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CanGenealogy Canadian Genealogy 1931 census introduction
The 1931 census of Canada showed the population, at 10.3 million, had risen by about 18 per cent since the previous national census in 1921. It also revealed that the population shift to the west was continuing, as was the movement to urban areas from rural.

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The 1931 census of Canada, the seventh national census since Confederation in 1867, was undertaken on June 1, 1931. It took several months to complete the census, but the June 1 date was key; people who died after that date were to be included, and children born after that date were to be ignored.

The census was opened for research on June 1, 2023 and is available to browse on the Library and Archives Canada website. Plans call for it to be indexed by name by the end of the summer.

More information on the plans will be found on the Preparing the 1931 Census page on the Library and Archives Canada website.

Most enumerators filed their reports with the government within a couple of months, although the last entries were not submitted until the following March. In the end, the 1931 census found 10,376,786 people in Canada, an increase of about 18 per cent from 1921. It also showed the trends of increasing population in the west, and of the growth of urban areas at the expense of rural areas, were continuing.

The primary reason to compile information on the people of Canada was to determine representation in the federal Parliament, but the work had several other uses as well.

The 1931 census had six schedules:
1. Population
2. Agriculture
3. Livestock, fruit growing, etc. in towns
4. Merchandising and service establishments
5. Blindness and deaf-mutism
6. Institutions, including penal, mental and neurological, child-caring, homes for adults, hospitals sanitoria, dispensaries, clinics and day nurseries

The population schedule -- the one to be posted online in June -- had questions dealing with the name, family, kind of dwelling, age, sex, conjugal condition, birthplace, citizenship or nationality, racial origin, language, religion, education, occupation, unemployment and more.

The questions about unemployment were added after consultation with federal and provincial government authorities and leading labour organizations. The idea was that the information gathered would help the governments develop policies regarding unemployment and labour problems generally.

The census posed a challenge for enumerators because so many people, mainly men of working age, were roaming the country looking for employment. The transient nature of the population increased the danger that people could be missed, or counted twice.

On the other hand, the thousands of unemployed people gave the government an eager pool of potential enumerators, because paying jobs were in high demand. Enumerators were paid a base rate of five cents per person counted -- so they had the incentive to include as many people as they could -- and were required to work every day, starting June 1, until their finished their count. They also operated under strict rules to safeguard accuracy, confidentiality, and more.

For example: "(1) That no question has inserted merely for the gratification of curiosity or because the information would be interesting, but only because it has a bearing on basic, social or economic conditions; and (2) that the answers given by the individual are absolutely confidential, every employee of the census being under oath and penalty against revealing any individual item, and the bureau of statistics itself being forbidden to issue any statement that would lay bare any personal matter.

"Though the name of each person is taken down this is not for the purpose of associating the individual with any of the facts that are recorded, but merely as a check on the accuracy of the enumeration. The census is first and last for statistical purposes and cannot be made the basis of any direct administrative action. Let it also be noted that the census enumerators are required to use courtesy and tact in collecting the information, though refusal to answer a census question is penalized by statute."

(Fortunately, the restrictions based on confidentiality have been lifted, allowing researchers to see the census returns 92 years after they were compiled.)

The country was divided into census districts, which corresponded as closely as possible to the federal constituencies and the time, and the districts were divided into sub-districts which generally had 600 to 800 people in rural areas and 1,000 to 1,800 people in urban areas.

The sub-districts were allotted to enumerators, the only people who would be in contact with the public. The enumerators would conduct the house to house and farm to farm canvassing. In 1931, the census had 15,000 enumerators, all of whom were required to pass a practical test in the work before being appointed.

The federal government did its best to encourage people to take part.

"Perfection of organization is not claimed, for census-taking, in Canada as in other countries, is still in process of development. Nevertheless the census merits the support of each and every citizen as a patriotic duty, notwithstanding features that may be irksome. The census is taken for the benefit of the community as a whole and therefore directly or indirectly of every member of the community."

Also: "Never before has there been the like need for census information. Since the last census the aftermath of the war, setting up new strains and stresses and generally creating conditions of the utmost consequence to our national future, has left scarcely a branch of the national life untouched. Especially is an appraisement of the national status necessary at the present moment of acute economic depression. An appeal to the people is therefore made to assist in this great national undertaking by furnishing the information fully and accurately and this helping to render the census worthy of the Dominion and of the serious purposes which it has in view."

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