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Canadian Census Records

Although excluded from some official records, people of Chinese origin have always been included in Canadian census enumerations.

The first census in Canada was taken in 1666 in New France (now Quebec). Following 1666, local and regional censuses were taken at irregular intervals until 1851, when the first national census was taken. The 1851 census covered the modern Canadian provinces of Canada, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.

Although the census has been conducted at ten-year intervals since 1851, the 1881 census was the first to include the western provinces and territories. Since B.C. was the magnet for a vast majority of early Chinese immigrants, the likelihood of finding records relating to people of Chinese origin in pre-1881 census records is extremely remote.

Census records provide a snapshot of each enumerated household and offer clues about birthdates, countries of origin, etc. One of the most useful characteristics of census records is the ability to reconstruct family groups and identify individuals correctly, based on the other people they were living with at the time. This advantage rarely applies to census records relating to those of Chinese origin, however, as the early immigrants were usually unaccompanied by their families. For more information see History & Pioneers.

As always, Chinese-Canadian researchers using historical census records must be aware of commonly-seen inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the way that Chinese names were recorded in the New World. For example, in the census record shown at left, every individual in the household purportedly had the name Ah, which is not a Chinese name, but a prefix added to the personal name as a familiar or informal manner of address. For more information, see Chinese Names.

In Canada, census records are made available to the general public after 92 years. Currently, all national census records up to 1911 have been released. Records of censuses taken in 1906 and 1916, covering only prairie provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba), have also been released.

All historical Canadian census records have been microfilmed. In addition, genealogical societies and other groups have created many transcriptions and indexes of census records. These are sometimes published as print items, and may also be available electronically. In many cases, there is no charge for accessing online Canadian census records.

Some portions of census records have been indexed and released more than once, sometimes in a different format. It is always advisable to compare the different versions, in case standards have not been applied consistently. After locating a reference in a printed or electronic index, it is also essential to always check the microfilm copy of the original record.

In addition to census records, you may also want to look for records in the National Registration File of 1940. The 1940 registration was carried out at the beginning of the Second World War and was similar to a census.

The 1881 census was the first Canadian census to cover British Columbia, Manitoba, and the Northwest Territories, which then included modern Alberta and Saskatchewan, as well as Yukon and Nunavut. It was held on April 4, 1881.

The 1881 census provided information about each member of every household but did not record the relationship between individuals in a household. Thus, it cannot be used to reconstruct family groups with certainty, although it may provide good clues.

Personal information about each enumerated individual was recorded under the following column headings on the 1881 federal census returns:

    • Names
    • Sex
    • Age
    • Born within last twelve months
    • Country of Province of Birth
    • Religion
    • Origin

"Origin" meant the country of origin of the paternal emigrant ancestor of each person, and was usually recorded as an adjective, e.g. Chinese. Although sometimes recorded as the name of the country, it was not the country of birth of the enumerated person.

  • Profession, Occupation or Trade
  • Married or Widowed

The extract from the 1881 census seen at the left shows Won Alexander Cumyow - the first Chinese baby born in Canada - at the age of 20, living in the New Westminster census district in British Columbia. The household in which he was living included an male adult (Won Liu Ling, age 57) and a female adult (Wong Shee, age 38) -- probably his parents -- as well as five other people ranging in age from 7-18. These younger people were probably Won Alexander Cumyow's brothers and sisters.


FINDING THE RECORDS

At the Vancouver Public Library

  • A full name index for the Census of Canada, 1881 is available on the Ancestry Library Edition electronic database. Links to digitized images of original records are provided. Free access to Ancestry Library Edition is available at any location of the Vancouver Public Library. Remote access from home is not available.

  • The Vancouver Public Library collection includes microfilm copies of all 1881 Canadian census records. The census microfilm collection is located on Level 6 of the Central Library.

