Ryan Taylor 1911 Canadian census is finally here
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By Ryan Taylor

The 1911 Canadian federal census has been released for public viewing.

After a seven-year campaign waged by genealogical and historical societies across Canada, the House of Commons approved a bill which enshrined the idea of releasing the census after 92 years.

This will apply to 1911 and every other census up to 2001 (to be released in 2093).

Statistics Canada, which has custody of the census until its transfer to Library and Archives Canada, had tried to block release of the census, arguing that promises of unending privacy made in 1911 made release impossible. Careful searching in the 1911 documents turned up no such promise.

The fight has been led by Gordon Watts of Port Coquitlam, B.C., whose mild manner cloaks the tenacity of a bulldog. He disproved the 'privacy promise' argument and organized cross-Canada petitions and letter writing campaigns to MPs.

When asked why he felt so strongly about it, he replied that he had questions about his grandparents that he wanted to answer.

His parliamentary partner was Senator Lorna Milne, who took on the thankless task of lobbying other senators and MPs and shepherding the bills through. It is a long process of writing the bill, working in committees and then having it passed in both houses. She would convince one cabinet minister of the worthiness of her cause, only to have someone new take on the office.

Both Milne and Watts deserve the gratitude of genealogists across Canada.

The census can be found at http://www.collectionscanada.ca/archivianet/1911/index-e.html. Access to it is free. LAC has provided a good introduction and instructions.

Researchers will find digitized copies of the census pages, and a listing of the census districts and subdistricts, organized by province.

There is no nominal index. For now, we must do what we did before the days of census indexing-search page-by-page looking for the persons we need. Use the list of districts to find the one you need, fill in the form online and away you go. Keep in mind that most places have more than one section.

Once you reach the census page itself, it can be made larger or smaller for easy viewing and manipulated in other ways, similar to the online indexes provided by Ancestry.com and the National Archives in Great Britain. The default is 23 per cent, which means you see the whole page and cannot read any of it, but one click brings the page to 100 per cent (or its full size) and it is easy to read.

Although LAC indicates that some pages are faded or difficult to read, all of the ones I examined were legible. The questions asked are similar to those on 1901 and include birthdates (month and year), and year of immigration to Canada.

It is possible to cut and paste sections of the page (which is an improvement on the Ancestry.com indexes). I selected one family group, copied it to the clipboard, then transferred to Word and printed it for future reference. This is a step up from having to copy it by hand. The finished product is suitable for printing in your family history. Even better, you can select a small piece of the page and blow it up or print it for later study. One entry was unclear to me: 1882 or 1892? I copied it in large and took it to a friend for his opinion.

Microfilm copies of the census will also be available and can be purchased and ordered on interlibrary loan.

I hope Gordon Watts was able to answer his questions about his grandparents. My own hot topic - did my mysterious great-grandfather give us any clues about his background - led to more lies and obfuscation. You have to give it to the old guy, he sure knew how to confuse us.

Posted August 6, 2005
Column copyright © 2005 Ryan Taylor

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