Dominion of Canada, 1871 to 1931

One of the first acts of Canada after confederation was the creation of a national census. The government took the first national census in 1871, and afterwards, they took national censuses every ten years. These records contain detailed information about individuals and their families, such as:

  • marital status
  • occupation
  • residence
  • gender
  • ethnicity

The questions asked on the census varied from year to year. The completeness of the records varies, so some information might be missing

This page provides help for researchers working with these census records.

In your research, you may encounter historical language that is considered offensive today. Please read the notice about historical language in LAC’s collection.

On this page

Before you start

Gather information such as:

  • name(s)
  • approximate year of birth
  • country of birth
  • approximate year of arrival
  • place of residence in Canada

Places to look

LAC holds the following census records from after Confederation:

Census year and area Provinces and territories included Type of census Statistical summaries Instructions to enumerators Districts and sub-districts
Census of Canada, 1871 NB, NS, ON, QC Nominal Census of Canada, 1870-71 = Recensement du Canada, 1870-71 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 1871 Districts and sub-districts
Census of Canada, 1881 AB, BC, MB, NB, NS, ON, PEI, QC, NWT, SK Nominal Census of Canada, 1880-81 = Recensement du Canada, 1880-81 Manual Containing the "Census Act" and the Instructions to Officers Employed in the Taking of the Second Census in Canada, 1881, Ottawa: Department of Agriculture, Census Branch, 188 1881 Census Districts and Sub-districts
Census of Canada, 1891 AB, BC, MB, NB, NS, ON, PEI, QC, NWT, SK Nominal Census of Canada, 1890-91 = Recensement du Canada, 1890-91 Manual Containing the "Census Act" and the Instructions to Officers Employed in the Taking of the Third Census in Canada, 1891. Ottawa: Department of Agriculture, Census Branch, 1891 1891 Census Districts and Sub-districts
Census of Canada, 1901 AB, BC, MB, NB, NS, ON, PEI, QC, NWT, SK Nominal Fourth Census of Canada, 1901 Instructions to Chief Officers, Commissioners, and Enumerators, Ottawa, Census Office, 1901 1901 Census Districts and Sub-districts
Census of Canada, 1911 AB, BC, MB, NB, NS, ON, PEI, QC, NWT, SK Nominal Fifth Census of Canada, 1911 Instructions to officers, commissioners and enumerators and Special instructions given to enumerators in Yukon and the Northwest Territories 1911 Census Districts and Sub-districts
Census of Canada, 1921 AB, BC, MB, NB, NS, ON, PEI, QC, NWT, SK Nominal Sixth Census of Canada, 1921 Instructions to Commissioners and Enumerators 1921 Census Districts and Sub-districts
Census of Canada, 1931 AB, BC, MB, NB, NS, ON, PEI, QC, NWT, SK Nominal Seventh Census of Canada, 1931 Instructions to Officers, Commissioners and Enumerators, Ottawa, Census Office, 1931 1924 electoral mapFootnote 1

Census records can be found in the Statistics Canada fonds, formerly known as RG31.

Schedules

Dominion of Canada censuses generally follow the same pattern. They include similar types of questionnaires known as schedules from year-to-year, such as:

  • population (names)
  • deaths (names)
  • institution and real estate
  • agricultural land and produce
  • livestock and home industry products (fabric, cheese, fur)
  • industry and industrial products
  • forests and lumber
  • shipping and fishing
  • mining

In most cases, only the original records for Population (Schedule 1) were preserved.

Questions

Most censuses contain the following information:

  • location
  • number of families
  • names
  • sex
  • age
  • relationship to head of household
  • marital status
  • country or province of birth
  • religion
  • ethnic origin
  • nationality
  • occupation
  • education (including reading and writing)
  • disabilities

Census years

Find out more about specific censuses below.

Census of Canada, 1871

The 1871 census was the first federal census. It started on April 2, 1871 and had 211 questions.

Only Schedule 1 with the names is fully indexed in the census database, along with schedule 2 for Ontario only. Most of the 9 schedules do still exist, though only schedules 1, 2 and 6 include names. The other schedules do not - these are keyed to schedule 1 by page and line number.

You can only access Schedules 2 through 9 via digitized microfilm. The schedules are arranged in numerical order for each sub-district. For example, on reel C-10387, you will find District 183, Gloucester County, Sub-district b-1, Bathurst, schedules 1 to 8, followed by Sub-district b-2, Bathurst, schedules 1 to 8, etc.

Please see 1871 districts and sub-districts to find the right microfilm number.

Early censuses like 1871 also counted sea-going vessels, temporary housing, homes under construction, and uninhabited homes in Schedule 1.

If you're looking for Manitoba

The 1871 federal census does not include Manitoba. It was counted separately in 1870.