    1881 British Columbia census records are on microfilm reels C-13284 and C-13285.

    On the microfilms, records are arranged by census district and subdistrict. In 1881 B.C. was divided into five districts and twenty-seven subdistricts. The census districts were:

    • Cariboo
    • New Westminster
    • Vancouver
    • Victoria
    • Yale

    Note that the census district names listed above do not reflect modern B.C. political divisions in B.C. For example, the Vancouver census district included a large portion of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, as well as the City of Vancouver. The New Westminster census district included the northern end of Vancouver Island.

    A searchable Catalogue of Census Returns on Microfilm 1666-1901 (Library and Archives Canada) may be useful in identifying the subdistrict in which a particular city or town was located and finding it on the microfilms.

  • 1881 Canadian Census - The Vancouver Public Library owns a set of CD-ROMs with a fully indexed electronic transcription of the entire 1881 Canadian census. Although the database is also available for free on the FamilySearch website (see Online, below), the CD-ROM version provides a more powerful search interface. In particular, it allows searching by Ethnic Origin and Place of Birth and does not require the entry of a personal Last Name or Given Name. This makes it possible to retrieve and browse a list of all the individuals of Chinese origin living in a specific location. The CD-ROMs contain records of over 4500 people of Chinese Ethnic Origin living in Canada at the time of the 1881 census. All but a few resided in British Columbia.

Online

In addition to Ancestry Library Edition (see also above), a large amount of free 1881 Canadian census information is available online. Individuals of Chinese origin have been identified in the following databases:

  • Census of Canada, 1881 (Library and Archives Canada)
    This is a free fully indexed electronic transcription of 1881 census information with links to corresponding digital images. The search interface requires the entry of a first and/or last name.

  • Canada Census, 1881 (FamilySearch)
    Free comprehensive online index to records of the 1881 Canadian census.

The following 1881 census database is limited to a specific part of B.C.:

  • Vancouver Island 1881 Census (Malaspina University-College and the University of Victoria)
    Provides a searchable indexed transcription of the 1881 Vancouver Island census. Vancouver Island comprised the Victoria census district, and parts of the Vancouver and New Westminster census districts. There are 979 records for individuals of Chinese origin in this list.

The 1891 census was held on April 6, 1891. Important additions to the information collected in the 1881 census included the relationship between individuals in a household and the birthplace of each person's parents.

Personal information about each enumerated individual was recorded under the following column headings in the 1891 federal census returns:

  • Names
  • Sex
  • Age
  • Married or Widowed
  • Relation to Head of Family
  • Country or Province of Birth
  • French Canadians
  • Place of Birth of Father
  • Place of Birth of Mother
  • Religion
  • Profession, Occupation or Trade

The enumeration of the Chinese population in the City of Victoria - the largest Chinatown in Canada - was very inadequate. All people of Chinese origin were simply recorded "Chinaman". Fortunately, however, a higher standard was applied elsewhere in B.C.


FINDING THE RECORDS

At the Vancouver Public Library

  • A full name index for the Census of Canada, 1891 is available on the Ancestry Library Edition electronic database. Links to digitized images of original records are provided. Free access to Ancestry Library Edition is available at any location of the Vancouver Public Library. Remote access from home is not available.

  • The Vancouver Public Library collection includes microfilm copies of all 1891 Canadian census records. The census microfilm collection is located on Level 6 of the Central Library.

    1891 British Columbia census records are on microfilm reels T-6290 and T-6291.

  • On the microfilm reels, records are arranged by census district and subdistrict. In 1891 B.C. was divided into five districts and forty-nine sub-districts. The districts had the same names as those used in the 1881 census:

    • 1 - Cariboo
    • 2 - New Westminster
    • 3 - Vancouver
    • 4 - Victoria
    • 5 - Yale

    As in the 1881 census, the Vancouver District encompassed large parts of Vancouver Island, although the New Westminster District no longer included any portion of the Island.

    A searchable Catalogue of Census Returns on Microfilm 1666-1901 (Library and Archives Canada) may be useful in identifying the subdistrict in which a particular city or town was located and finding it on the microfilms.

