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Magazines > Searcher > January 2003
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Vol. 11 No. 1 — January 2003
Counting Heads Around the World
The Genealogy of International Census Databases Part II, Canada

by David Mattison Access Services Archivist British Columbia Archives

It may surprise many Americans to learn that Canada is home to both the oldest European archeological remains in the New World and the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement. Unearthed in the 1960s, the Viking camp at L'Anse aux Meadows (Meadow Cove), Epaves Bay, Newfoundland, dates back to the 11th century AD and confirmed the existence of Vinland in the Norse sagas. Following upon the heels of Italian-born English maritimer John Cabot, who reconnected Europe to Newfoundland in 1497, the French explorer Jacques Cartier and the first representative of French government in Canada, Jean François de la Roque, Sieur de Roberval, undertook the first colony in 1541; it ended in failure in 1543. This was nearly 50 years before Sir Walter Raleigh's own disaster at Roanoke, Virginia.

In 1608, under Samuel de Champlain, the French were finally successful in establishing a permanent foothold where Quebec City is today, making it the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in North America. This was a year after Jamestown, Virginia, was founded (it failed in 1624), and 2 years before another English colony in Newfoundland (it too collapsed). The colony of New France, as Quebec was originally known, produced the first Canadian population count of European settlers in 1666. Many English colonies and settlements also enumerated their own populations prior to the first U.S. national census in 1790. Ironically, the British, in burning the White House in 1814, were responsible for the destruction of parts of the 1790 census. As there has been population movement between Canada and the U.S. from the 1600s right up to today, genealogists find Canadian sources vital in their quest for family roots. Similarly, official Canadian statistics provide an alternate view of important social, political, and economic issues affecting both nations.

General Guides to the Census and Population Statistics

Many Web sites provide guides to genealogical and demographic resources that include Canadian content, several of which originate outside Canada. Cyndi's List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet [], described in part 1 of my article in the June 2002 issue of Searcher, is considered the most comprehensive source assembled by one individual and not owned by a company. One of the oldest Internet genealogical directories is Stephen A. Wood's Genealogy Home Page []. Wood also developed and maintains [] with Matthew Helm. This site has search engines for various categories of genealogical records, including the census.

Of the few national genealogical Web site guides created by Canadians in Canada, among the best and most current is Jessica Veinot'sCanadian Genealogy and History[]. There are two main sections for researchers to navigate: The top half of the start page covers national and provincial/territorial resources, while the bottom half has broad topic categories, including popular types of research sources, such as census schedules and cemeteries. The Searchable category offers convenient access to online databases of various kinds, including the census, that, as a minimum, contain a person's name and some additional piece of personal information such as an address, date of birth, marriage, or death. Mirroring the site's overall structure, this page is organized geographically and then by category. All of the census databases in the Searchable list are described in my article. The Census page contains links to the same searchable databases along with transcription projects and other sources describing census data. Some of the searchable census databases on this page do not appear on the Searchable page. Veinot's site also includes a search engine and a new listings page for items added within the past 14 days.

Bob's Your Uncle, eh!: A Search Engine for Genealogy in Canada [] is the Toronto Public Library's unique contribution to Internet-based family history resources. Three pick lists Topic, People, Places allow you to quickly locate relevant information. The Topics list is wide-ranging in time, from the Seven Years' War (1756-1763) to the Vietnam War (1961-1975) and includes a category for census records. The People list points you to ethnic, national, or religious groups. The Places list lets you select from countries right down to the municipal or local level. Keyword searching is not available. As of October 1, 2002, there are 141 records returned for the census topic; most of these link to transcriptions dating back to the early 17th century and the first attempts to colonize Canada.

Michael Friendly at York University's Statistical Consulting Service maintains an annotated set of nearly 600 links to Statistics and Statistical Graphics Resources[]. Although not geared towards demographic statistics, it is aimed at statistics educators; many of the links are for valuable, high-level sources of general statistical information. Pointers to additional information about statistical software used in academic institutions, online statistical courses and journals, data visualization tools, and statistical humor highlight this guide. The Statistical Society of Canada [] also offers a useful set of links specific to Canada with some coverage of sources outside the country.

