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From 1666 to Confederation in 1867, almost 100 regional and colonial censuses(1) were conducted. Individuals answered a variety of questions, including those about housing, livestock, crops, buildings, armaments owned, churches, etc. Questions related to the raising of taxes or armies, and the assessment of resources, could also be asked.
The 1871 Census was the first such undertaking after Confederation, and was part of the provisions of the British North America Act. The primary purpose of the 1871 Census was to determine parliamentary representation based on population. The new constitution called for this assessment to occur every 10 years. The 1871 Census also differed from pre-Confederation censuses in the greater number of questions asked (211) and the detail of information collected; for example, for the first time people were asked their "ancestral origins." However, it should be noted that not every individual was required to answer every question.
With the proclamation of Census Day on March 31, 1901, the fourth census after Confederation, the first enumeration of Canada's population in the twentieth century began. The 1901 Census was a very large undertaking, consisting of 11 questionnaires and 561 questions, although, again, not every household was required to answer every question. The questions related to religion, birthplace, citizenship, period of immigration, ethnic origin, and many other topics.
At the time of this census Canada was made up of seven provinces, - British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, - two territories, Yukon Territory and North-West Territories, and the District of Keewatin. It is important to note that the North-West Territories was much different in 1901 than it is today. At the time of the 1901 Census it was made up of seven districts, which were Alberta, Assiniboia, Athabasca, Franklin, Mackenzie, Saskatchewan, and Ungava. Under the auspices of the Minister of Agriculture, 17 chief officers for the provinces and territories conducted the census, aided by 351 directing, revising and assistant commissioners for the census districts and 8,800 enumerators for the polling divisions. Each page of the census usually bears the name of the enumerator who completed it. Census enumeration areas generally, but not always, corresponded to electoral districts.
Enumeration was conducted by door-to-door interview, with enumerators individually visiting each house and asking the questions of the "head" of the household. The enumeration of Treaty Indians, hospital inpatients, penitentiary inmates, and attendees at educational institutions, was often (but not always) left to officials in the institution. In some cases, members of the Northwest Mounted Police(2) were used as enumerators. Similarly, the taking of statistics for manufactured products, forest products, fisheries and minerals was assisted by the officials involved with these areas.
Enumeration was to be completed within 30 days of March 31, however, commissioners were required to revise the schedules before transmitting the completed forms to the census office. By the end of August, 98 percent of the forms were received at the census office in Ottawa. A delay in the final accounting occurred when the census for northern British Columbia had to be taken a second time, - the original completed schedules were lost when the steamer Islander foundered on August 15, 1901.
The first volume of census results, "Population," was published in 1902. The publication declared the population of Canada to be 5,371,051. This represented an increase of over 500,000 people from 1891, when Canada had a population of 4,833,239. The smallest population density was located in the Districts of Athabasca, Franklin, Keewatin, Mackenzie and the Yukon Territory, where only 52,709 individuals lived.(3)
The second volume of census results, "Natural Products," which covered agriculture, forestry, minerals and fisheries, was published in 1904. It was followed by Volume III on Manufacturers, in 1905, and Volume IV on Vital Statistics, School Attendance, Educational Statistics, Dwellings and Families, Institutions, Churches and Schools, Electoral Districts and Representation in 1906. Eighteen bulletins of census findings were also published between 1902 and 1903.