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Exploring the Canadian Census Records

Nova Scotia - Canada West - Lower Canada - What

The Canadian census records provide valuable information about the people living in a household in the year of the enumeration. Where do you find them? How do you use them? Here are answers to your questions.

Some History of the Canadian Census

Map of Canada with Provinces
Canada with the provinces

Early censuses in Canada began during the early French colonial years. After the British defeated the French and the colonies belonged to Great Britain, there were additional enumerations of the colonists done by the British.

In earlier days, the provinces we know today as Ontario and Quebec had different names. It is important to know what you are looking for. For a period of time, Quebec was known as Lower Canada, while Ontario was Upper Canada. Before they became known as Ontario and Quebec, they also had the designations of Canada East for Quebec, and Canada West for Ontario.

Therefore, in some Canadian census records you will see designations as UC or CW for Ontario and LC or CE for some entries such as birth place for instance.

At the same time, the British also had two maritime colonies known as New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. So, the early censuses, before Canada became a country in 1867, were done in four separate colonies. Therefore, it helps to know where your ancestors lived.

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The British undertook the first national census in Canada in 1851/1852 covering households in the colonies of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Ontario.

They also performed another census in their Canadian colonies in 1861 for the same four provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Ontario.

In 1867 Canada became a country composed of the former separate colonies of Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and British Columbia. The Canadians continued to conduct national censuses 1871, 1881, 1891, and 1901.

In 1906, because of the growth of the middle portion of the country there was a federal census of the western lands (the prairies) of Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

In 1911, the Canadian census covered the entire country of Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Newfoundland was still a British colony at that time so is not part of the Canadian censuses of that period.

In 1916, there was another interim census done of the prairie provinces, so for ancestors living "out west", do not neglect this census. In fact, since Canada did a census on the "6s" for many years, do not neglect that one while waiting for the next 10-year census on the "1s". You could very easily miss important information about your family by ignoring those "in-between" censuses!

In 1949, Newfoundland became the tenth province of Canada, and the censuses since 1951 have included all of the country.

The very earliest of the Canadian census records are listings of landowners or taxpayers only. Later lists may also include information about how many people lived on a particular piece of land. Most, however, list only the head of household by name, and then group all the other members within a total by age and gender groupings, sometimes called a head of household list.

Therefore, depending upon where your ancestors settled in Canada, there may be census information available for you to study beginning well before 1851. Beginning in 1851, however, you can find names and ages about each household member in Canadian census records.

Other information, depending upon which census you are checking, includes occupations of the occupants, religion, national origin, native language, year of immigration, each parent's country of origin, whether a child was in school, which inhabitants could read and/or write, address of the dwelling, if multiple families lived in the house, and what type of construction the house was.

Additional Items to Look For in the Canadian Census Records

If the family lived on a farm, several Canadian census records include agricultural pages. However, not all of these agricultural census pages were microfilmed and preserved. If they were, you can find out how many acres, the lot and concession numbers or other geographic designation, how much land was under cultivation, the size and variety of crops, the number of various farm animals, wagons, barns, and more.

Something else a census can tell you is the neighbourhood - who lived next door or up and down the road. You can often find relatives, including daughters who married, and sons and their families in the same area. It is interesting to watch a family grow through the census information from very young children to the time when they are married and have their own children, and separate listings in the Canadian census records. Often times you will find a reversal as the original parents aged, and you find the elderly parent(s) now living with their grown children.

Sometimes you can find a hired hand living there, and in the next census, the hired hand has married one of the daughters in the family.

Where to Look for Canadian Census Records

There were other local censuses taken in various counties and districts of Canada before the 1851 census. Some of these local census lists still exist and can be found in various archival buildings such as local libraries, historical associations, and genealogical societies.

Check for census record locations here

Since a Canadian census cannot be released until some 92 years after it has been recorded we will have to wait until 2023 before the next release of a Canadian census - the one for 1931, although there will be a 1926 prairies release in 2018.

Use All the Canadian Census Records You Can Find





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