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Article Published October 29, 1999 Vol. III No. 20

Gordon A. Watts POST-1901 CENSUS NEWS (Canada)
By: Gordon A. Watts,

Greetings Readers, and Members of Parliament.

I am not here

As you read this I am once again on the road, this time somewhere in the vicinity of Phoenix, Arizona. This is one trip that has nothing to do with either genealogy or the Census campaign. I am on a pleasure trip with five men who I worked with for many years. Five of us are retired, and the sixth one wishes he were. I will be gone from 1 October until the 11th. This trip I will not have my laptop with me and will have no access to the net or email for eleven days. By the time I get home I will be looking for an email "fix". Being on the road at this time I may not have up to the minute information regarding Post 1901 Census and so for this column I will be taking a look at the past.

The Promise

Statistics Canada, through Dr. Felligi and Ms Louise Desramaux, have been consistent in advising the many citizens of Canada concerned about the release of Post 1901 Census information that there was a promise of confidentiality in perpetuity made to Census respondents from 1906 to the present.

I have studied a number of documents relating to this matter, including the 1906 Proclamation directing a census of population and agriculture for the Provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta (Canada Gazette 21 May 1906, Orders in Council) ; The Statistics Act (Chapter 43) assented to 24 May 1918; the consolidated online versions of the current National Archives of Canada Act, Access to Information Act, Privacy Act, and Statistic Act; and the Census forms of 14 May 1996.

While I am by no means a lawyer, I personally see nothing within any of these documents that would preclude the transfer of Post 1901 Census records to the National Archives and their subsequent release to the Public. If we have any genealogist lawyers around perhaps one of them could venture an opinion on this. If so please let me know at my email address below.
On 25 September I directed an email to Ms. Desramaux at Statistics Canada to ask the following questions:

"In regards to Census taken from 1906 to the present I wish to know the following:

    Specifically what clauses of what Acts spell out this never ending promise?

    The form (wording) of said promise of confidentiality in perpetuity.

    The specific means by which respondents were advised that said confidentiality would be forever. If possible I would like copies of such advice or references to where they might be found."

I look forward to the answers and will report on them in a future column.

Canada Census of 1931

Dawn Stuart from Calgary sent me some newspaper articles relating to the Canada Census taken in 1931. The articles are from the Calgary Herald of Saturday 23 May 1931, and Tuesday 26 May 1931 and will form the largest part of my column this time. I think you should find these articles interesting. Thank you Dawn.

In our research regarding Post 1901 Census we have found no indication that Privacy concerns of the day had to do with descendants seeking family information. To the contrary, concerns seemed to center on the possibility that other Government departments would use Census information for other purposes, i.e. taxation. Even today, Bruce Phillips, Privacy Commissioner, in his address to the Senate 18 February 1999, indicated that one of the major complaints received by his Office was that of cross indexing of personal information between different Government departments. I do not recall his stating that his Office had received any calls relating to identifiable Census information released after 92 years. I do know that neither Statistics Canada nor the National Archives have received any complaints about this.

In the articles that follow I have emphasized a few lines regarding confidentiality. The information contained in these articles only strengthens my conviction that the main privacy concern of respondents to Census has been that other government departments might use Census for purposes other than statistical compilation. Again, I see nothing here that would, in my opinion, prevent the transfer of Census records to the National Archives. I copy the later, but shorter article first.

From the Calgary Herald, Tuesday 26 May 1931


Information Can Not Be Used Against Citizens, Says Commissioner

Citizens need have no fear that the information they give the census enumerators will be divulged, since all the information thus supplied is absolutely confidential, G. T. C. Robinson, census commissioner for West Calgary, declared Tuesday. Answers to questions asked by the census takers are compiled by the government merely for the purpose of making statistical compilations and have nothing to do with taxation, military service, school attendance, the regulation of immigration, or the enforcement of any law.

Courteous co-operation of citizens with the enumerators will greatly facilitate their work. Mr. Robinson pointed out, adding that failure to give the required information is not only punishable by law, but will delay and increase the cost of taking the census.

Mr. Robinson returned Tuesday morning from Banff, where a course of instruction was held on Monday, completing the qualification of enumerators for the constituency.

From the Calgary Herald Saturday 23 May 1931
       (Complete headline not visible in photocopy. Missing word may be "BASE" - gaw)


Much Information Is To Be Compiled With Count of Population

Enumerators Start on Nation-Wide Task June 1 - Present Census is Seventh Taken Since the Confederation: Citizens to Be Asked Many Questions, and Replies, Which Are Confidential, Will Provide Government With Much Valuable Data.