Other non-Canadian guides with international demographic data include's [], the Population Reference Bureau's PopNet [], and Princeton University's Population Index on the Web []. The last "provides a searchable and browsable database containing 46,035 abstracts of demographic literature published in Population Index in the period 1986-2000."

Guides to Canadian Historic Census Databases

The University of Toronto's Data Library Service maintains a detailed guide to locating statistical data called Finding Canadian, U.S. and International Statistics []. The category "Census of population, pre-1971 through 2001" carries a link to a single-page table, Census of Canada: Availability of Aggregate Statistics from the Canadian Population Census [
. This document describes Canadian censuses from 2001 back to 1665, most with restricted access due to the licensing agreement with Statistics Canada. No personal names appear in the datasets after 1901. The table includes several 19th century census publications digitized for full-text searching by Early Canadiana Online []. The EOC electronic editions are only accessible to institutional or individual subscribers, so do not bother looking for them in public databases. The data library also carries Adobe PDF files of the tables of contents of published census tables between 1851 and 1961. The library also produced more detailed descriptions as Web pages on its site of the censuses between 1961 and 2001. 

The Alberta Family Histories Society established the Canadian Genealogical Projects Registry [] that includes census records. The registry is divided between national and provincial/territorial census projects, e.g., Lark Blackburn Szick's N.S. Census Records On Line [
with online transcriptions, databases, or downloadable files for Nova Scotia.

Statistics Canada reissued two publications of historical census and statistics data in electronic formats. You can read them online or download either as Adobe Acrobat PDF files. Historical Statistics of Canada (2nd ed., 1983) and Censuses of Canada, 1665 to 1871 (1876), a companion volume to the former, provide a complete demographic picture of Canada from the days of New France to 1975. Statistics Canada enhanced the value of Censuses of Canada by linking the electronic edition's introduction to additional background information on other federal Web sites. Only some of the census tables in this publication are publicly available, and others require a subscription to E-STAT, one of Statistics Canada's database services. The PDF version lacks the hyperlinks but notes the existence of the E-STAT data.

Canadian Historic Census Databases

Canada's first national census was not held until 1871, when the Confederation of Canada was established. This census was preceded by various local and colonial censuses dating back to 1665 or 1666 (Statistics Canada, History of the Census of Canada) []. Because different provinces did not enter Confederation at the same time, some provinces did not have population enumerations until relatively late. British Columbia, a colony until 1871, just missed the census that year and was not enumerated until 1881. Following the 1891 census, the city of Victoria, BC, was unhappy with the count, so the city council commissioned its own census, but the federal government refused to accept the higher figures. Special censuses were also conducted in the Prairie Provinces (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta) beginning in 1885 when the three were known as the North-West Territories, and then every 10 years between 1906 and 1946. A special enumeration of Manitoba was held in 1886. On the east coast, Newfoundland remained a British colony until 1949, and its first participation in the Canadian census did not occur until 1951. Newfoundland census information up to 1945 is available on the Web and described elsewhere. The only fully national Canadian nominal censuses currently available are 1881, 1891, and 1901. This contrasts with the U.S., for which national censuses for researching family history date between 1790 and 1930. 

Canadian historians and other interested parties under the leadership of the Canada Census Committee [] are waging a battle with Statistics Canada over the release of the post-1901 nominal census schedules. 

The most recent Canadian census was taken on May 15, 2001. The first release of statistical data from the 2001 census occurred on March 12, 2002 []. The 2001 census section of the Stats Canada site includes extensive background information and supporting resources. 

1675-1945, Newfoundland: Newfoundland's Grand Banks: Genealogical and Historical Data for the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador [], Newfoundland's Grand Banks. Founded as Project 21 in April 1998 by Bill Crant to digitize and transcribe the 1921 Newfoundland census (234,000 names), this nonprofit site, to which numerous volunteers contribute their time and energy, is hosted by the Chebucto Community Net in Nova Scotia. The site's mission statement notes that it is "currently the largest storehouse of original resource material relating to Newfoundland in North America." It not only carries transcriptions of the census records from 1675 to 1945, but several complete 19th and 20th century city directories, transcriptions of vital statistical records (births, marriages, and deaths), church and cemetery records, and ship passenger lists.

