Census! Census! Who has the Census? A Brief History of the Canadian National Census
[See web version of this column <http://www.dearmyrtle.com/05/0826.htm>for screen shot of the website & the Mullen household census entry page.]
By guest author: MGS President Edward H. Gaulin, 10th great grandson of Francois Gaulin (1630-1675) and his wife Marie Rocheron (1639-1687) of the Isle of Orleans, Quebec, Canada. firstname.lastname@example.org
THE FIRST SETTLEMENTS IN NEW FRANCE were begun in 1605 when the famous explorer Jacques Cartier brought a small group of French adventurers to an attractive spot on the shores of the Bay of Fundy in what is now Nova Scotia, Canada. Unfortunately that experiment lasted only a sort time, but Cartier continued to induce more like-minded Frenchmen over the next few decades to establish other settlements that are still flourishing in Canada today.
A COUNT OF THE POPULATION OF CANADA was first taken in 1666 when all 3,200 inhabitants of that vast country were enumerated. Apparently the French King and his ministers didn’t believe those numbers and ordered the Royal Governor in Quebec City to try again. So the following year his enumerators were once again in the field and this time their count was more than doubled.
The French continued to count Canadians on a hit-or-miss basis until they were expelled by the British in 1763 at the conclusion of the Seven Years War - in America we called it called the French and Indian War.
IT WASN'T UNTIL 1851 that the British took the first "nominal" census of the country in which every man, woman and child was to be accounted for in the place they were located on one particular day. That census and next enumeration in 1861 were primarily of Upper Canada (Ontario) and Lower Canada (Quebec). It wasn’t until after the Confederation in 1867 that Canada became a unified nation of provinces and a truly ‘national’ census was taken in 1871.
Since then the census has been taken across Canada every ten years - the decennial census was born. Canadian law has provided for general public access to census records 92 years after the census was taken. Accordingly, the 1901 census was released to the public in 1993 and the 1911 census was scheduled to be opened for public use in the year 2003. The latter event failed to happen due to an unusual interpretation of the census statutes and Canadian privacy laws by the Chief Statistician of Canada.
STATISTICS CANADA IS THE AGENCY charged with the responsibility for actually performing the count of the population. Then, when their work is finished the census tabulations are delivered to the Canadian National Archives for preservation and storage. But since about 1998 it has been the announced position of the Chief Statistician that no public access will be allowed to individual census records taken after 1901 and he has refused to transfer control of those records to the National Archives. He has also advocated the destruction of all the original census returns.
FORTUNATELY, ALMOST AS SOON AS THIS EXTREME POLICY WAS ANNOUNCED, a number of concerned Canadian citizens, primarily genealogists, began an old fashioned letter writing campaign to their representatives in government. The new twist is that this campaign was largely conducted over the Internet and supporters from all over the world have been enlisted in their effort. Within a very short period of time a handful of those citizens emerged to take the lead in the campaign to win support of members of parliament to draft and pass enabling legislation to insure that these valuable public records remain forever public.
SEVEN LONG YEARS LATER, genealogists worldwide have prevailed and a genealogical disaster has been averted in Canada. Bill S-18 was passed unanimously by members of the Canadian Parliament on Tuesday, June 28, 2005 and Royal Assent was received the following day. Public access to the Canadian Federal Census is now assured for all of us forever.
Within days of the parliamentary approval, the Canadian National Archives began scanning the 1911 census and posting the images on their website. And several private agencies have already begun work on indexing the scanned images to make the 1911 census data more user friendly.
The next census of the United States to be released to the public was taken in 1940 and genealogists will be scrambling to get their hands on those microfilm rolls on the 1st of April 2012. Just about one year later, sometime in 2013, the 1921 Canadian Census will be available to researchers worldwide.
Perhaps the most valuable 20th Century Canadian genealogical research tool has gone from almost lost to available on the Internet in the space of less than a decade. It is a marvelous achievement and I for one appreciate the efforts of everyone involved.
FOR FURTHER READING:
See: <http://www.collectionscanada.ca/archivianet/1911/index-e.html> also shown in the web version of this column. It is the 1911 Census Detail: Household of Mullen, John F. in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, page 13. Shows names, relationship to head of household, sex, month and year of birth and age at last birthday. Additional info not shown in this view.