Release of the 1931 Canadian Census

On June 1, 2023, the Canadian government will release the digitized records of the 1931 Census of Canada. This highly anticipated event will reveal a snapshot of life for more than 10 million people living in Canada then. Canadian law dictates that census records be kept private for 92 years, but following the release, nearly 235,000 images will be available to browse on the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) website. After the initial release of these digitized records, LAC will partner with Ancestry® and FamilySearch International to read the images using Ancestry’s® state-of-the-art handwriting technology and check the index for accuracy. These collaborative efforts will create an advanced searchable database of records of Canadian residents.

The 1931 Census was Canada’s 7th census (though earlier colonial and regional censuses dated back as early as 1666). The first Census of Canada was enumerated in 1871 and continued every ten years thereafter. On June 1, 1931, an estimated 15,000 enumerators went to work. Canada stretches across 3.8 million square miles, so this was no easy task. Members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were enlisted as enumerators in more isolated parts to the north, compiling census questionnaires to within 800 miles of the North Pole. For the first time, census officials didn’t need to wait for those results to arrive via ship. Instead, they sent the tallies using radio transmission or airplanes, and the official returns arrived sometime later via steamship.

The Windsor Star – Windsor, Ontario, Canada: 15 April 1931

The 1931 Census included questions with more than 40 fields of personal information. The population schedule aimed to count every person living in Canada, with one exception. Babies born after June 1, 1931, but before the enumerator arrived at the door, were not counted.

The Ottawa Citizen – Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: 30 May 1931

In addition to the population schedule, the 1931 Census contained five additional schedules that gathered information on 1- Agriculture; 2- Livestock; 3- Merchandising and service establishments; 4- The blind, deaf, and mute; and 5- Institutions (including penal institutions, hospitals, mental health hospitals, and sanitoriums).

Most citizens cooperated with enumerators, though there were exceptions. Some farmers complained about how long it took to answer questions on the agriculture schedule and hid from enumerators. A few others refused to answer questions about their earnings and were threatened with prosecution. One religious group presented a big challenge for enumerators.  

The Gazette – Grand Forks, British Columbia, Canada: 19 June 1931

The Doukhobors, a group of Russian dissenters whose rejection of the Russian Orthodox Church brought them to Canada, created a ruckus for census officials. A small Doukhobor splinter group, the Sons of Freedom, rejected Canadian government authority. So when census enumerators came knocking, they refused to answer and tried to scare away enumerators with nude protest parades or by supplying farcical answers to questions. Authorities issued arrest warrants and eventually imprisoned some for refusing to cooperate.  

Canadian newspapers provide vivid accounts of efforts made to conduct the 1931 Census of Canada accurately. To read more historical newspaper stories related to the 1931 Census of Canada and to search our Canadian papers, visit™ today.

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