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Gordon Watts Reports
Column published: 12 August 2008
By: Gordon A. Watts   Biography & Archived Articles

Gordon A. Watts
Topics in this column include:
  • "Deeply Rooted"
  • 1881 Census of Canada online
  • Jewish Genalogy Society Canada (Toronto) cemetery project
  • Royal British Columbia Museum wants your stories

Scroll down this page to read the complete articles...

"Deeply Rooted"

I returned home recently to find a telephone message from Jeff Paul, former Legislative Assistant to Senator Lorna Milne. It had been some time since I had had any word from him, as shortly after the passage of Bill S-18, on 28 June 2005, Jeff left the office of Senator Milne.

Senator Lorna Milne Jeff was calling to advise that Senator Milne had written her account of the long campaign we had waged to regain the public access to Historic Census records that genealogist and historians believed regulations attached to the Privacy Act already stated that we could have.

Written from her perspective as a Parliamentarian, Senator Milne details much of the 'behind the scenes' activity that led us through her two Private Senator's Bills, and two Senate Government Bills before the final passage of Bill S-18, and it's passage into law by Royal Assent on 29 June 2005. Some of the 'behind the scenes' action had been made public during the course of our campaign, some of it I had been advised about in confidence -- and was unable to make public, and some of it was new to me.

All in all, I found Senator Milne's book, titled "Deeply Rooted - The story of one Senator's battle to preserve the Historic Census results" a very interesting read and recommend it to everyone. It can be found on Senator Milne's website at

We all owe Senator Milne a great deal of thanks for her efforts during our campaign. Without her to 'champion' our cause, without doubt now retired Ivan Fellegi would have succeeded in his goal to forever seal the records we all find so valuable to our historical and genealogical research.

The on-line publication of Senator Milne's book has reminded me that I should return to and complete my own account of the campaign.

1881 Census of Canada online

On 7 August 2008 Library and Archives Canada (LAC) announced the launch of a new online database for the 1881 Census of Canada. Unlike the online release of the 1901, 1906 and 1911 Censuses however, the 1881 Census has been indexed and is searchable by name, age, country or province of birth, nationality, religion, and occupation of Canada's residents at the time of the 1881 Census. Once having found the person sought through the indexes, the digitized image of the original Census returns is just a 'click' away, and is available in either a PDF or JPG format.

Before writing this article I took a few minutes to take a look at the new database. Within seconds of access, I had found my great-grandfather David Perrin, living in Upper Musquodoboit, NS, with his wife Sarah Jane and their 10 month old, first-born child, Amos. The only information that I had input in the index form was the surname 'Perrin' and the province of Nova Scotia. My great-grandfather was listed as number 21 of 91 results. Clicking on his name produced the information contained on the Census schedule, and clicking on a link for either PDF or JPG produced the digitized image of two pages of the schedules. The PDF version came up on my computer as a full screen image, whereas the JPG version came up as a smaller image that took two clicks on it to enlarge it to a greater than full screen image. Regardless of the format used, the quality of the images produced was excellent. I cannot say that all images will have the same quality that I experienced, but one can hope that such will be the case.

One of the more interesting aspects of viewing these images was that I was not required to download and install any add-on viewers, such as those that had been required to view the 1901 schedules for example. In this instance I was viewing the images on a brand new PC that had not as yet had any viewers installed.

The 1881 Census marked the first regularly scheduled collection of national statistics in Canada. Information was collected for Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, British Columbia and the North-West Territories (which at the time covered much of modern-day Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, northern Ontario, northern Quebec, Labrador, Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut).

This project was a collaboration between Library and Archives Canada, Statistics Canada and created the index to the 1881 Census, and Library and Archives Canada linked their index to digital images of the original census. The index and linked images will be searchable without charge through both Library and Archives Canada (Canadian Genealogy Centre), and

The Library and Archives database is available online

As I write this, the database has not yet been linked from the databases page of the Canadian Genealogy Centre but I expect that it soon will be.

JGS Canada (Toronto) cemetery project

(Please note: The article below, with some minor editing on my part, was written by Shelly Stillman as an article for the OGS, and was sent to me by her. Shelly can be reached at

Shelley Stillman, President JGS Canada (Toronto), advises that the Jewish Genealogy Society of Canada (Toronto) has completed the first phase of its cemetery project. Basic burial records (name, cemetery, section, row and plot) have been submitted for 55,000 graves from each of the eleven Jewish cemeteries in the GTA to the JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR).

