355 years and counting

The Canadian census traces its roots back to as early as 1666, when the first North American census was conducted in New France. Just like Canada, it has changed a lot since then—learn how!

The census and your family history

Do you want to learn how you can use the census to find out more about your family's history? Check out our blog posts!

The census as a time capsule

Go back in time and find out how the census can teach us about the past.

Transcript - 2021 Census—The census as a time capsule

The census provides a snapshot of our society that is representative of the time and place where it was taken.

Let's take a look back in time.

In 1871, following the passage of the British North America Act, the first official Canadian census was completed.

The census gives a voice to those that would otherwise go unheard in our societies.

It captures the realities that transcend time and helps understand how Canadian society is shaped.

The 1871 Census was the first census to capture the roots of the Canadian identity by introducing the origin question. This data helps Canadians learn about the history of their country and their heritage.

Be part of history and complete the census. To learn how, visit census.gc.ca

A census history timeline

  • 1666

    The first census in North America

    The first ever census taken in what would eventually become Canada was taken in 1666, by the Intendant of New France, Jean Talon. Talon conducted most of the census himself, going from door to door, recording the names, genders, ages, and occupations of the population. This included seven butchers, eleven bakers, and three candlestick makers.

  • 1871

    The first Canadian national census

    The 1867 Constitution Act required that a national census be undertaken every ten years. The first of these was held in 1871. While it was a "national" census, it only included the four original provinces (Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick), even though both Manitoba and British Columbia were also part of confederation by this date.

  • 1906

    The Prairie provinces census

    In 1906, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta began to take the censuses of population and agriculture every five years, in order to keep up with the economic growth in the West.

  • 1941

    Sampling is introduced

    The first Canadian census to use sampling as a method of data collection was the 1941 Census. Previously, all households received the same census questionnaire. However, during the 1941 Census, 9 out of 10 households started receiving a shorter, more basic questionnaire, while 1 out of 10 received a longer, more detailed questionnaire. In 1951, these ratios were changed so that 20% of households received the long-form questionnaire.

  • 1971

    The Statistics Act of 1971

    The first steps towards the modern census were taken in 1971. Not only was the agency responsible for the census renamed from Dominion Bureau of Statistics to Statistics Canada, but the census would now be taken every five years. The 1971 Census was also the first census to include self-enumeration, where each household (outside of Indigenous reserves and Northern communities) would complete their questionnaire themselves before sending it back to Statistics Canada. This year also marked the 100th anniversary of the Canadian national census.

  • 2016

    Reintroduction of the long-form census

    In 2010, the mandatory long-form census was replaced with a new voluntary National Household Survey. This switch was done to recognize the concerns of individuals who saw the long-form census as an invasion of privacy, while also taking into account the important role that this information plays in developing public policy. However, the mandatory long-form census was brought back for the 2016 Census.

  • 2021

    The first pandemic census

    The 2021 Census is the first Canadian census to take place during a pandemic. A number of changes had to be made to the census in response to the realities of living during the COVID-19 pandemic, including physically-distanced enumeration and making the census questionnaire available for everyone to complete online.

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