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Catalogue of Census Returns on Microfilm 1666-1901

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Census Returns, 1666-1861

The first census in Canada was undertaken in 1666 by Intendant Jean Talon who listed 3,215 inhabitants. Talon is considered the "father" of modern census taking in Canada, for his work provided details of the basic resources and needs of the colonies and opened the way for future censuses to be taken on a regular basis. Prior to 1841, however, provision for the regular taking of a census was not made by statute in most of the provinces which were to form Canada at Confederation. Various efforts were made on an irregular basis, notably in Nova Scotia (1811, 1817, 1827 and 1838) and in Quebec (1825 and 1831). In Upper Canada, there was from 1793 (3 Geo. III, c.2) a series of statutes requiring the taking of a census on an annual basis, beginning with "a true and complete list of every male and female" resident in each district but later reverting to a nominal listing only for the heads of households. Such surviving listings, however, are few and scattered. By 1851, the pattern of decennial census taking had been established. However, not until Confederation in 1867 did the taking of the census become a constitutional requirement, and in 1871, the first Dominion census was conducted.

Users of the census will notice significant additions to the census returns for each successive census year. Although aggregate census returns are characteristic of the earliest years, some census returns as late as the 1840s are of this type, giving only statistics and no names. For many years the census returns are fragmentary, in that the surviving records do not cover all of a region or province. Most of the records prior to the 1840s identify only the head of the household by name, with few other details. From about 1825 onward, census returns for many areas not only name the head of the household but also indicate the number of persons living in each household, grouped by age and by sex, and their marital status.

With the passage of time, the questions increased in number and received more elaborate answers. Personal data may include place of birth, age, sex, marital status, infirmities, religion, education and occupation or profession. Residential data may include property ownership, type of housing and number of outbuildings. Agricultural and industrial data may include land occupied, implements, crops, livestock and their products, taverns, shops, distilleries, mills and manufactures, and wages paid. With few exceptions after 1851, all persons in each household were enumerated and an agricultural return was compiled separately.

In the 1861 census for Ontario and Quebec, the agricultural census returns appear at the end of the nominal census returns for the whole county. For example, the nominal census returns for Belleville, Ontario for 1861 are on Reel C-1032, but the agricultural census returns for the same town are found on Reel C-1034. Users of the 1861 film are encouraged to search the whole section on agriculture as census returns are not always found in one place for any given area.

Many of the original census returns for New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island prior to 1871 and some 1842 and 1848 Ontario census returns are held by the respective provincial archives. As far as can be determined, the census returns for the year 1871 for Prince Edward Island have not survived.

Census of 1871

The most extensive and by far the most comprehensive census records in our custody are those for the year 1871. These records have been organized and filmed so that all nine schedules for each enumeration district are brought together as a unit. The nine schedules are as follows:

  1. Nominal return of the living.
  2. Nominal return of the deaths within the last twelve months.
  3. Return of public institutions, real estate, vehicles and implements.
  4. Return of cultivated land, of field products and of plants and fruits.
  5. Live stock, animal products, home-made fabrics and furs.
  6. Return of industrial establishments.
  7. Return of products of the forest.
  8. Return of shipping and fisheries.
  9. Return of mineral products.

Users of the 1871 census records should be aware that it is possible to relate the information in schedules 3, 4, 5, 7, 8 and 9 directly to the nominal return (Schedule 1). In these six schedules, page and line references to the nominal census returns are located in the first column of each page, entitled "Reference to Schedule l".

Census of 1881

In 1881, the number of schedules was reduced to eight. They were as follows:

  1. Nominal return of the living.
  2. Nominal return of the deaths within the last twelve months.
  3. Real estate, public institutions and industrial establishments.
  4. Cultivated lands, field products, plants, fruits and other products.
  5. Live stock, animal products and furs.
  6. Products of the forest.
  7. Shipping and fisheries.
  8. Mineral products.

Only microfilm copy of the nominal census returns (Schedule 1) has survived for 1881. There are no other schedules extant. Because the microfilm of the 1881 census, produced in the early 1950s and received by the Library and Archives Canada in 1979, is not of a consistent quality, not all images are decipherable. In 1881, Prince Edward Island was enumerated by Lot only. Entries for that year may be found under the appropriate Lot number.