Canadians will know a great deal more about their country than they do now when all the information to be gathered in the forthcoming census is tabulated and published. Beginning June 1, every p0erson in the Dominion will be given an opportunity of contributing his quota, no matter how small, to the vast volume of facts and figures which will be compiled following the work of the enumerators taking Canada's 1931 decennial census.

The Census has been called "the largest single act of administration of the government" in reference partly to its physical extent - the census organization covering every section of the country for a complex and many sided task - and also to the great importance of census results.

The success of the census depends largely upon the co-operation of the people. Without general appreciation of the end in view, and without wholehearted assistance of individual citizens towards those ends, a true and complete census will be impossible. A brief description of the scope, methods and purpose of the census and of its place in statistical and general administration will therefore be interesting and useful before the enumerators start on their rounds.

Historical Background

Census-taking dates from the dawn of civilization. Moses numbered the Children of Israel in the fifteenth century B.C. But statistical investigations were known many centuries earlier, in Babylonia (1000 B.C.) , in China (3000 B.C.), in Egypt (2500 B.C.). A census taken by King David in 1017 B.C. achieved evil notoriety in history from the Divine wrath which it provoked and which was cited for many generations against the spirit of inquiry. The census was one of the institutions founded by the great lawgiver Solon at Athens in the sixth century, B.C. The Romans were assiduous census-takers, both under the Republic and the Empire: Julius Caesar reformed the census among other thing. The Breviary of Charlemange (A.D. 808) and the Domesday Book of William the Conqueror (A.D. 1066) are celebrated mediaeval censuses. Later, the census disappeared from Europe.

It may not be generally known that the credit of taking the first census of modern times belongs to Canada. The year was 1666: the census was one of the colony of New France. There had been earlier records of settlement on Port Royal (1605) and Quebec (1608) but the census of 1666 was a systematic "nominal" enumeration of the people (i.e. a record of each individual by name), taken for a fixed date, showing the age, sex, place of residence, occupation and conjugal condition of each person. The results are to be seen in a document of 154 pages in the Archives of Paris, of which a transcript is in Ottawa. Altogether this census recorded 3,215 souls. When it is recalled that in Europe the first modern census dated only from the eighteenth century (those of France and England dating from the first year of the nineteenth) whilst in the United States no census was taken before 1790, the achievement of the primitive St. Lawrence colony in instituting what is today one of the principal instrument of Government in every civilized community may call for more than passing appreciation.

This initial Canadian census was repeated several times during the French regime, after which a series of less elaborate investigations by successive Colonial Governors took it's place. The first legislation on the subject was an Act of the United Provinces dated 1847. Under it a census of Upper and Lower Canada was taken in 1851 and again in 1861. Censuses of nova Scotia and New Brunswick were taken in the same years.

Is Function of Dominion

At Confederation the British America Act specifically mentioned "the census and statistics" as falling within Dominion as distinguished from Provincial jurisdiction. The first Dominion Census Act was passes in 1870, and the first census was taken thereunder in 1871. Similar comprehensive censuses have followed every tenth year, namely 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911 and 1921. In 1886, a special census of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories was taken midway between the other censuses. This so-called "Quinquennial" census was repeated for Manitoba in 1896, while in 1906, 1916 and 1926, it also embraced Saskatchewan and Alberta, created into provinces in 1905, the reason being the rapidly changing conditions in these newer sections of the Dominion.

The census of June 1, 1931, is therefore the seventh comprehensive decennial census to be taken since Confederation. The administration of the census was originally vested in the minister of agriculture; in 1912, however, in a reorganization and centralization of the statistical work of the government it was transferred to the minister of trade and commerce who will accordingly promulgate the schedules and regulation of the present census.

Objects and Uses of Census

With the census of ancient times we would today have little sympathy. Originally the census was no more than a means of mustering men for foreign wars and of enabling kings and oligarchies to tax their subjects. So far are we removed from this conception that it is now expressly forbidden to use census data for any such purposes.

In Canada the fundamental legal raison d'etre of the census is to determine the representation in the federal parliament. As is well known, the British north America Act gave the Province of Quebec a fixed number of seats (sixty-five) in the Dominion House of Commons. The number assigned to the other provinces was pro-rata with an arrangement that the first re-adjustment should take place on the completion of the Census of 1871, and that a similar re-adjustment should follow every subsequent decennial census. The census is thus taken primarily to enable a redistribution bill to be passed by parliament.

But the census has far wider uses than to fix electoral representation. It constitutes, in fact, under the modern system, nothing less than a great periodical stocktaking of the Canadian people, designed to show from the widest angle the point that has been reached in the general progress of the nation.

Fundamentally, the importance of the census hinges upon its analysis of the human element or manpower of the country. The people themselves after all are the basic asset of every state. Their numbers, sex, age, occupation, racial origin, language, education, etc., are facts in themselves of the greatest moment. The constitute, moreover, the background against which almost all other facts must be projected if the latter are to have real significance.