1706-1891, Quebec: Georia [], Laboratoire de géographie historique, Centre interuniversitaire d'études québécoises, Université Laval and University of Toronto. You can query and display aggregate census data for the province of Quebec with a Geographic Information System (GIS). The interface and the data are entirely in French. 

1841-1901, Prince Edward Island: Prince Edward Island Census Data Search [], Public Archives and Records Office. This site is a fine example of a public-private partnership. The 1841 census database was developed by the archives and a community computer network with funding from Canada's Digital Collections program []. The 1891 and 1901 data searches are a joint project of the Archives and the Prince Edward Island Genealogical Society. 

1842-1901, Ontario: Halton (County) Census Index, 1842-1901 [], hosted on HALINET, a community computer network, stems from a partnership of historical and genealogical societies.The census database is one of several on a page titled Halton's Historical and Newspaper Records. The 1842 census date is not a typo, as census returns were not conducted on a regular schedule until 1871. Searches of this head of household and strays index cover all the censuses for this county between the dates shown. The Federation of Family History Societies in the U.K. [] defines census stray as "people resident outside their county of birth." 

1851-1901, Ontario: Ontario GenWeb's Official Census Project []. Ontario is Canada's most populous province and third largest in land area, so it is not surprising that its family historians lead the country in large-scale transcription projects. Established in March 1999, this project aims to provide free, online transcriptions of all census schedules for Ontario except for 1871, which is already available for searching in two other locations. Free access is the rule here and the site threatens legal action against anyone profiting from the sale of census data from this site. 

1851-1901, Ontario: Town of Ingersoll Historical Census [], Oxford County Library, Ingersoll, Ontario. This database consists of transcribed data from six census years. As explained on introductory pages for each year, the content for each database differs as a result of changes to the kinds of information collection. 

1851-1901, Quebec: Population et histoire sociale de la ville de Québec [], Centre interuniversitaire d'études québécoises, Université Laval. This research project is transcribing census schedules for Quebec City between 1851 and 1901.

1871 April 2, Ontario: Federal Census of 1871 (Ontario Index) [], Library and Archives of Canada, ArchiviaNet: On-line Research Tool. Compiled by the Ontario Genealogical Society in cooperation with the Library and Archives of Canada, the database is a head-of-household index. An alternate site with a different search interface hosted by Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, is the 1871 Census of Canada: Ontario: Searchable Database of Heads & Strays []. Unlike the Library and Archives of Canada presentation of the same data, the results list reveals the full database record without requiring additional clicks. 

1877, 1881, 1891, Okanagan Valley and Yale District, British Columbia: Nominal Census Data for the Southern Interior of British Columbia [], Living Landscapes: Okanagan University College and Royal British Columbia Museum. Directed by Dr. Duane Thomson and Dr. John Belshaw, teams of students entered census data into a Microsoft Access database from an 1877 census by a Catholic missionary (408 records), an 1877 Indian Reserve Commission census (1,338 records), as well as the federal censuses for the Yale District of 1881 (8,951 records) and 1891 (13,497 records). The 1901 census for Yale District is also being tackled. 

1881 April 4, Canada: 1881 Canadian Census (CD-ROM), Genealogical Society of Utah (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Released in March 2002, this is a transcription of selected portions of the entire census of over 4 million individuals on four discs. 

1881 April 4, Canada: 1881 Canadian Census Project [], Département de Démography/CIED, Université de Montréal. Directed by Dr. Lisa Dillon, this project anticipates having a beta database of the 1881 census available to social science researchers by August 2003. The database, with 46 fields, contains more than 4 million records and will integrate with other historical census databases prepared by similar projects, in particular, the international North Atlantic Population Project [] and the Canada Century Research Infrastructure (Institute of Canadian Studies, University of Ottawa and partners) [ and elsewhere in this article]. A useful compilation, dated May 2002, of other census projects appears in the Canadian Historical Population Data Projects table [
. I have summarized all projects with an Internet-searchable database.

