Thursday, August 21, 2008

Canada, 1916 - Taking The Census in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba

'Victorious But Tired'. Postcard, unused, c.1915. The Daily Mirror, Canadian Official Series, (Photograph Passed by Censor). Printed in Great Britain, Published by the Pictorial Newspaper Co.Ltd., London, England.

John Reid of Anglo-Celtic Connections viewed portions of the 1916 Prairie census microfilms recently and has some useful comments on his blog. The timing of this was certainly bad luck for me as apparently I missed getting to see the newly released census films only by a couple of days. My own mother should appear in the Newdale, Manitoba enumeration and I am very anxious to see how many of ‘my Swedes’ I can find. I am surprised there wasn’t some ‘buzz’ about this at the ‘Genealogy and Local History for All’ conference – perhaps LAC had been asked one too many hard questions already?

The 1916 census is often called the ‘Western Census’ but, of course, even in 1916, British Columbia was the western province of Canada and B.C. residents are not part of this census. The 1916 population and agriculture census covered the three provinces formed from the former Northwest Territories and Manitoba (so Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba). Its effective date was 1 June, 1916, midway through World War I. The government’s instructions to enumerators reflected that situation and the season with special mention of questions relating to military service, for instance, and summer resorts.

Enumerators were to exercise “civility and expedition” and produce “clear and legible ink of good quality” and were to be paid 4 cents for each living person recorded and 25 cents for every farm of 5 acres or over, and varying rates for other tasks and expenses.

As John noted in his article, many on military service were enumerated with their families. As the instructions said:

General Provisions
43. General rule: It is not possible to lay down a rule applicable to every case but generally...a person absent on military service...should be entered with the family...

The same was to be done for those at work elsewhere or living away temporarily – students, fishermen, lumbermen, and commercial travelers are all mentioned in this section. Construction, mining and railroad camp workers were to be enumerated “as found’, but those in military concentration camps or barracks or training camps were not. Enumerators were instead to “make diligent inquiry” at every household for information about any persons in military service or concentration camps, whether related or a roomer or “other person”.

Public institutions – prisons, hospitals, schools - were to be enumerated separately, however, hospital patients “whose period of absence is more or less known” were to be included with others of their households. Prisoners, no matter the length of their sentences, were to be enumerated in prison.

On 1 January, 1916, though, Canada’s Prime Minister Robert Borden had promised Canada would maintain 500,000 men in the armed forces. In doing so, he may have meant only to strengthen Canada’s voice in Britain’s war strategy, but, as volunteer enlistment slowed, the idea, or the ‘threat’, of conscription was talked about by many. It’s possible then that in looking at the 1916 census we may find ‘too few’ men of military age, if family members sought to evade having them listed.

A few comments from the Lethbridge Daily Herald illustrate some of the difficulties enumerators faced – even the weather was a problem.

30 May, 1916, page 4 “...Commissioner Barnes was in the city last Thursday to arrange for the work in this district but owing to the bad weather few of the enumerators were able to come in to meet him. Among the men who will take the census in Lethbridge are Messrs. Fairburn, J.H. Fleetwood and Hardy.”

6 June 1916, page 4, Editorial page. “Some silly people are circulating a very silly story in connection with the census now being taken. They attempt to mislead certain classes by telling them the census is a forerunner of conscription...Such a statement is an absolute falsehood....”

27 July, 1916. p. 5 – from Ottawa. “Owing in a great measure to conditions produced by the war, the taking of the quinquennial census in the west is proving to be a difficult task, according to reports received here. Where people were domiciled in boarding houses and have no next of kin residing on the place difficulty is experienced accounting for them. For instance, all westerners who enlisted for the first contingent are down as from Valcartier. Military records do not show where they came from and the people with whom they boarded are not able to furnish details. Likewise in the internment camps are many Austrians formerly resident in the western provinces, but whom enumerators are not able to find. Population returns indicate a substantial increase.”


“More on the 1916 Census of the Prairie Provinces”, John D. Reid, Anglo-Celtic Connections:

1916 Census Proclamation and Instructions, extracts from the Canada Gazette, 31 May 1916, Global Genealogy:

1916 Census Statistics, Saskatchewan GenWeb (not complete, includes overall population and language statistics, but other material mainly for Saskatchewan):

For more background on Canada in 1916, see the 1916-1917 Canada Year Book, on-line in Statistics Canada’s Canada Year Book Historical Collection:

Newspaper articles found on through the Godfrey Memorial Library (subscription):

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