Though there were censuses as far back as ancient times, the first census in North America was completed in 1666 by Jean Talon, the Indendant of New France. He listed 3,215 people living in and around Quebec City, Montreal, and Trois-Rivieres, and used the information to plan how to make the population and economy of the colony grow.
After confederation, a census of Canada was taken every ten years starting in 1871. The first census was important to ensure the makeup of parliament accurately represented the population.
In 1931 Canada's first Dominion Statistician, Robert H. Coats, wrote to Archbishop McNeil to convey the importance of the general Census of Canada and to ask for his help in urging parishioners to participate. He highlighted that the information collected would only be used for statistical purposes because historically censuses had been used in some places to identify who to tax or who could serve in the military.
Governments aren't the only ones who use censuses to make plans for the people they represent. The Church also needs statistics to be able to responsibly and effectively allocate resources and enhance programming. In addition to using the civil census to track the population and demographics of an area, the Archdiocese also collects statistics about each parish.
The earliest example we could find of a bishop collecting statistical information about the area in his care was this 1827 document. Though it doesn't list the individuals in the area, it has the number of Catholic males and females under and over the age of 16 in South Western Ontario.
|Return of the Roman Catholick (sic.) population of the Western District of the Province of Upper Canada for 1827.-|
Bishop Macdonell Fonds
There were several examples of documents like the one below, which was created for St. Paul's Parish in 1838. It tells us that in the area that St. Paul's served (the City of Toronto and area - 1,296 square miles!), the population is 2,500, of which about 750 generally attend mass. Under "Remarks," it notes that the people are "Labourers & poor mechanics - very few rich though several are respectable;" and of the church, "There is no school - no sacristy - no bell - Burying ground attached not well fenced."
|Census of Catholics on the Dundas Mission, page one|
Bishop Macdonell Fonds
Some even went as far as to canvas Toronto neighbourhoods collecting information such as the name of the head of each family, the ages of the inhabitants, religion, and occupation. ARCAT has a few notebooks listing residents of the wards of St. David, St. Lawrence, St. James, St. George, St. Andrew, St. John, and St. Patrick. Below is an example of John Elmsley's 1847 list showing some Queen St. inhabitants.
|1847 Census of St. Patrick's and St. James Wards|
ARCAT Holograph Collection
Library and Archives Canada has databases available on their website for searching censuses from 1926 and earlier. You can find information about your ancestors such as their levels of education, their employment, and the type of home they lived in. You can check that out on the Library and Archives Canada Website.
If you'd like to check out the Catholic "censuses" that we have here in the archives, check out our website for more information!