1881 and 1891, British Columbia: Vancouver Island 1881 Census [] and Vancouver Island 1891 Census [], Patrick Dunae, History Department, Malaspina University College and University of Victoria, BC. Part of a subject gateway to Vancouver Island history called, these databases were initially constructed from transcriptions of the nominal census schedules by the Public History Group at the University of Victoria in 1990 and 1991. 

1891, Ontario: Public-Use Microsample of the 1891 Census of Canada for Ontario [], Department of History, University of Guelph. This project is similar to the Canadian Families Project in compiling a 5 percent sample, except that it just focuses on the 1891 Ontario census. 

1891, 1901, Alberta (Northwest Territories): Census Links [], Darlene Homme, Alberta GenWeb. The Edmonton Branch of the Alberta Genealogical Society hosts an index to the entire 1901 census for the Alberta District of the Northwest Territories []

1901 March 31, Canada: Canada Census, 1901 [], Library and Archives of Canada, ArchiviaNet: On-line Research Tool. A complete and free digital facsimile of the 1901 census schedules of individuals (Schedule 1) and real property (Schedule 2, land and buildings, including a street address or property legal description) was quietly introduced in May 2002. The microfilm from which the digital images were produced was created in 1955 and the original paper schedules destroyed. The microfilm quality ranges from excellent to poor. 

1901 March 31, Canada: Canadian Families Project[]. Based at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, this interdisciplinary research project studies Canadian families using a 5 percent sample of the 1901 census. The project began in 1995 and you can obtain a copy of the database by contacting Dr. Eric Sager, Canadian Families Project, Department of History, University of Victoria []. The database contains information from Schedule 1 on 265,286 people and on 50,943 properties from Schedule 2. 

1901 March 31, British Columbia: 1901 Census Victoria, British Columbia and Southern Vancouver Island []. Compiled and transcribed by Hugh Armstrong, this transcription requires a two-step search process. Armstrong added historical data for selected individuals from other sources to the census transcription and supplements his site with background information about the census.

1901 March 31, Dawson City, Yukon Territory: Gold Rush Database [], Government of Yukon. Originally compiled for the centennial of the Klondike Gold Rush in 1997 and previously hosted under the name Dawson Museum/Filson Pan for Gold Database [], the 1901 census records contain 68,387 entries. 

Liberating Statistics Canada

All sources of Canadian population statistics lead back to Statistics Canada [], the national agency responsible for the census. Statistics Canada also produces longitudinal survey data. The agency promotes and distributes its data through a variety of free and subscription-based print and electronic publications and databases. Most of the aggregate data churned out at the end of every 5-year census is only available by subscription through the CANSIM II database. Two sections of the Web site under the categories "Canadian Statistics" and "Community Profiles" offer free tabular data on every type of statistic collected by the agency.

The Data Liberation Initiative [] began as a 5-year pilot program in 1996 and in April 2001 became a regular program. Through a cooperative arrangement with Statistics Canada, Canadian academic institutions can subscribe to data sources rather than buy them as individual files. Statistics Canada, as the result of a national task force report issued by the Canadian Initiative on Social Statistics in 1998, also helped fund the establishment of Research Data Centres (RDC) [] that makes use of this liberated data. The sites make Statistics Canada electronic data available to academic researchers under the federal Statistics Act. Interestingly, researchers with approved projects for such access are "sworn in 'deemed employees.'" The University of British Columbia Research Data Centre Web site further notes that the RDCs are "extensions of Statistics Canada offices, with a full-time Statistics Canada employee at each site to screen data and ensure compliance with confidentiality policies and procedures. ... All data sets have been stripped of personal details such as names, addresses, and phone numbers that could be used to identify particular individuals" [Questions and Answers,].

