Library and Archives Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Institutional links

Census of the Prairie Provinces, 1916

Search Help


The database on which this research tool is based contains 1,327 records. Each record contains the following fields:

  • Province
  • District Name
  • District Number
  • Sub-district Number
  • Division Number (if applicable)
  • Township Number
  • Range Number
  • Meridian
  • Sub-district Description
  • Microfilm Reel Number

Geography is the key to using this database successfully. The 1916 Census was conducted according to census districts and sub-districts, and the records were compiled accordingly. As a result the database on which this research tool is based is indexed according to province and by districts and sub-districts. Therefore, knowledge of the districts and sub-districts is of great value in locating either an individual or a geographic location.

To provide assistance with district names and sub-district descriptions, a list of Census Districts and Sub-districts [XLS 231 KB] is provided.

Search Screen

The Search screen has many fields into which you can enter a value:

The Province is a dropdown list allowing you to retrieve all the returns for a specific province. This field can also be used in combination with a district or sub-district field.

To determine a valid term for any of the following three fields, you can consult the list of Census Districts and Sub-districts [XLS 231 KB].

District Name is the official name given to the Census District by the Dominion Bureau of Statistics. In some cases District names correspond to County names.

A District Number was assigned to each Census District by the Dominion Bureau of Statistics for administrative purposes. It is a consecutive number from 1 to 43. A District Number can be used to quickly retrieve a previous result by using it in combination with a province.

Sub-District Number was also assigned by the Dominion Bureau of Statistics for administrative purposes and the numbers are only unique within a Census District. Again, a Sub-District Number can be used to quickly retrieve a previous result by using it in combination with a District Name or Number.

Sub-District Descriptions were assigned to areas within each Census District. Again, the descriptions of Sub-Districts often correspond to townships and ranges and can include town, village or parish names.

The legal survey system in western Canada was based on a unique checkerboard survey developed for the prairies by the Canadian government. This system covered 200 million acres and is the world's largest survey grid laid down in a single integrated system. It led to the creation of more than 1.25 million homesteads. Three units were used: township, range and meridian.

Township Number: The basic unit of the survey is the 36-square mile township. The townships are arranged in rows that run south to north, parallel to the Canada/United States border (the 49th parallel). Each row is numbered progressively from the border, with the row closest to the border numbered 1, the second closest numbered 2, etc. Each township is comprised of 36 sections, each measuring 1 square mile. A section contains 640 acres and is divided into four quarter-sections containing one hundred and sixty acres each.

Range Number: The townships in each row are, in turn, distinguished from one another by their distance or range from a meridian. The column of townships closest to the meridian is designated as range 1, the second closest as range 2, etc. Generally, the ranges are numbered from east to west (the exception being the ranges on the east side of the Principal Meridian, which are numbered from west to east).

Meridian: The federal surveyors established seven major meridians, identified as E1, W1, W2, W3, W4, W5 and W6, which acted as base lines for surveying and numbering the townships. The first (or principal or prime) meridian was established on the international border, near Emerson, Manitoba, at longitude 97° 27' 28'' W (of Greenwich). Subsequent meridians were surveyed at consistent intervals along more regular longitudes. For example, the second meridian falls on the 102° longitude (near the present-day Manitoba-Saskatchewan border), the third on 106°, the fourth on 110° (which also constitutes the Alberta-Saskatchewan border), the fifth on 114°, the sixth on 118° and the coast meridian on 122°. Townships are described according to the last meridian that lies to the east of the township. Therefore, a homestead in southern Alberta is described as "W4M" or "W4" or west of the fourth meridian. Only lands located along the east side of the prime meridian take their description from the meridian along their west side. Therefore, a homestead near the Manitoba-Ontario border is described as located "EPM" or "E1" or east of the principal meridian.

Microfilm allows you to retrieve a series of records based on a Library and Archives Canada assigned microfilm reel number. This field will assist those individuals who have previously accessed these records on microfilm.

The Keyword search field allows you to search any of the above fields alone or in combination.

How to Interpret the Results

A successful query will return a result set page with the number of results determined by the number of records matching the search string and the number of references of pages (defaults to 20 references per page).

Each result page will display a line above the first result which indicates the search term(s) used and the number of successful hits or references.

A successful reference will contain the following fields:

  • Province
  • District Name
  • District Number
  • Sub-District Number
  • Sub-district Description
  • Township Number
  • Range Number
  • Meridian
  • Microfilm
  • Reference
  • Associated Images

You can view the images in PDF or JPEG format. Click on the appropriate link to see a digitized image of the page of interest to you.

To open a PDF file, you must download the free Acrobat Reader software available from Adobe Systems Incorporated ( If you have trouble installing or using Acrobat Reader, visit the Adobe Acrobat Reader support page.

When you open a PDF image, the image will be displayed inside the current browser window. Use the "Back" button to return to the list of available images.

You can print the images or save the images on your own computer.

To print a copy of a scanned image in JPEG format, right click on the image, select copy, then paste to your word processing software, using the Edit: Paste Special Feature: Device Independent Bitmap.

How to Obtain Copies

You can print the images or save them on your computer. Use the following access link for other options, such as borrowing microfilm.

How to Access Library and Archives Canada Records

Other Resources

Other archival census records exist. Consult Census and Enumerations to obtain more information about these records.