Why we are excited about the 1931 Census

By Sara Chatfield

Welcome to Library and Archives Canada’s blog series on the 1931 Census! This was the seventh census in Canadian history. The release of the 1931 Census records is an excellent opportunity to learn more about ourselves as a country. The lives of over 10 million people who were living in Canada in 1931 will be unveiled very soon. By law, personal information in a census cannot be made public until 92 years after the census was completed. We have been waiting a long time for this, and the date of the release is fast approaching.

A typed page with the words “Dominion Bureau of Statistics” and “Canada” written at the top, a crest, and a stamp with an x over it.

The cover page of the official publication of the Seventh Census of Canada, 1931 (OCLC 796971519)

There are quite a few steps that must be completed to provide the 234,678 images of the 1931 Census online. These are briefly mentioned in Preparing the 1931 Census. This blog series will fill in some of the blanks and help in bringing the census to life. It will answer questions about how the census was compiled, the questions that were asked, how we are making it available, and other topics that will widen our collective appreciation of just how important censuses are to present and future generations.

Census returns are extremely valuable research tools for genealogists, historians, scholars and all Canadians who want to explore the past. The original purpose of the census was to help determine parliamentary representation based on population. But censuses are so much more than that! These documents provide information about the makeup of Canada, the history of Canadian families and societal changes that were happening at the time.

A census entry for a household is a snapshot into Canadians’ lives in that era. Each page tells two stories. First, it tells the story of a family: their names, ages, religion and other elements of their identity. Second, the entry gives the context of their story within Canada: their neighbours, home, occupation, employment status and community. The 1931 Census delves into not only where people lived, but also how: in homes with extended families, within their immigrant communities, in rooming houses, and in institutions.

A map of Canada showing different-sized black dots.

A map from the administrative report of the Seventh Census of Canada, 1931 (OCLC 1007482727)

Even if you have not been bitten by the genealogy bug, the 1931 Census can still be of interest. You can learn more about your city or province, such as the industries or patterns of employment in given areas. Census returns can even help researchers to find more information about particular communities. They can give us hints about who lived at an address and when, and provide some information about their circumstances, including whether they spoke English or French, could read and write, or went to school. The 1931 Census also asked a new question: “Has this family a radio?” This will be fascinating to those who are interested in the emergence of telecommunications in Canada. It is also a measure of how quickly and broadly information could be disseminated. You can witness the early days of a new form of popular culture on the rise. Exciting, right?

We suspect that there will be many prominent Canadians in this census. But we will not know for sure until we have the completed index. Later this year, when the index is released, you will be able to search by name for people such as labour union activist and citizenship judge Stanley Grizzle, Kanien’kehá:ka activist Mary Two-Axe Earley, actors William Shatner and Gordon Pinsent, artist Pauline Julien, singer La Bolduc, painter Kazuo Nakamura, and Black activist Viola Desmond. You may be able to learn more about their early lives!

Join us in our journey to learn what Canadian households looked like on Monday, June 1, 1931!

And stay tuned for upcoming blog posts about this significant census release.

Sara Chatfield is a project manager in the Client Services division at Library and Archives Canada.