Census of Canada, 1891

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How the Census Was Collected

The 1891 Census marked the third regularly scheduled collection of national statistics. It officially began April 6, 1891.

A total of 241 commissioners were appointed to coordinate the census. Reporting to the commissioners, 4,324 enumerators were then assigned to a clearly defined area.

Enumerators visited 201 census districts, divided into 2,475 sub-districts. These units were made up of cities, towns, groups of townships, Indian reserves, and other less defined areas.

Enumerators collected information for 4,833,239 individuals distributed as follows:

  • British Columbia (98,173)
  • Manitoba (152,506)
  • New Brunswick (321,263)
  • Northwest Territories (98,967)
  • Nova Scotia (450,396)
  • Ontario (2,114,321)
  • Prince Edward Island (109,078)
  • Quebec (1,488,535)

From Paper to Microfilm

In 1955, the Dominion Bureau of Statistics was authorized by the Public Records Committee to microfilm and destroy the original paper records of the 1891 Census. As a result, only a microfilm copy of the census exists as an archival holding. The microfilming of these records was not of consistent quality and not all images are readable.

The digitized images were scanned from the microfilms of the 1891 Census. Note that the pages were not microfilmed in order.  As exact copies, a page that was unreadable on microfilm will also be unreadable on your computer screen. Title pages from the microfilm have not been scanned, and contained this information:

  • Census year (i.e. 1891)
  • Province or territory
  • District number and name
  • Sub-district number and name
  • Number of pages in the sub-district. The pages are not always ordered consecutively and in some cases may not exist.

These records and those of previous censuses are described in the Statistics Canada fonds, formerly Record Group 31 (RG31).

Column Headings and Interpretation

Column 1. Vessels and shanties
A count of the vessels or shanties. To be numbered in the order visited by the enumerator.

Column 2. Houses in construction
A count of the houses in construction. To be numbered in the order visited by the enumerator.

Column 3. Houses uninhabited
A count of the houses uninhabited. To be numbered in the order visited by the enumerator.

Column 4. Houses inhabited
A count of the houses inhabited. To be numbered in the order visited by the enumerator.

Column 5. Families
A count of the family or household. Two or more families that occupied the same house were to be numbered separately.

Column 6. Names
Were to be entered with the surname (or last name) first.

Column 7. Sex
Denoted by the letter “m” for male and “f” for female.

Column 8. Age

  • At last birthday.
  • For children under one year of age, fractions were used (for example, to indicate 2 months, "2/12" was written).

Column 9. Married or widowed
Denoted by the letter “m” for married or “w” for widow or widower.

Column 10. Relation to head of family
Denoted by the letter “w” for wife, “d” for daughter, “s” for son or “dom” for domestic.

Column 11. Country or province of birth

  • For people born outside of Canada, the name of the country of origin (for example, England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, France, and so on).
  • For people born in Canada, the name of the province.

Column 12. French Canadians
The number of French Canadians and French Acadians.

Column 13. Place of birth of father

  • If the father was born outside of Canada, the name of the country was entered.
  • If the father was born in Canada, the name of the province was entered.

Column 14. Place of birth of mother

  • If the mother was born outside of Canada, the name of the country was entered.
  • If the mother was born in Canada, the name of the province was entered.

Column 15. Religion

  • The religion to which an individual claimed to belong, written in full.
  • Abbreviations were used if the name was too long.

Column 16. Profession, occupation or trade

  • More than one profession, occupation, or trade can be listed.
  • Sons following in the profession or occupation of their father were to have the same description as their father entered into the census.
  • Individuals studying a profession or trade were to be noted as students of that profession or trade.
  • Individuals in college were to be entered as students; however, school children were not to be entered as students.
  • For those who had no other occupation aside from a share of the household work, a symbol for nothing-to-be-recorded was entered.

Column 17. Employers

Column 18. Wage earner

Column 19. Unemployed during week preceding census

Column 20. Employer to state average number of hands employed during year


Column 21. Read

Column 22. Write


Column 23. Deaf and dumb

Column 24. Blind

Column 25. Unsound mind
The degree of the infirmity needed to have reached the stage of incapacity to be noted.

Common abbreviations


  • M (Male)
  • F (Female)

Marital Status

  • M (Married)
  • W (Widowed)

Provinces and Territories


  • Jan. (January)
  • Feb. (February)
  • Mar. (March)
  • Apr. (April)
  • Aug. (August)
  • Sept. (September)
  • Oct. (October)
  • Nov. (November)
  • Dec. (December)


  • B.C. (Bible Christian)
  • C. (of) E. (Church of England)
  • C. (of) S. (Church of Scotland)
  • E.M.C. (Episcopal Methodist Church)
  • F.C. (Free Church–Presbyterian))
  • M.E.C. (Methodist Episcopal Church)
  • P.C.L.P. (Presbyterian–Canada and Lower Provinces)
  • P.F.C. (Presbyterian Free Church)
  • R.P. (Reformed Presbyterian)
  • U.P. (United Presbyterian)
  • W.M. (Wesleyan Methodist)

Relationship to the Head of the Household

  • Dom (Domestic)
  • L (Lodger)


  • Items to be counted as one were to be indicated by either a downward stroke (|) or the figure "1."
  • Items to be counted as zero were to be indicated by a dash (-) or the space was left blank.
  • A dash (-) was written whenever NO was the answer or there was nothing to be recorded.
  • The number “1” was written whenever YES was the answer.
  • Ditto marks (" or do) were used, except where specifically prohibited under the instructions.
  • Residential dwellings were described using letters and numbers such as “S2/6” for a stone house, two stories, six rooms or “W ½” for a wooden house, one story, two rooms.


The enumeration data were collected using 9 documents, known as schedules, which included a total of 216 questions.

  • Schedule 1, Population
  • Schedule 2, Deaths that had occurred in the last twelve months
  • Schedule 3, Real estate, orchard products, nurseries, vineyards and market gardens
  • Schedule 4, Farm products and all relating to agriculture
  • Schedule 5, Livestock and animal products
  • Schedule 6, Industrial establishments
  • Schedule 7, Products of the forest
  • Schedule 8, Production related to shipping and mining
  • Schedule 9, Fisheries

Only schedule 1 has been preserved.

Instructions to Enumerators

Instructions to enumerators were given on how to collect the names and other information in 1891.  Those instructions can be found in Manual Containing the "Census Act" and the Instructions to Officers Employed in the Taking of the Third Census in Canada, 1891. Ottawa: Department of Agriculture, Census Branch, 1891 (AMICUS 10084463)

Published statistics:
Census of Canada, 1890-91 = Recensement du Canada, 1890-91

Issues about this Census and this Database

Some census records have not survived. Consult the list of 1891 Census Districts and Sub-districts to find out what sub-districts are missing. 

For the 1891 census, the pages were not microfilmed in order.  The database reflects this information and by using the Advanced Search Options, you can perform a search for a specific page.

In 1891, institutions (convents, hospitals, asylums, etc.) were enumerated separately in one block and appear on microfilm reel T-6427.

Electoral Maps

No electoral maps were created for this census. However, you may consult the Electoral Atlas of Canada 1895.

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