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, reach us at or 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).

Want a slightly deeper dive? Statistics Canada provides a nice summary on the history of the Census and a timeline of changes since 1666..


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 continued to rely on the 2006 Census for substantive information.The 2006 census long form questionnaire (PDF) included 53 additional questions on a variety of subjects, including education, ethnicity, mobility, income, and employment. There has since been a 2016 census long form questionnaire


For detailed information on census terminology, see the 2021 Census Dictonary. As Statistics Canada may make changes to terminology between censuses, you will need to refer to each 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. 

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 2021 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 Block (DB): A dissemination block  is an area bounded on all sides by roads and/or boundaries of standard geographic areas. The dissemination block is the smallest geographic area for which population and dwelling counts are disseminated. Dissemination blocks cover all the territory of Canada.
  • 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

Census data for 2021 will be released on a schedule throughout 2022. 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.

2016 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.

2016 Analysis series

A series of articles which analyze 2016 Census data by topic (e.g., education, income and earnings). These articles generally provide comparisons with previous census years. 

2016 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.

2016 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.)

2016 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.

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 is archived on the Web and has not been updated to include any subsequent Census.

Reference materials

Guide to the 2021 Census
Provides an overview and a history of the census, as well as including the answers to numerous frequently asked questions.

2021 Census Dictionary
Provides detailed information on every aspect of the Census of Population and Census of Agriculture, including definitions of census terms. The Census Dictionary features a Complete A to Z index.

Reference materials
Reference guides focus on particular topics (e.g., ethnic origin, income and earnings) and provide information to help users to effectively apply and interpret data. Technical reports are formalized reports produced for the 2021 Census.

2021 Census questionnaires and guides
The 2021 Census included new content including gender and employment specific questions.

2016 Census questionnaires and guides
Statistics Canada reinstated the mandatory long-form census in time for the 2016 Census of Population. As such, a sample of approximately 25% of Canadian households received a long-form questionnaire. All other households received a short-form questionnaire.

2011 Census questionnaires and guides
Includes short forms only. The voluntary National Household Survey, which replaced the Mandatory Long Form Census is not included with the census.

2006 Census questionnaires and guides:
Includes short and long guides to the 2006 Census questionnaires.

Earlier online censuses (2016, 2011, 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.

Historical Census Products

Censuses of Canada 1665 -1871: 343 data tables on the social and economic conditions in Canada from the earliest settlements to 1871. Requires (free) Beyond 20/20 software to access.

Access PDFs of historical Census from 1851 - present from Publishing and Depository Services Directorate under Public Services and Procurement Canada.

InfoGuide: Historical Resources: This guide lists sources of historical statistics produced by Statistics Canada and its predecessor agencies. The guide also lists sources of information about the history of the Canadian census, surveys and statistical programs, and Statistics Canada

Statistics Canada, in partnership with the Internet Archive, has digitized much of its print collection including historical Censuses. Search or browse over 2700 publications.


Genealogical research

Library and Archives Canada provides electronic access to Canadian Census records between 1825 -1926 enabling researchers to view individual's records. Acces ends here, however, because Census returns after 1926 are in the custody of Statistics Canada. The Statistics Act and the Act to Amend the Statistics Act do not permit the disclosure of personal information from post-1926 census returns. Additionally, Library and Archives Canada provides some additional guidance on other resources relevant to genealogical research on their Censuses guide.

The Census and your family history: Statistics Canada's guide walks you through the history of the Census and how you can use it to research your family history in Canada.

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.

How to map Canadian Census data

Thematic maps are often used to represent Census data visually. A thematic map based on Census data can reveal spatial patterns and can communicate the data visually. Want to learn more? Check out our guide on "How to Map Canadian Census Data".

Databases and software

 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 from 1971 forward. In some cases, you will need to identify the Census Tract (CT) Name. Each CT is assigned a seven‑character numeric "name" (including leading zeros, decimal point and trailing zeros). To uniquely identify each CT in its corresponding CMA or tracted CA, the three‑digit CMA or CA code must precede the CT name. More information on identifying CT Names will be found in the Census Data Dictionary.

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.

SimplyAnalytics (formerly 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)

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

Citing census products

How to cite statistical data
Library guide for citing Statistics Canada, PCensus, and CHASS data.

How to cite census products
A citation guide available at the Statistics Canada website.

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 at