Statistics Canada provides access to its census- and survey-derived data through its CANSIM II (Canadian Socio-economic Information Management;] database available on its Web site, commercial agencies, and selected academic institutions that participate in the Data Liberation Initiative. The data is organized into tables (called matrices in CANSIM I), and within the tables by series. Although you can search CANSIM II at no cost through Stats Canada, you will pay to access the statistical data. Searches are by subject categories, keywords, or specific table or series ID numbers. Statistics Canada provides access to numeric data from the pre-1971 censuses through its E-STAT service [], aimed at educators at all levels. Students can use E-STAT from home via their institution's user ID and password. 

While Canada's Native population is enumerated as part of the national census, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, a federal department responsible for this population group, provides summary tables on its Statistics page [http:/]. You will also find a convenient link here to Statistics Canada's 1996 aboriginal statistics page []. Stats Canada will release 2001 census data on the aboriginal peoples of Canada in the summer of 2003. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada also maintains a First Nation Profiles Web site [] that serves as a database to the aboriginal population and includes statistical data. 

Quebec Census and Demographic Databases

French-language genealogical resources about the province of Quebec may be found through some of the guides listed elsewhere and through provincial government Web sites. The Archives nationales du Québec [] contains links to other sites (Autres sites) [], including several family history organizations. Some major genealogical sites in Quebec are Le Centre de généalogie francophone d'Amérique [], Denis Beauregard's FrancoGène []; La Fédération des familles-souches québécoises inc. []; Fédération québécoise des sociétés de généalogie []; and Société généalogique canadienne-française []. The Quebec Ministère de la Culture et des Communications also maintains a list of links, including ones to genealogical societies, under the heading Associations, organismes et regroupements nationaux [].

In 1966, the Université de Montréal began reconstructing the historic population of Quebec prior to 1800 with baptism, marriage, burial, census, immigrant, and hospital records through its Programme de recherche en démographie historique (PRDH) []. The Institut de la statistique du Québec (Quebec Institute of Statistics or ISQ) [] is the province's statistical bureau. While site pages are bilingual, statistical tables are normally presented in French. The ISQ also operates the Centre d'accès aux données de recherche de l'Institut de la statistique du Québec (CADRISQ) [] that promotes the academic use of ISQ data for social science research. The University of Montreal houses and hosts the UNESCO Institute for Statistics []. The Quebec Inter-University Centre for Social Statistics (QICSS; Centre interuniversitaire québécois de statistiques sociales, CIQSS) [], established in July 2000, is Quebec's only Research Data Centre for accessing confidential Statistics Canada data files. Georia is a historical demographic project utilizing census data via a GIS database developed by the Université Laval's Laboratoire de géographie historique and the University of Toronto.

Another Quebec research center for population studies is the Institut interuniversitaire de recherches sur les populations (Interuniversity Institute for Population Research, IREP) []. The institute's Project BALSAC [],which started in 1972, is attempting to trace the genealogy of French Canadian families using birth, marriage, burial, and other records. The results of this ambitious undertaking are expected to have value for genetic research.

Sherlock [], developed by the Library Subcommittee of the Conference of Rectors and Principals of Quebec Universities (CREPUQ), provides bilingual access to Statistics Canada obtained via the Data Liberation Initiative and other survey data sources.

Canadian Academic Research into the Census and Demographics

The big news this past year for Canadian historical demographers was the announcement in January 2002 of $5.2 million in funding by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, a federal government corporation, towards the Canadian Century Research Infrastructure (CCRI) []. The CCRI was officially launched on June 13, 2002. Headquartered at the Institute of Canadian Studies, University of Ottawa, this national private-public academic research partnership will draw upon existing and new census database work to create "integrated census micro databases from 1871 to 2001" []. The project received matching funds from each province and its partners for a total budget over 5 years of $13.4 million. The main thrust of the CCRI from a database perspective is to standardize the variables within the census schedules. Because other projects already cover the 19th century Canadian censuses and databases already exist for the 1971 to 1991 censuses, the CCRI will focus its initial efforts on the censuses from 1911 to 1951.


