Friday 22 March 2019

Stand Up and Be Counted

In the variety of records available to historians and genealogists, censuses are among the most useful. They are a snapshot of the population at a particular time. The data can be overwhelmingly voluminous, but a lot can be learned both about the population and about individual citizens.

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.

"The Census is the decennial stock-taking of the nation, designed to show from the widest angle the point that has been reached in the general progress of the nation. More particularly, it measures the human element in the state - their numbers, sex, age, conjugal condition, nationality, occupation, religions, etc., etc. ... It is not only the duty, but the legal obligation of all members of the community to answer all Census questions as fully and accurately as possible."

May 12, 1931

MN AH20.53
Archbishop McNeil Fonds

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.-

M AC21.01
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."


Other pastors actually listed each family in an area, which is great for genealogists!

Census of Catholics on the Dundas Mission, page one

December 1833

M AC04.01
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

HO 13.43

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!

No comments:

Post a Comment