As the practice of nations in regard to census taking tends more and more to uniformity, the census affords the inestimable benefits of comparison with other countries and enables our national problems to be studied in their general setting. Especially is this true of the countries which constitute the British Empire. The censuses of the various dominions, India and the Crown Colonies are now taken in the same year and within a few weeks of each other; so that when the results are completed we shall have a large and harmonious body of data at command for the study not only of the dominions inter se. but also of the place of the Empire as a whole among the nations of the world.

As a result of the work of the International Institute of Agriculture, which has been investigating the requirements of a census of agriculture and the means by which it may be made uniform insofar as possible for all countries, we will now have for agriculture a body of data which can be compared with those of other countries.

Scope of the Canadian Census

The primary task of the census is the enumeration and description of every man, woman and child in Canada. Good business dictates that when so large an organization as this requires has once been created, it should be put to every available purpose. The census therefore should deal not only with the people themselves, but directly with the people's institutions and affairs, insofar as the latter can be properly brought within it's scope.

Six Census Schedules

The schedules used in the census are six in number, dealing respectively with (1) population, (2) agriculture, (3) livestock, fruit growing, etc., in towns, (4) merchandising and service establishments, (5) blindness and deaf-mutism, and (6) institutions (penal: mental, and neurological, child-caring, homes for adults, hospitals, sanatoria, dispensaries, clinics, day nurseries). The population schedule carries some forty columns, recording for each person the name, family, kind of dwelling, age, sex, conjugal condition, birthplace, citizenship or nationality, racial origin, language, religion, education, occupation, unemployment, etc. in all necessary detail.

To meet the pressing demand for facts regarding the number of unemployed and the reasons therefor, a number of questions have been inserted, after consultation with Dominion and provincial government authorities and leading labor organizations. This information will be of first importance in assisting the government in its policy regarding unemployment and labor problems generally.

The schedule relating to agriculture was also drawn up in consultation with Dominion and provincial agricultural departments and other agricultural authorities, and in the light of suggestions made for a world census of agriculture by the International Institute of Agriculture. It will elicit a wealth of information on such features as farm acreages, land values, buildings, implements, crops, fertilizers, farm labor, orchards, small fruits, farm gardens, livestock, poultry, animal products, forest products, land tenure, irrigation, drainage, co-operative marketing, farm mortgages, etc.

The schedule on animals, etc. in towns is supplementary to the agricultural schedule: there are of course a considerable number of horses, cattle, poultry, bees, etc., within urban limits and their products, and those of market gardens and town orchards are in the aggregate important. The schedule on industrial and business concerns collects only the name, address and class of each: this is for the use of a subsequent detailed inquiry which will be conducted through correspondence by the bureau, and which will afford a considerable body of new data covering the whole field of distribution.

The record of the blind and of deafmutes is to facilitate the work of educational and other institutions for these classes. The population in institutions will be enumerated in the regular way by means of the populations schedule proper, but it is intended that a special inquiry shall be handled direct from the bureau with heads of institutions in order that not merely the numbers of men, women and children committed to such institutions may be obtained, but also facts regarding the characteristics of the inmates, causes of commitment and other information which will furnish the basis for a complete analysis of problems incidental to social life, and act as a guide to provincial governments and organizations engaged in social and welfare work.

All Information Important

In connection with these somewhat elaborate and searching series of inquiries the following points should be clearly understood: (1) That no question has been inserted merely for the gratification of curiosity or because the information would be interesting, but only because it has a bearing on basic, social or economic conditions: and (2) that the answers given by the individual are absolutely confidential, every employee of the census, being under oath and penalty against revealing any individual item, and the bureau of statistics itself being forbidden to issue any statement that would lay bare any personal matter. Though the name of each person is taken down this is not for the purpose of associating facts that are recorded, but merely as a check on the accuracy of the enumeration. The census is first and last for statistical purposes and cannot be made the basis of any direct administrative action. Let it also be noted that census enumerators are required to use courtesy and tact in collecting the information, though refusal to answer a census question is penalized by statute.

Methods of Collection

The organization by which this far-flung investigation is carried out and it's results reduced to comprehensive and usable form is a large one. It's nucleus exists in a small permanent staff constituting one of the branches of the bureau of statistics. This branch maintains connection between census and census, in that experience is continuous and cumulative. When a census impends, all plans are originated by it, and the necessary expansion of personnel arranged for. The latter falls under two main headings, the field work or collection of the facts, and the compilation and tabulation of the latter into census reports. Every detail of importance down to the final stages of the work must be foreseen and provide for from it's inception.

