Intendant Jean Talon launched the first census in Canada – in New France in 1666.

Census 2016: Stand and be counted; Future genealogists will love you for it

Genealogy with Kristin Butcher

It’s 2016, and that means it’s time for a nationwide census. In Canada, censuses have been going on since the first head count in New France in 1666.

Intendant Jean Talon did the bulk of the enumerating himself, recording the age, sex, marital status, and occupation of every one of the 3215 settlers in the colony. Over the next 200 years, 98 more censuses were conducted.

With Confederation in 1867, the process became more formal, since the Constitutional Act (aka British North America Act) stipulated that a census should be done every 10 years, commencing in May of 1871.

That practice continued until 1956, when censuses started being conducted every five years.

Though some people perceive these population surveys as intrusive nuisances, they are, in fact, useful in helping the government address needs in terms of housing, healthcare, education, jobs, transportation, and urban planning. They shed light on regional and cultural issues and point the way towards new trends.

Because needs are constantly changing, the questions asked on censuses change accordingly, so people aren’t regurgitating the same information each time.

Censuses are great tools for genealogists too. They can provide family researchers with information on an ancestor’s residence, marital status, family size and members, community, age, income, occupation, citizenship, immigration status, education, and country of origin.

But you must remember to study a census with an open mind and eye.

You never know who might live down the street. It might be a relative or close friend. In my case, it was the woman my great-grandmother lost her husband to.

More often than not, particulars gleaned from a census will lead to bigger and better discoveries elsewhere.

Security measures in Canada ensure that private information remain precisely that – at least for as long as people are alive.

With that in mind, the Canadian government has decreed that censuses remain closed to the public for 92 years, which means the 1921 census is the one most recently available to the public.

If you need to hunt down someone in the 1931 census, you’re going to have to sit tight until 2023.

However, for access to other censuses in Canada and the world, research sites such as are tremendously helpful.


Want to know more about getting to the roots of your family tree? We’re happy to help.

Campbell River Genealogy Society meets at the Maritime Heritage Centre –