Which Census Product Should I Use?

SFU Library provides access to a variety of different census products in a variety of formats. Choosing the best product to use for your project can be difficult. This guide is designed to assist you in this choice.

You can also review the available Specialty census products to help you determine which product to use, or consult the Tabular Summary for a quick overview of the information in this guide.

What census year(s) do you need?

  • Census data is available for Canada for the years 1851 to the present. From 1851-1951, the census was taken every ten years. From 1956 to the present, the census is taken every 5 years. Census data is also available for New France, Acadia, and other colonial-era governmental bodies.
  • Print census products are available for years 1851-1996 at the Bennett Library (Burnaby campus).
  • The Census of Canada website has limited coverage of the 1996 census and detailed coverage of the 2001, 2006 and 2011 Censuses.
  • PCensus covers the years 1981-2006.

What census geography level do you need?

The type of research you are doing will determine the answer to this. You may be looking for Canada as a whole, a Province, a Census Metropolitan Area or a smaller geographic level. Or, you may want to create your own custom area. For example, you may need to know the number of Ukrainian speaking people who live in the Prairie Provinces or you may want to get a profile of the population that lives within a 10 minute drive of Steveston.

  • PCensus has data from 1981-2006 down to the Census Tract level. For years 1991-2006, data is also available down to the Forward Sortation Area or Federal Electoral District levels (the FSA is the first part of your postal code). For the 2001 Census, data is available to the Dissemination Area levels as well (the DA is a sub-set of the Census Tract). PCensus also allows you to design your own custom area - either by combining one or more geographic areas into one area (ie. combine Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba into a single area - The Prairie Provinces) or to use a map to plot drive time, circle or polygon areas of your choice.
  • The Census of Canada website has data for 2001, 2006 and 2011 down to the Census Tract level. You may not design a custom area using Census of Canada website.
  • The Research Data Library has 1996 Census data in Beyond 20/20 format. Data is available to the Census Tract and FSA levels for Census Area Profiles and to the CMA level for the Nations series. You may not design a custom area using this data.
  • Print census products have data for all census years to the Census Tract level. FSA and other lower level census geographies are not available in the print products.

What data do you need?

  • Do you want a profile of a geographic area? A profile provides all data available for the area - you may want all of it or just some of it. It shows all variables individually.
    • Census profiles for the 2001, 2006 and 2011 Censuses are available at the Census of Canada website, where you will get just one element of the profile at a time (ie. earnings). These are available to the Census Tract, Federal Electoral District or Health District levels.
    • Census profiles for 1981-2006 Censuses are available on PCensus, where you will get the entire profile at one time. Data is available to the FSA, FED, CT, DA levels or custom areas.
  • Do you want cross-tabulated data? This means looking at several variables at one time. For example, do you want to know the highest level of schooling by age and sex for Burnaby. Note that cross-tabulated data is available only for the most commonly requested variable combinations. As usual, with statistical data,"you can't always get what you want!"
    • Pre-packaged cross-tabulations are available for the 2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016 Censuses from the Census of Canada website's Topic-based Tabulations. These are available to the CT level.
    • For the 1996 Census, cross-tabulations are available through the Nations Series of the Research Data Library. These are available to the CMA level.

Do you need to access data from home or can you come to the Library?

  • Census Program contains census information dating back to 1996. To manipulate data from home, you must download the free Beyond 20/20 software. There is a Quick Start Guide available for the software.
  • PCensus is available at either the Bennett or the Belzberg Library on standalone computers. You can use the library's Booking Service to reserve time on the computer in the Bennett library. It is first-come, first-serve at the Belzberg Library.
  • The Research Data Library has data files for the 1996 Census data available within or outside of the Library. You can access the data through the Research Data Library website, but to use it from home, you must download the free Beyond 20/20 software. There is a Quick Start Guide available for the software.
  • Print Census products for all census years are available at the Bennett Library only. Belzberg Library and Surrey Library have the 2001 and 2006 Profile of Census Tracts for Vancouver and Abbotsford.

Do you need to map your data?

  • SimplyAnalytics (formerly SimplyMap Canada)is a web-based mapping application that enables users to create thematic maps and reports using Canadian demographic, business, and consumer data. SimplyAnalytic includes 2001, 2006, and 2011 census data plus current year estimates and 5 year projections. 
  • The Census of Canada website has several pre-packaged Thematic Maps available down to the CMA level. They also provide blank or outline maps for you to use.
  • The Research Data Library has sophisticated GIS products which, when combined with the data files, allow you to make special maps. This is a very time-consuming process and is suggested only for very special projects.

Specialty census products

  • The Census of Agriculture is conducted every 5 years concurrently with the population census. It provides information about the number and types of farm operations in Canada down to the regional level. For example, you can get the total number of farms and number of square feet of greenhouse operations in the GVRD.
  • BCSTATS has socio-economic profiles of BC regional districts, health areas, school districts, provincial electoral districts, Indian Reserves, population projections and other British-Columbia-specific data. For more information on BC statistics, you should also consult the SFU Library Statistics BC guide.
  • CANSIM has population projections (currently to 2026), health region data for the entire country and historical data for 1871-1971.
  • Canadian Census Analyzer (available through the Research Data Library) has Public Use Micro-Files census data. This allows you to cross-tabulate variables of your own choosing. For example, you can ask for the number of people with PhD's who immigrated to Vancouver (CMA) during the period 1968-1970 and who worked in the same Census subdivision (CSD) as they live in.
  • Historical Statistics of Canada has population, household and family, inter-provincial migration, health, labour force, employment and income, education and other data available for varying periods - many dating back to the mid-1800's. For example, you can get the total enrollment and percentage of average daily attendance in public elementary and secondary schools for Canada and the provinces, from 1866 to 1975.
  • Abacus provides access to the Public Use Microdata Files allowing you to select variables (and variable combinations) of your own choice and then create sophisticated maps using GIS software. Data is available from 1971.

Tabular summary

The table below provides a quick overview of the Census products described in this guide. Be sure to consult the above information for more details.

Product Best Used Census Years Geographic level Data type Remote Access

When you want long-term data.

historical: 1871-1971
current: 1972-present

Canada, provinces, some data to CMA level single variable; some correlated variables. yes
Canadian Census Analyzer When you want to correlate your own variables 1971-present Most PUMF to CMA level; Some to CT and EA levels Correlate variables of your own choice yes
PCensus When you want to create your own area or to compare areas. 1981-2006 To CT, DA, FSA or FED levels. Or use map to create own area Individual variables no
Census of Canada Website When you need pre-packaged correlated variables. 1996-present To CT level Individual variables; pre-packaged correlated variables yes
Data Liberation Initiative 1996 Census files When you need pre-packaged correlated variables. 1996 Census only Profiles to CT level; Nation series to CMA level Individual variables; pre-packaged correlated variables yes
Data Liberation Initiative data files When you want to create special maps or need to use PUMF files 1971-present levels vary by year Correlate variables of your own choice yes
Print census products When you want older data or very simple data. 1851-present Profiles to CT level; special publications to CMA level Individual variables. Special publications (Nation Series and others) pre-package correlated variables. no

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