In planning the field work the country is first divided into "census districts", each of which is placed in charge of a "census commissioner." The districts are then divided into "sub-districts", varying in population from 600 to 800 in rural localities, and from 1,000 to 1,800 in urban. The sub-district is the territory allotted to a "census enumerator", who conducts the house to house, and farm to farm canvass, and who is the only official with whom the public comes directly in contact. One object of the census being to determine parliamentary representation, the act directs that census districts shall correspond as nearly as possible to the federal constituencies for the time being, while the sub-districts are to be roughly the same as the polling subdivisions. Some of the constituencies, however, are too large for one commissioner and are accordingly, divided, departure is also necessary in a good many cases from the polling units.

Many are Employed

Altogether, the census of 1931 will employ 253 commissioners, and probably 15,000 enumerators. The commissioners are appointed by the minister, and instructed by an officer of the bureau; the enumerators are appointed and instructed by the commissioners, who must also check and vouch for all the enumerators returns before the latter are forwarded to Ottawa. All field officers are paid for the most part on a "piece" basis, i.e according to the population, farms, etc., enumerated. All are required to pass a practical test in the work before appointment.

For a census that covers half a continent, embracing the most varied conditions of nature and settlement, uniformity of plan is clearly impossible. For the remote and seldom penetrated regions of Ungava, Northern Ontario and the Northwest, the organization of the fur trading companies and of the various church mission have been engaged. In other similar regions the Royal Canadian mounted Police will take the census, whilst the agents of the Indian department will perform a like service for the Indian population on reserves and elsewhere. Representatives of the department will visit the remote northern and sub-Arctic regions. Even in districts that are closer, there remain a large number of cases where pack trains must be organized, steamers chartered and similar special means employed to ensure that no section of the country escapes enumeration. Airplanes will be used in some districts.

Results Tabulated by Machines

For the compilation of the census and extra staff of more than 750 clerks will be engaged at Ottawa. Census compilation and tabulation is an elaborate and detailed process which would take much space to describe. An interesting feature is the use of machinery in compiling and analyzing the returns. The method is very briefly as follows: The several facts obtained for each individual are punched on a specially designed card, the perforations showing by their location the exact information obtained at the census. The cards are then sorted and otherwise manipulated by machines which count and record various combinations of data as required according to the perforations on the cards.

For example, should it be desired to know the number of say, civil engineers of Canadian citizenship between the ages of 21 and 50 in the province of Ontario, the machines will pick out and count the cards in a few operations. The invention of these machines, of which the bureau of statistics had a large battery, some being of it's own invention and construction, has greatly increased the scope and accuracy of the information derivable from the census, at the same time that it has halved the cost. A record exists of more than a million and a half classifications by one machine in a single day.

It is expected that from two to five weeks from June 1 will suffice in normal localities for the completion of the field work. After the third or fourth month is should be possible to five out the first results for many cities, towns, counties, etc. As to when the final count by provinces for the entire Dominion will be available, so many unforeseeable contingencies are possible that prophecy is dangerous, but it is expected that five or six months should enable a close approximation to be made. In the recent U.S. census the population count was announced in four months and seven days.

Census Costs Millions

Altogether, as already noted, the census will cost some millions of dollars. The amount set aside this year is about $2.500,000 but there was a vote of $135,000 last year for equipment an preparatory work, and at least another $500,000 will probably be required in 1932 and 1933 to finish.

The foregoing will have given an outline of what the census is and of how it is carried out. It remains only to say that the whole has been planned with the utmost care, over a period of years, with the experience of other countries and of six previous censuses in Canada. In view, and with special reference to the requirements of the present hour and also to the necessity of not burdening the community with any inquiry that is not fully justified.

Perfection of organization is not claimed, for census-taking, in Canada in Canada as in other countries, is still in process of development. Nevertheless the census merits the support of each and every citizen as a patriotic duty, notwithstanding features that may be irksome. The census is taken for the benefit of the community as a whole and therefore directly or indirectly of every member of the community.

Never before has there been the like need for census information. Since the last census the after-math of the war, setting up new strains and stresses and generally creating conditions of the utmost consequence to our national future, has left scarcely a branch of the national life untouched. Especially is an appraisement of the national status necessary at the present moment of acute economic depression. An appeal to the people is therefore made to assist in this great national undertaking by furnishing the information fully and accurately and thus helping to render the census worthy of the Dominion and of the serious purposes which it has in view.

Petitions Coming In

At the time of this writing (eleven days prior to the column date) a few petitions are being received daily. Although it is still early in the game I have received more than 2300 signatures so far. I expect that the greatest number of petitions will start coming in after the end of September. A reminder that the deadline for getting petitions in has been extended to 31 October.

Until next time. Happy Hunting.

Gordon A. Watts

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