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Statistics: Canadian Census

The Census of Canada gathers information on the demographic, social and economic conditions of the country's population. This guide will help you to locate online and print census data. If you don't find what you need, contact us by chat, email, or phone via our Ask Us services, or stop by the Reference Desk at any Library branch.

Census history

The first census of New France was conducted in 1666. Censuses were taken intermittently until 1851 when legislation was passed requiring that censuses be conducted every ten years. The ten-year (or decennial) census is the major census; it is taken in years ending with a 1 (e.g., 1991, 2001). This is the census used by the Chief Electoral Officer to redistribute seats in Parliament. In 1956, a five-year (or quinquennial) census began to be conducted; this census is taken in years ending with a 6 (e.g., 1996, 2006). Changes are made to the Census when necessary (e.g., when new data is required).


Most households (80%) receive a short census questionnaire, which is used to determine statistics such as population, age, sex, and marital status. In 2011, the government eliminated the mandatory long form census and replaced it with an optional voluntary National Household Survey. As a result, researchers continue to rely on the 2006 Census for substantive information.The 2006 Census long questionnaire (PDF) included 53 additional questions on a variety of subjects, including education, ethnicity, mobility, income, and employment.


For detailed information on census terminology, see the Census Dictionary.

The following terms are useful for understanding census information:

  • Census Universes: Universes refer to what is counted. There are four universes: Population, Families, Households, and Dwellings. Census questions must relate to one of these four universes.
  • Variables: Variables are symbols or terms to which numerical values can be assigned (e.g., age is a census variable). Some variables are based on 100% data and some are based on 20% data (for more on 100% and 20% data.

Geographic levels

Data from the census is available for various geographic areas, including Canada as a whole, the provinces and territories, and a range of smaller areas. See the 2011 Census Dictionary's A to Z index for the definition of a particular geographic area. Here are some of the most important geographic areas:

  • Dissemination Area (DA): A small area composed of one or more neighbouring blocks with a population of 400 to 700 persons.
  • Census Tract (CT): A permanent, neighbourhood-like community located in a large urban area (>50,000), which generally has a population between 2,500 and 8,000. Census tracts are assigned numbers rather than names. Data from census tracts are good for local area analysis in urban planning, educational research, and market research.
  • Federal Electoral District (FED): An area represented by a Member of Parliament (MP) elected to the House of Commons.
  • Census Subdivision (CSD): A municipality or an area treated as equivalent to a municipality for statistical purposes (e.g., an Indian reserve or an unorganized territory). This is the level for finding data about an entire city such as Vancouver or Burnaby.
  • Census Metropolitan Area (CMA): An area composed of one or more neighbouring municipalities with an urban core. A CMA has a population of at least 100,000.
  • Census Agglomeration (CA): An area composed of one or more neighbouring municipalities with an urban core. A CA must have an urban core population of at least 10,000.
  • Forward Sortation Area (FSA): The first three characters of a postal code. The average number of households that share the same FSA is 8,000, but the number can range from zero to more than 60,000 households.

Census products (online)

The following data comes from the Census of Canada. For information on BC statistics, you should also consult the Library guide British Columbia Statistics. For help choosing the correct census product, see the guide Which Census Product Should I Choose?

Find latest data from the 2016 Census


Latest census information

Check the Census of Canada website for the latest information on census products. In addition, The Daily is a searchable bulletin with up-to-date Statistics Canada product release information.

Population and dwelling counts

Population and dwelling count tables are available at a variety of geographic levels, including Canada, provinces and territories, Census Subdivisions, and Census Metropolitan Areas and Census Agglomerations.

Analysis series

A series of articles which analyze 2011 Census data by topic (e.g., education, income and earnings). These articles generally provide comparisons with previous census years.

Profiles by topic and geographic area

  • Releases by topic: Statistical overviews of various geographic areas focusing on particular subjects (e.g., language, marital status).
  • Census Profiles: Presents information from the 2011 Census of Population for various levels of geography, including provinces and territories, census metropolitan areas, communities and census tracts.

Topic-based tabulations

As their name suggests, topic-based tabulations are tables based on topics, including housing and shelter costs, and immigration and citizenship. The content of these tables ranges from simple overviews to complex cross-tabulations.

Tables tend to appear in HTML format. They are also often available to be downloaded in one of the following file formats: CSV (comma-separated values), PRN (tab-separated values), or IVT (Beyond 20/20). (Note: you can download Beyond 20/20 software from Statistics Canada for free.)

Geographic maps

  • Reference maps: Geographic maps for census tracts and dissemination areas.
  • Thematic maps: These maps show the spatial distribution of one or more specific data themes for geographic areas.
  • GeoSearch: An interactive mapping tool that allows you to find any location in Canada and provides basic Census data for your chosen location.

Census trends summarize data spanning three censuses: 2006, 2001 and 1996. This resource allows you to analyze and compare the changing demographic and socio-economic composition of selected geographic areas across Canada. It also allows you to compare data for two geographic areas. This resource has not been updated to include the 2011 census.

Reference materials

Earlier online censuses (2006, 2001, 1996)

The following earlier censuses may be readily accessed online and can be accessed in a variety of ways, including by topic, geography, population and dwelling counts, highlight tables, topic-based tabulations, and geographic area profiles.

Our Census products

If you are looking for statistics from a particular census year, use Browse Search in the Library catalogue to search by subject using the following words (in this exact order): Canada Census [your census year]. For example, if you wanted statistics from the 1971 Census, you could search the following subject in the catalogue: Canada Census 1971.

For all census data from 1901-1976, you will need to use print sources. (Note: PCensus includes some census data from 1981 to present.)

Databases and software

  • PCensus contains census data for Canada, the provinces and all census subdivisions since 1981. It also contains data for BC to the census tract level since 1981. PCensus allows you to compare variables for two or more different areas. It also allows you to compare the same area over several census years. In addition, the database allows you to create your own geographic areas and find census information for these areas. This database is only available on standalone computers near the Bennett or Belzberg Library Reference Desks.
  • Canadian Census Analyser includes Census tables with summary statistics for a variety of geographic levels, as well as microdata files with random samples of raw data from census records.
  • SimplyMap Canada: a web-based mapping application that enables users to create thematic maps and reports using Canadian demographic, business, and consumer data. SimplyMap Canada provides the following nationwide data, sourced from publishers such as Statistics Canada, Environics Analytics Group, and D&B (Dun & Bradstreet)
  • Library Data Services can assist with access to Statistics Canada surveys via the Data Liberation Initiative.

For help choosing the correct census product, see the guide Which Census Product Should I Choose?

Citing census products

Custom services

It is possible to obtain custom census products for a fee. Basic information about types of products and prices are available online at the Statistics Canada website.

If you cannot find the information you need, contact Library Data Services.