Canadian historic census and current demographic databases hold their own against their counterparts around the world. Canadian family historians, academic researchers, and government policy makers continue to establish partnerships that permit reasonable access to data, as well as transcribe existing data and place it online for free or pay-per-viewing display.
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The Canadian Genealogy Centre [] is under development as a joint, 3-year effort by the Library and Archives of Canada (the new name for an amalgamation of the National Archives of Canada and the National Library of Canada). The National Archives of Canada's GenealogyResearch [] and the National Library of Canada's Genealogy and Family History at the National Library of Canada [] pages provide access to existing walk-in and online resources, including the digitized 1901 census schedules created by the National Archives of Canada, and its publication Tracing Your Ancestors in Canada[]. Preliminary details released in a June 2002 report by the National Library of Canada indicate that "an initial prototype of a Web site has been developed and will continue to be refined over the next few months. Eventually, single-portal access to online research tools and large bodies of authoritative content will be offered" 
[]. The Canadian Genealogy Centre is coordinating a project to index the 1901 census through volunteers (Census of Canada, 1901, Helpful Hints) []

Update on Canadian Crown Copyright

Canadian copyright law is much simpler than the United States'. There is only one piece of legislation at the federal level to deal with. Copyright duration is less (life of the author plus 50 years for literary works) than in the U.K. and the U.S. (increased respectively in 1996 and 1998 to life of the author plus 70 years). A constitutional challenge to the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act is before the Supreme Court (for current information see law professor Dennis S. Karjala's Opposing Copyright Extension [
). The Canadian government intends to amend the Copyright Act, a process started in 2001, in order to harmonize it with developments in the U.S. relating to the protection of electronic or digital resources and to allow Canada to ratify the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) copyright treaties.

Unlike the U.S., where works created by federal government employees, unless otherwise agreed to in writing, automatically fall into the public domain, Canada shares the concept of Crown or government copyright with the United Kingdom. The Library and Archives of Canada policy on copyright [], while not waiving Crown copyright, permits noncommercial use of material from its Web site so long as certain conditions are met. Essentially, this permits the transcription and creation of census databases by family historians or organizations as long as no fees are charged.

Acadian to Cajun

Like the U.S., Canada is home to an immigrant population and system of governance that displaced Native Americans on their land through conquest, disease, and treaty. The Canadian aboriginal population was not the only historic example in Canada, however, of a cultural group being forced from its homeland. French settlers in Acadia, Nova Scotia, were expelled by the British in the 1750s. Those who migrated to Louisiana, at that time under the control of Spain, are known today as Cajuns (a shortened form of Acadian). Tim Hebert's gateway for Acadians in the U.S. and Canada, Acadian-Cajun Genealogy & History [], contains details of this cultural metamorphosis. Hebert is creating and linking to transcriptions of all Acadian census records (1671-1752) compiled in Canada. Hebert's site will also link to many other Web resources about Acadian-Cajun history. 

More Census and Statistics Software and Resources from Canada and Beyond

A Canadian company, Beyond 20/20 Inc. [], founded in 1987 as Ivation Datasystems Inc., markets and provides consulting services for its software Beyond 20/20. According to its Web site, many statistical agencies around the world use its services and software to disseminate census and other kinds of numeric data. 

One important piece of census software that did not get mentioned in part 1 of my article or Miriam A. Drake's article, "The U.S. Census Bureau in the 21st Century" (Searcher, June 2002), is the Census Bureau's CSPro (Census and Survey Processing System) []. This multilingual, public domain software, jointly developed by the Bureau and international corporate partners, will replace two older Census Bureau programs, IMPS and ISSA. Currently only available for the Windows platform, development of CSPro was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. The program provides features for data entry, editing, cross-tabulation, and data dissemination. CSPro relies on user-created data dictionaries, so while it will not solve the problem of garbage in, garbage out, it does provide a means for international projects to standardize on data input and distribution. A map viewer tool allows you to create semi-interactive thematic maps reflecting your data content. Map shapes can be imported from ESRI's ArcView GIS program.

If you need some assistance understanding the specialized terminology of social science data libraries, look no further than the Glossary of Social Science Computer and Social Science Data Terms [] at the University of California San Diego's Social Sciences and Humanities Library. 


David Mattison's e-mail address is
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