  • For B.C., the only printed index available corresponds to the City of Victoria, and is available at the Vancouver Public Library:

    1891 Canadian Census, Victoria, British Columbia
    Sager, Eric and Peter Baskerville, eds.
    Ref. 929.3711 V64s

    However, as noted previously the Victoria enumerators did not record the names of Chinese individuals, but identified each person simply as "Chinaman", transcribed in this printed index as "Chinese". Therefore, it is of limited genealogical value for Chinese-Canadian research.

  • A guide to locating people of Chinese origin in the 1891 Canadian census microfilms is being compiled to assist genealogists and other researchers. It is now available for B.C.'s Cariboo District (complete) and New Westminister District (partial). The Territories have also been reviewed. See Chinese Communities in the 1891 Census.

Online

In addition to Ancestry Library Edition (see also above), a large amount of free 1891 Canadian census information is available online. Individuals of Chinese origin have been identified in the following databases:

  • Census of Canada, 1891 (Library and Archives Canada)
    This is a free fully indexed electronic transcription of 1891 census information with links to corresponding digital images. The search interface requires the entry of a first and/or last name.

  • Canada Census, 1891 (FamilySearch)
    Free comprehensive online index to records of the 1891 Canadian census.

The following 1891 census database is limited to a specific part of B.C.:

  • Vancouver Island 1891 Census (Malaspina University-College and the University of Victoria)
    Provides a searchable indexed transcription of the 1891 Vancouver Island census. Vancouver Island comprised the Victoria census district, and part of the Vancouver District. There are 3193 records for individuals of Chinese origin.

The 1901 census was held on March 31, 1901. Important additions to the information collected in the 1881 and 1891 censuses included month, date and year of birth, year of immigration to Canada, and year of naturalization.

In the 1901 federal census, personal information about each enumerated individual was recorded under the following column headings:

  • Name of each person in family or household on 31st March, 1901
  • Sex
  • Colour
  • Relationship to head of family or household
  • Single, married, widowed or divorced
  • Month and date of birth
  • Year of birth
  • Age at last birthday
  • Country or place of birth
  • Year of immigration to Canada
  • Year of naturalization
  • Racial or Tribal origin
  • Nationality
  • Religion
  • Profession, occupation, trade or means of living of each person

FINDING THE RECORDS

At the Vancouver Public Library

  • A full name index for the 1901 Census of Canada is available on the Ancestry Library Edition electronic database. Links to digitized images of original images are provided. Free access to Ancestry Library Edition is available at any location of the Vancouver Public Library. Remote access from home is not available.

  • The Vancouver Public Library collection includes microfilm copies of all 1901 Canadian census records. The census microfilm collection is located on Level 6 of the Central Library. 1901 British Columbia census records are on films T-6428, T-6429, T-6430, and T-6431.

  • On the microfilm reels, records are arranged by census district and subdistrict. In 1901 B.C. was divided into five census districts:

    • Burrard
    • New Westminster
    • Vancouver
    • Victoria
    • Yale / Cariboo

    As in the 1881 census and 1891 census, these district names do not reflect modern B.C. political divisions. For example, the Vancouver District was on Vancouver Island, while Vancouver City was in the Burrard District.

    A searchable Catalogue of Census Returns on Microfilm 1666-1901 (Library and Archives Canada) may be useful for identifying the subdistrict in which a particular city or town was located and finding it on microfilm.

Online

Although Ancestry Library Edition (see also above) is the most efficient way of searching the 1901 Canadian census, there are several options for those who are unable to visit the Vancouver Public Library or wish to research from home:

  • The original records of the 1901 census have been digitized and are available online. The records can be accessed through the Library and Archives Canada Census of Canada, 1901 database.

  • A large amount of transcribed and indexed Canadian census information is freely available online. Individuals of Chinese origin have been identified in the following databases:

    1901 Census Victoria, British Columbia and Southern Vancouver Island (BC GenWeb)
    This database provides a transcription of 1901 census records for the Victoria enumeration District and part of the Vancouver enumeration District. The area covered comprises Victoria City and southern Vancouver Island, including the communities of Port Renfrew, Sooke, Metchosin, Colwood, Langford, Oak Bay, Saanichton, Sidney and the southern Gulf Islands. The database is a browsable electronic transcription but cannot be searched. Large numbers of Chinese people lived in Division 14 (Victoria City) but many Chinese people worked as domestics and lived in their employers' homes and so were enumerated in other areas.