Census of Canada, 1881

The 1881 Census was the second federal census. It began on April 4, 1881 and had 172 questions across eight schedules. Real estate and industrial establishments were combined into a single Schedule. Only Schedule 1 from this census has been preserved. The location for each household was only recorded on schedule 3. Since that schedule no longer exists, there is no way to know exactly where a family lived.

Like 1871, the 1881 census also counted sea-going vessels, temporary housing, homes under construction, and uninhabited homes in Schedule 1.

Some of the pages were out of order when they were microfilmed. For example, pages in a sub-district might appear in this sequence: 1, 2, 5, 6, 3, 4, etc.

Census of Canada, 1891

The third national census for Canada began on April 6, 1891 and it contained a total of 216 questions across 9 schedules. Only Schedule 1, which includes names has survived. The location for each household was only recorded on Schedule 3. Since that schedule no longer exists, there is no way to know exactly where a family lived.

Like the 1871 and 1881 Censuses, the 1891 Census counted sea-going vessels, temporary housing, homes under construction, and uninhabited homes in Schedule 1. Institutions were enumerated separately from homes, and appear together in a single block of responses (microfilm reel T-6427).

Unlike previous censuses, the 1891 Census recorded:

  • whether someone was French-Canadian
  • place of birth of both mother and father
  • whether someone was an employer or an employee
  • whether they were unemployed in the week before the census

Some of the pages were out of order when they were microfilmed. For example, pages in a sub-district might appear in this sequence: 1, 2, 5, 6, 3, 4, etc.

Census of Canada, 1901

The forth national census was taken on March 31, 1901. It had 561 questions.

This census contained 11 schedules, with cultivated lands and products now being separated and an additional schedule for agricultural values being added. Only Schedules 1 and 2 have been preserved since they contain names and locations.

Schedule 1 also contained four specialized forms to account for people who were temporarily absent, boarders and lodgers who were temporarily absent, cheese and butter products, and clay products. These special forms have not survived.

This Census was the first to collect more detailed information about month and date of birth, year of birth, as well as the year of immigration or naturalization. The 1901 Census also collected information about trades, including location of work and months of employment. And finally, this census collected information on mother tongue and whether someone could speak English or French.

Please note that this Census is unique in that it recorded race by colour: the letter "w" or “b” for white, "r" for red (Indigenous peoples), "b" or “n” for black (Black Canadians), "y" or “j” for yellow (individuals of Asian descent). Individuals of mixed heritage were designated by their relevant non-white race.

Records are incomplete with respect to the enumeration of Indigenous peoples. Some communities were enumerated in their respective sub-districts, while others were counted with a completely separate form. Those forms were microfilmed together on reels T-6554 and T-6555. They include some agencies in Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.

Since it contains no names, Schedule 2 cannot be searched using Census Search. Please refer to the original Census 1901 page for information on accessing digitized images of Schedule 2, sorted by district, sub-district and then division.

This was the first enumeration of the Unorganized Territories of Keewatin, Athabaska, Franklin, Ungava, Mackenzie and Yukon. A special schedule was used with a limited number of questions, spread over 2 pages. For the Yukon, some of these additional forms still exist.

In New Brunswick, some pages for the sub-districts of Havelock, Kars and Brooks Ward (Saint John City) were damaged. In 1937, the information was recopied by the Dominion Bureau of Statistics. Since they no longer had blank 1901 forms, they used blank forms from the 1936 census.

Census of Canada, 1911

The 1911 Census was the fifth national census. It began on June 11, 1911 and had 549 questions.

This census contained thirteen schedules. Information about disability and compensation was moved from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2. Schedule 3 contained information on houses, buildings, and fruit. Schedule 4 was now restricted to grains and Schedule 5 for other agricultural plant products. Churches and schools were now enumerated separately in Schedule 10, and a new Schedule (12) was added for dairy factories. Only Schedule 1 has been preserved. Different forms were used for the Northwest Territories.

The 1911 Census was very similar to the 1901 Census. It also collected detailed information about month and date of birth, year of birth, as well as the year of immigration or naturalization. Questions regarding employment were also expanded to account for both primary and additional employers/occupations. Finally, this was also the first census to ask questions about insurance coverage.

For questions relating to occupation, specific numerical codes were utilized. The first part of the code refers to one of the general main divisions of occupations or industries.

First part of the code Main divisions of occupations or industries
0 Agriculture
1 Building trades
2 Domestic and personal service
3 Civil and municipal service
4 Fisheries and hunting
5 Forestry and lumbering
6 Manufacturers—mechanical and textiles
7 Manufacturers—food and clothing
8 Mining
9 Professional pursuits
10 Trade and merchandising
11 Transportation

The second part of the code refers to the class of worker. A special code was created for the third category, Civil and municipal government, to include military ranks.

