Ryan Taylor Celebrate the release of the 1906 census
1906 census


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By Ryan Taylor

The long struggle for release of the 1906 census is over. The federal cabinet intervened to release the census, which is now available at the National Archives website.

Release of the post-1901 census had been opposed by Statistics Canada on privacy grounds. Genealogical and historical groups led the campaign to convince the government that researchers needed the information. Many individuals across the country contributed time to the campaign, led by Senator Lorna Milne, our principal spokesperson on Parliament Hill. Global Genealogy provided a website forum for news (it can still be seen at globalgazette.net. The National Archivist, Ian Wilson, was, as always, on the side of the genealogists.

The government will introduce legislation to ensure the early release of the 1911 and subsequent censuses, with the understanding that most of those listed will have died before the information becomes public. This makes clear that the census, and the information they contain, belong to the Canadian people and not to the bureaucrats of Statistics Canada.

The 1906 census was for the Northwest Territories only. In 2003 terms, this means Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The population on the prairies since 1901 had swollen with the arrival of so many new settlers from the east and directly from Europe. What has been released is the digital version of the original holograph records. It is not an index. As with any unindexed census record, you will need to be ready to spend time searching.

Once you go to the website, be sure to read the introduction, so you know exactly what you are seeing, and familiarize yourself with the Census Maps and Districts section. A knowledge of the geography of your area is essential to using this tool.

The locales are mostly listed by number. You may be able to use the contemporary maps on the site to guess which numbered township is the one you want. You may need to have access to other documents which compare the 1906 districts in Manitoba to the modern Rural Municipalities or villages where your family lived. There were only 10 districts in the 1906 census, each covering vast parts of the province.

Once you have chosen a particular district, go to the Search the Database area, put in your keywords and see what comes up. It took me five tries to come up with anything, because my information did not match what the computer wanted. The terms used on the 'no results' screen do not help you solve the problem, either, so don't give up. Try again.

The image you see is a very high-quality picture of the original census book. You can zoom around on the page, bringing the image closer (which is necessary) and moving back and forth.

The usual census information is there-name, age, birthplace, but not occupation. Very useful is the year of immigration to Canada. On the pages I saw, most of the dates given were after 1900. Some of those listed were new arrivals, landing in the very year the census was taken.

The process is a slow one, requiring plenty of work with your mouse. From the time you enter the 1906 census site to actually viewing names on the page you have chosen, you may have made more than two dozen clicks.

The census is also available on microfilm. Copies have been placed in a selection of institutions nation-wide, and they will also be available in the usual way through interlibrary loan from the National Archives.

Genealogists everywhere should thank Allan Rock, federal minister responsible for Statistics Canada, whose commitment to serving the best interests of the whole country led to this decision. Thanks also go to everyone who worked so hard to convince the government to make it possible.

Posted February 1, 2003
Column copyright © 2003 Ryan Taylor

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