    Index to the 1901 Census of Canada (Automated Genealogy)
    Represents the efforts of a massive volunteer project aimed at transcribing and providing free access to the entire 1901 Canadian census. The records can be searched by province or through a National Surname Index. Special care needs to be taken when searching for Chinese individuals because the transcribers have not applied consistent standards when transcribing the unfamiliar names. For example, there are 685 entries for the Surname Wong in the National Surname Index, but there are also separate index headings for the surnames Wong Hong, Wong Jin, Wong Look, Wong Paw, Wong Tai, with just 1 entry each. In other cases, Wong is recorded as a Given name.

    Vancouver Island 1901 Census (Malaspina University-College and the University of Victoria)
    A searchable indexed transcription of the 1901 census of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands.

In 1905, Alberta and Saskatchewan joined Confederation. The following year, a special 1906 census of the new provinces was held, in order to track population growth on the prairies. Manitoba, which had joined Confederation in 1870, was also covered by this special census.

Although overall numbers of Chinese on the prairies were still quite small at this time, they were increasing quite dramatically in relative terms. Between the 1901 and 1911 censuses, the number of Chinese in Alberta increased more than 7-fold, from 235 to 1787. Saskatchewan had 957 Chinese in 1911, more than 23 times the number - 41 - it had recorded in 1901. Numbers in Manitoba increased more than four-fold, from 206 to 885.

Information about each enumerated individual was recorded under the following column headings in the 1906 Census of the Northwest Provinces:

  • Name of each person in family
  • Relation to head of family
  • Sex
  • Single, married, widowed or divorced
  • Age
  • Country or place of birth
  • Year of immigration to Canada
  • Post office address
  • Location
    • Section
    • Township
    • Range
    • Meridien

Information about livestock holdings was recorded in the five last columns.


FINDING THE RECORDS

At the Vancouver Public Library

  • A full name index for the 1906 Census of Population of the Northwest Provinces is available on the Ancestry Library Edition electronic database. Links to digitized images of original images are provided. Free access to Ancestry Library Edition is available at any location of the Vancouver Public Library. Remote access from home is not available.

  • The Vancouver Public Library collection includes a microfilm copy of 1906 Canadian census records:

    1906 Census of Population of the Northwest Provinces, 11 microfilm reels (1906)
    Ref. 929.3 MA33n
    The census microfilm collection is located on Level 6 of the Central Library.

Online

Although Ancestry Library Edition (see also above) is the most efficient way of searching the 1906 Northwest provinces census, there are several options for those who are unable to visit the Vancouver Public Library or wish to research from home:

  • The original records of the 1906 census have been digitized by Library and Archives Canada and are available online. View the records in Library and Archives Canada's Census of Canada, 1906 database.

  • Index to the 1906 Census of the Northwest Provinces (Automated Genealogy)
    This database represents the efforts of a volunteer project aimed at transcribing and providing free access to the entire 1906 Census of the Northwest Provinces. As of February 1, 2006, about 75% of the records had been transcribed and can be searched by name. Both general and province-specific searches are possible.

The 1911 census was held on June 1, 1911.

According to an electronic index (available at the Vancouver Public Library; see below), 25,060 people reported their birthplace as China in the 1911 Canadian census. Although a few may have been individuals of non-Chinese ethnic origin who happened to have been born in China, most were of Chinese ethnicity. The total number reported above does not, however, indicate individuals born in Canada to parents of Chinese origin.

Chinese-born Canadian residents in the 1911 census were distributed across Canada as follows:

British Columbia 17,477
Alberta 1713
Saskatchewan 947
Manitoba 844
Ontario 2637
Quebec 1229
New Brunswick 83
Nova Scotia 124
Prince Edward Island 6

The database indicates no Chinese-born in the Territories. There is no figure for Newfoundland, since Newfoundland was not at this time part of Canada.

