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Census takers at the Good Shepherd Mission on June 4, 1991. (John McNeill/Globe and Mail)
Census takers at the Good Shepherd Mission on June 4, 1991. (John McNeill/Globe and Mail)

Timeline

A history of counting Canadians Add to ...

1666: Canada's first census is initiated by Intendant Jean Talon, with the intent of using the data to plan and develop the colony of New France. The, age, sex, occupation and marital status of each of the colony's 3,215 inhabitants was recorded. Talon collected much of the data personally.

1871: The first national census of Canada is taken. Section 8 of The Constitution Act of 1867 stipulated that a census be taken in 1871 and every tenth year thereafter. The population of the four original provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario were counted, with the goal of determining appropriate representation for the Dominion's new Parliament. The questionnaire asked 211 questions on topics ranging from religion to land holdings. The results were published in 1873 in five bilingual volumes.

1881: British Columbia, Manitoba, and Prince Edward Island were included in the census. An oath of secrecy, still required today for all census takers, was also put in place.

1906: The prairie provinces of Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan began to take a census of agriculture every five years to monitor the growth of the West. In 1956, this practice was instituted across the entire country.

1941: The 1941 census featured a number of significant changes. Developed during the Depression, it was the first to count the urban poor with a view to developing urban planning. A detailed housing questionnaire was addressed to every tenth household, and was the first use of sampling by the census. Questions on fertility, previously considered too sensitive a topic, were included and correlated to socioeconomic status and schooling. The 1941 census also helped to initiate fiscal arrangements between federal and provincial governments for transfers of funds for health care and post-secondary education.

1951: This census marked Canada's first as a nation of 10 provinces and two territories. With increased detail on small areas like counties and municipalities, these data were used to determine grants and subsidy allowances, as well as to conduct market research. "Mark-sense" technology was used for the first time, whereby results could be tabulated at a much greater speed.

1956: The first nation-wide quinquennial census was conducted, as rapid growth in terms of both population and agriculture necessitated more frequent and accurate measurements. This was the first to used television in its publicity program.

1971: In 1971, the census was divided into two questionnaires. The short form was distributed to two-thirds of Canadian households and covered basic housing and population questions. The long form was distributed to the remaining third. The majority of respondents completed their own questionnaire for the first time in the census' 100 year history. Previously, every census had been conducted by interview. The census featured new content, such as the language spoken at home, and, in the agricultural census, whether pesticides and fertilizers were used.

2001: Questions were introduced on birthplace of parents and language of work. The definition of a couple was also changed to include members of the opposite sex or the same sex living together as a couple, but who are not legally married to each other.

2006: Households were offered the choice of completing their questionnaire online, and 18.5 per cent of respondents chose this option.

>> With information from Statistics Canada

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