Click on a province to get a listing of the census districts for that province, followed by a list of sub-districts and their descriptions.
The census sub-districts in western Canada were based on a unique checkerboard survey developed for the Prairies by the Canadian government. This system covered 200 million acres and is the world's largest survey grid laid down in a single integrated system. It led to the creation of more than 1.25 million homesteads.
The basic unit of the survey is the 36-square mile township. The townships are arranged in rows that run parallel to the international border (the 49th parallel). Each row is numbered progressively from the border, with the row closest to the border numbered 1, the second closest numbered 2, etc. The townships in each row are distinguished by their distance or range from a meridian. The column of townships closest to the meridian is designated as range 1, the second closest as range 2, etc. Generally, the ranges are numbered from east to west (the exception being the ranges on the east side of the Principal Meridian, which are numbered from west to east).
The federal surveyors established seven major meridians, which acted as baselines for surveying and numbering the townships. The first (or principal or prime) meridian was established on the international border, near Emerson, Manitoba, at longitude 97° 27' 28'' W (of Greenwich). Subsequent meridians were surveyed at consistent intervals along more regular longitudes. For example, the second meridian falls on the 102° longitude (near the present-day Manitoba-Saskatchewan border), the third on 106°, the fourth on 110° (which also constitutes the Alberta-Saskatchewan border), the fifth on 114°, the sixth on 118° and the coast meridian on 122°. Townships are described according to the last meridian that lies to the east of the township. Therefore, a homestead in southern Alberta is described as "W4M" or "W4" or west of the fourth meridian. Only lands located along the east side of the prime meridian take their description from the meridian along their west side. Therefore, a homestead near the Manitoba-Ontario border is described as located "EPM" or "E1" or east of the principal meridian.
As an example, sub-district 26 in the census district of Assiniboia is described as consisting of "townships 9, 10 and 11, ranges 1, 2 and 3, west of the second meridian, including the village of Wawota." In other words, sub-district 26 consists of the townships west of the 2nd meridian that lie in rows 1 to 3 and columns 9 to 11; the village of Wawota is located within this area.