Personal information about each enumerated individual was recorded under the following column headings in the 1911 federal census returns:

  • Name of Each Person in Family, Household, or Institution
  • Place of Habitation
  • Sex
  • Relationship to head of family or household
  • Single, Married, Widowed, Divorced or Legally Separated
  • Month of birth
  • Year of birth
  • Age at last birthday
  • Country or Place of Birth (if Canada specify province or territory)
  • Year of Immigration to Canada, if an Immigrant
  • Year of Naturalization, if Formerly an Alien
  • Racial or Tribal Origin
  • Nationality
  • Religion
  • Chief Occupation or Trade
  • Employment Other Than at Chief Occupation or Trade, if any
  • Employer
  • Employee
  • Working on Own Account

FINDING THE RECORDS

At the Vancouver Public Library

  • A full name index for the Census of Canada, 1911 is available on the Ancestry Library Edition electronic database. Links to digitized images of original records are provided. Free access to Ancestry Library Edition is available at any location of the Vancouver Public Library. Remote access from home is not available.

  • The Vancouver Public Library collection includes a microfilm copy of 1911 census records:

    Fifth census of Canada, 1911, 135 microfilm reels (1911)
    Ref. 929.3 ORC39e

    The census collection is located on Level 6 at the Central Library.

  • On the microfilm reels, records are arranged by census district and subdistricts. In 1911 B.C. was divided into 7 census districts:

    8         Comox-Atlin
    9         Kootenay
    10       Nanaimo
    11       New Westminster
    12       Vancouver
    13       Victoria City
    14       Yale and Cariboo

Online

Although Ancestry Library Edition (see also above) is the most efficient way of searching the 1911 Canadian census, there are several options for those who are unable to visit the Vancouver Public Library or wish to research from home:

  • A complete set of digitized images from the original 1911 census is available in the Library and Archives Canada Census of Canada, 1911 database.

  • Index to the 1911 Census of Canada (Automated Genealogy) is a volunteer project aimed at transcribing and providing free access to the entire 1911 Canadian census. As of February 1, 2006 almost half of the census had been indexed. Surname searches can be done by province. Special care needs to be taken when searching for Chinese individuals, as the transcribers appear not to have applied consistent standards when transcribing the unfamiliar names. For example, there are 4 entries for the Surname Yu in Ontario, but there are also entries for the surnames Yew, You, and Yueu.

In 1916, the federal government conducted a special census of the Prairie Provinces only (Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba), as it had previously done in 1906 after Alberta and Saskatchewan became provinces of the Canadian Confederation.

For more details, see the archival inventory description of Census Returns for 1916 Census of Prairie Provinces.


FINDING THE RECORDS

At the Vancouver Public Library

A full name index for the 1916 Census of Prairie Provinces is available on the Ancestry Library Edition electronic database. Links to digital images of original records are provided. Free access to Ancestry Library Edition is available at all Vancouver Public Library locations. Remote access from home is not available.

The Vancouver Public Library collection includes microfilm copies of all 1916 Census of Prairie Provinces records. The microfilms can be found on Level 6 of the Central Library.

Online

The original records of the 1916 census have been digitized by Library and Archives Canada and are available online. View the records in Library and Archives Canada's Census of Canada, 1916 database.

To locate individuals by name, use the online index titled Canada Census, 1916 on FamilySearch.

The National Registration of 1940 was carried out in order to mobilize human and material resources for the purpose of Canada's defence and security.

All persons 16 years of age or older were required to register. The only exceptions were members of the armed forces and religious orders, or those confined to an institution.

Questionnaires were distributed, which asked for details including name, address, date of birth, age, number of dependents, place and country of birth of the individual and his or her parents, and other information. There was a different form for males and females.


FINDING THE RECORDS

The National Registration File of 1940 records are in the custody of Statistics Canada. They are arranged by electoral district, but an index is available. Searches can be undertaken for a prepaid search fee. For full details, see the 1940 National Registration page from Library and Archives Canada.

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