JOWBR is a database of names and other identifying information from Jewish cemeteries and burial records worldwide. It is a compilation of two linked databases: a database of burial records, and a database of information about each particular cemetery. JOWBR's aim is to catalogue Jewish cemeteries and burial records worldwide. Some photographs of gravestones are also included.

Volunteers from over forty countries have submitted over 1,006,000 records. In Canada there are 283 cemetery sections with 110,742 burials; in Ontario 149 cemetery sections with 54,698 burials currently online.

The second phase of the project is to digitally photograph all of the gravestones. Photography for both Jones Avenue and Pape Avenue (Holy Blossom or Jews' Cemetery) Cemeteries has been completed. These are the two oldest cemeteries in Toronto and many of the headstones are in poor condition. In April 2008 JOWBR posted about 1,190 digital photographs of the matzevahs (headstones).

Dawes Road has been selected as the next cemetery to photograph as they were very supportive of the project, have an excellent database to work from and it is 90% full. With over 11,000 burials at Dawes Road we hope to have the photography done by the end of the summer.

The photography is the easy part. More time consuming is the task of preparing the photos for submission to JOWBR. Each photograph must be renamed to correspond to the cemetery, section, row or line and plot number (i.e. D34SL10P4.jpg). After the photos are renamed they then must be matched to the spreadsheet and then formatted to conform to the JOWBR database standards. Only then is the file ready to be submitted to JOWBR for posting on the internet.

We recently worked in cooperation with the Wellington County Branch of OGS. Stephen Bowley took 44 digital photos of burials in the Jewish section of Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Guelph, Ontario. One of our members transcribed the Hebrew inscriptions. We have since sent these transcriptions back to Stephen and also submitted them along with the photos to JOWBR, where they are now available online. It is a win-win situation for all genealogists. It is exciting to think that anyone, anywhere in the world can access the burial records of their ancestors from their home computer.

In order to have access to the JOWBR files you must first register with JewishGen. It is free to register and use the database; however you must get a password. You can then search the database. If you want to test the digital photos go to the web site and search for Bernard LaBelle. You will find his headstone and the listing for Woodlawn Memorial Park (Woodlawn Cemetery), Section V (Reserved for Jewish burials).

JGS Hamilton and JGS Ottawa are also working on submitting data from the Jewish cemeteries in their areas. (Hamilton, Burlington, Ottawa, Kingston and Cornwall). One of the long term goals of JGS Canada (Toronto) is to submit burial records for all of the Jewish cemeteries (or sections of cemeteries) across Ontario.

If you would like to help with this project, you can visit the website at or contact the project coordinator at for more information.

Royal British Columbia Museum wants your stories

The following information was received from the Royal BC Museum

Subject: Help us make history.

This year, you can become part of British Columbia history. The Royal BC Museum wants your story - and your help in spreading the word about The People's History Project, a website where people from across the province can share memories and stories of British Columbia from a personal point of view.

Filled with photographs, text, audio and video submissions, The People's History Project is accepting story submissions until Jan. 11, 2009. Then it will live on in the BC Archives as an electronic time capsule of BC history as seen through the eyes of British Columbians in 2008 - the province's 150th anniversary year.

You can make a big difference to this project. Here's how:

Pass the word. If you manage a membership list or other email group, please pass this email on to your lists. Send it on to your family, friends or professional networks. You can help us reach out across BC to find stories waiting to be told.

Print our poster and share our ad. A printable poster and a newsletter ad are attached to this message. Hang the poster on your notice board or post it at your local coffee shop. If you have a print or electronic newsletter, just drop in our ad for The People's History Project to help us spread the word.

Share your stories and photos. Share your own story about arriving, growing up, working or living in BC. Visit the website or call 250-381-4305 to record your story in your own voice. Your submission can be as simple as a family photograph.

Thank you for helping the Royal BC Museum record The People's History for all British Columbians to share.

To learn more about the project, visit the website, call or email

Until next time.

Gordon A. Watts

Your comments regarding this newsletter, and suggestions for future articles are welcome. Click here to send me a message with a subject line of "Gordon Watts Reports".

To view back issues of Gordon Watt's columns, visit Gordon's biography page where all of his archives articles are available.

Canadian Genealogy & History Resources from Global Genealogy:

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Norway Bay United & Anglican Cemetery
(Pontiac County, Quebec)

The Merivale Cemeteries
(Protestant - Ottawa area)