also tends to open and close very quickly, depending on the market’s prevailing winds.

Not surprising, the financial crisis had brought most new-deal activity to a halt. IPOs are inherently a risky proposition, and in a climate in which even venerable financial services institutions were crumbling, investors didn’t have much stomach for new startups. However, with the market recovery gaining strength throughout 2009, the IPO market has managed to creep back to life, and it has built on that momentum in the first few months of this year.

Measures of the IPO market vary, depending on what is counted. Investment Executive’s IPO research essentially includes all issues that are counted as IPOs by TMX Group Inc. , including capital-share companies that début on the TSX Venture Exchange but excluding investment funds and other offerings that represent investment vehicles rather than operating companies.

On that basis, IE counts 77 deals in 2009 that raised more than $1.9 billion. There were just four traditional IPOs on the Toronto Stock Exchange during the year, although that small number of deals did raise a respectable $1.8 billion.

The Canadian IPO market is often dominated by a handful of large deals, which make up the bulk of the value of the new issues, and a slew of smaller deals. Last year, there weren’t any large deals in excess of $1 billion to inflate the total; nor were there the usual supply of smaller, more speculative offerings. The biggest deal was the début of Genworth MI Canada Inc. in July, which raised more than $850 million. Apart from the Genworth IPO, there were also a couple of offerings in the energy sector and a deal in the consumer-product space.

IE’s formula — which estimates underwriters’ commissions by di-viding the total commission (as reported in the prospectus) equally among all the participating underwriters, except for the lead underwriter, who gets a double share — reveals that CIBC World Markets Inc. was 2009’s top underwriter on the TSX, with the other bank-owned dealers following closely behind. RBC Dominion Securities Inc. took second spot, with TD Securities Inc., National Bank Financial Ltd.,and Scotia Capital Inc. rounding out the top five. (All are Toronto-based except for NBF, which is based in Montreal.)

Along with the handful of TSX deals last year, there were also 73 deals on the TSXV, raising almost $165 million in total. Aside from a couple of deals in the technology space, almost all of the new-issue activity on the TSXV was in the natural resources area (mining, oil and gas, and energy).

According to IE data, Vancouver-based Canaccord Financial Ltd. was the top underwriter in the venture market, in on 19 deals representing more than $75 million in IPO proceeds. CIBC World Markets ranked second, and Toronto-based GMP Securities LP, third.

Although the senior market is usually dominated by a handful of large deals, the junior IPO market is typically home to a large number of small issues, mainly of completely speculative capital-pool companies. This was largely the case again in 2009 — capital pools dominated the junior market’s IPO activity, accounting for about two-thirds of the deal volume. (Canaccord held the lead in underwriting these deals, with Montreal-based Cormark Securities Inc. in second place, and CIBC World Markets and GMP Securities tied for third).

But there just weren’t that many deals overall. It’s not uncommon to see well in excess of 100 capital-pool deals in a year; last year, there were fewer than 50. So, while the value of IPO activity was fairly robust last year, the volume of deals was rather light.

Indeed, data from the Investment Industry Association of Canada (which clearly counts deal activity differently from IE’s method) indicate that total IPO volume dropped to 99 deals in 2009 from 226 deals in 2008; however, the IIAC’s data put 2009’s total deal value at $2.7 billion, which is almost double the total the IIAC reported in the previous year.