Second part of the code Class of worker
0 Self-employed or owner of the business
1 Managers, assistant managers
2 Superintendents, assistant superintendents, supervisors
3 Foremen, bosses, gang bosses, paymasters, treasurers
4 Agents, brokers, commission men
5 Inspectors, weighers, graders
6 Employees, workers, operators, skilled workers
7 Clerks, companions, timekeepers
8 Apprentices, helpers, learners, assistants
9 Labourers, unskilled, messengers, teamsters

Finally, the third part of the code refers to the trade.

Third part of the code Trade
0 (not used)
1 Admirals, generals, surveyors, etc.
2 Captains, colonels, postmasters, teachers, deputies, assessors, sheriffs, librarians, assistants, chief clerks, supervisors, etc.
3 Lieutenants, police inspectors, paymasters, collectors, treasurers, auditors, marshals, etc.
4 Sergeants, corporals, bandsmen, quartermasters, etc.
5 Inspectors, scalers, gaugers, measurers, roundsmen, appraisers, keepers, etc.
6 Employees, operators, privates, marines, sailors, policemen, letter carriers, etc.
7 Bookkeepers, clerks, stenographers, secretaries, court stenographers, etc.
8 Helpers, assistants, attendants, etc.
9 Labourers, messengers, watchmen, etc.

Census of Canada, 1921

The 1921 Census was the sixth national census. It was taken on June 1, 1921 and had a total of 565 questions.

While the number of questions increased, information was consolidated into five schedules:

  • Schedule 1, Population
  • Schedule 2, Agriculture
  • Schedule 3, Animals, animal products, fruits, etc., not on farms
  • Schedule 4, Manufacturing, trading and business establishments
  • Schedule 5, Blind and deaf-mutes

Only Schedule 1 has been preserved. Different forms were used for the Northwest Territories.

When employees compiled the statistical summaries, some of them wrote numbers on the census pages. The numbers relate to the information already recorded. They do not give extra details about the person enumerated. For example, for column 15, Place of birth, the following codes were used on some pages:

  • 1 Canada
  • 2 United Kingdom
  • 4 United States
  • 5 Europe
  • 7 Asia

There is a guide that explains the codes used in column 28, Occupations. The meaning of numbers written in other columns is unknown.

After the 1911 census, the government used those population statistics to redraw the federal electoral district boundaries. The maps of the new electoral districts were published in an electoral atlas in 1915. They used those electoral districts to determine the census districts for the 1921 census. Between 1915 and 1921 there may have been minor changes to some boundaries: Electoral atlas of the Dominion of Canada: according to the Redistribution Act of 1914 and the Amending Act of 1915 (Mikan 204296).

Census of Canada, 1931

The seventh national census was taken on June 1, 1931. Information was further condensed into four schedules:

  • Schedule 1: Population
  • Schedule 2: Agriculture
  • Schedule 3: Institutions
  • Schedule 4: Merchandising and service establishments

Only Schedule 1 was preserved and it had 40 questions. In the 1931 Census three different forms of the population scheduled were used:

  • Form 1A for the Maritimes and Québec and Ontario
  • Form 1B for the Western provinces
  • Form 1 - N.W.T. for the Northwest Territories

In one instance a rather resourceful enumerator, used an accountant’s ledger book to record information.

The 1931 Census was the first to ask if the family owned a radio. Since this Census was taken during the Depression, there are also several questions related to unemployment, including periods of unemployment and causes.

The sub-district names or boundaries in 1931 are not the same as those for 1921, particularly for large cities.

Search tips

  • On some pages, part or all of the name column is missing because the left-hand margin of the page had been cut off. Since that information was missing from the microfilm, it is also missing in the digitized images. The originals no longer exist.
    • Those pages are indexed in the database, but the information is incomplete. For example, the database entry might give age, place of birth, etc., but no name or only a partial name.
  • The enumerators instructions are often helpful for interpreting the information collected on the census returns themselves.
  • Some smaller sub-districts were combined by the enumerators. If you are doing a search by sub-district number, use only the first number for combined sub-districts. For example, in District 114, sub-districts 43 and 44 were combined. Enter only 43 when searching for that sub-district
  • For help with definitions, see the list of terminology and abbreviations.
  • For advanced search tips and techniques, such as how to search by place, see our General census guide.

Access the records

Non-digitized records

In 1955, the Dominion Bureau of Statistics was authorized by the Public Records Committee to microfilm and destroy the original records from 1881 onwards. As a result, only microfilm copies of the Dominion of Canada census records exist.

The original paper copies that still exist for censuses before 1881 are fragile and not available for consultation.

Digitized records

All of the Canadian census records from 1871 onwards are available on digitized microfilm and can be searched using the Census Search.