Census of 1891

In 1891, the number of schedules was again nine. They were as follows:

  1. Nominal return of the living.
  2. Nominal return of the deaths within the last twelve months.
  3. Real estate, orchard products, nurseries, vineyards and market gardens.
  4. Return of farm products.
  5. Return of live stock, animal products, home made fabrics and farm labour.
  6. Industrial establishments.
  7. Return of products of the forest.
  8. Shipping and mining.
  9. Fisheries.

Only microfilm copy of the nominal census returns (Schedule 1) has survived for 1891. There are no other schedules extant. Because the microfilm of the 1891 census, produced in the early 1950s and received by the Library and Archives Canada in 1985, is not of a consistent quality, not all images are decipherable. In 1891, Prince Edward Island was enumerated by Lot only. Entries for that year may be found under the appropriate Lot number.

Census of 1901, 1906 and 1911

Census of 1901, 1906 and 1911 information is provided in the Introductions to these databases.

Census Statistics, Reports and Instructions to Enumerators

With the exception of the census for 1861, extensive information on the taking of any particular census can be found in the introduction to each volume of the published census reports, 1851 to date. For the census of 1861, the findings were published but no introductory material was provided. The published reports are available at most Canadian libraries or through interlibrary loan from the Library and Archives Canada.

Publications of interest are:

Canada. Board of Registration and Statistics
Personal census
First report of the Secretary of the Board of Registration and Statistics, on the census of the Canadas, for 1851-52
Quebec : Board of Registration and Statistics, 1853

Canada. Bureau d'enregistrement et de statistiques
Recensement personnel
Premier rapport du Secrétaire du Bureau de l'enregistrement et de la statistique, sur le recensement des Canadas, pour 1851-52
Québec : Bureau de l'enregistrement et de la statistique, 1853 (Québec : Lovell)

Canada. Census Dept
Personal census [1861]
Quebec : Bureau of Agriculture and Statistics, Census Dept., 1863

Canada. Département du recensement
Recensement personnel [1861]
Québec : Bureau d'agriculture et de la statistique, Département du recensement, 1863

Canada. Census Branch
Manual containing "The Census Act" and the instructions to officers employed in the taking of the first census of Canada (1871)
Department of Agriculture (Census Branch)
Ottawa : B. Chamberlin, 1871

Canada. Census Division
Manuel contenant "l'Acte du recensement" et les instructions aux officiers du premier recensement du Canada (1871)
Ottawa, Imprimeur de Sa Très Excellente Majesté la Reine,1871

Canada. Dept. of Agriculture
Census of Canada, 1870-71 = Recensement du Canada, 1870-71
Ottawa : Dept. of Agriculture = Département de l'agriculture, 1873-1878

Canada. Census Branch
Manual containing "The Census Act," and the instructions to officers employed in the taking of the second census of Canada, 1881
Manuel contenant "L'Acte du recensement", et les instructions aux officiers du deuxième recensement du Canada, 1881
Ottawa : Dept. of Agriculture = Département de l'agriculture, 1881.

Canada. Dept. of Agriculture
Census of Canada, 1880-81 = Recensement du Canada, 1880-81
Ottawa : Dept. of Agriculture = Département de l'agriculture, 1882-1885

Canada. Census Branch
Manual containing "The Census Act," and the instructions to officers employed in the taking of the third census of Canada, (1891)
Manuel contenant l'"Acte du Recensement" et les instructions aux officiers employés a faire la troisième recensement du Canada (1891)
Ottawa : Dept. of Agriculture, Census Branch, 1891 / Département de l'agriculture, (Division du recensement)

Canada. Dept. of Agriculture
Census of Canada, 1890-91 = Recensement du Canada, 1890-91
Ottawa : Dept. of Agriculture = Département de l'agriculture, 1893-1897

Canada. Census Office
Instructions to chief officers, commissioners and enumerators
Instructions aux officiers en chef, commissaires et énumérateurs
Ottawa : Census Office = Bureau du recensement, 1901

Canada. Census Office
Fourth census of Canada, 1901 = Quatrième recensement du Canada, 1901
Ottawa : Dept. of Agriculture = Département de l'agriculture, 1902-1906.