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The 1871 Census marked the first regularly scheduled collection of national statistics under the authority of the Census Act of 1870. It included only the four provinces that were part of the Dominion of Canada at that time: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec.
Each province was divided into Districts. Each district was divided into sub-districts. For larger sub-districts, there was more than one division. For example, District 76, sub-district c-1 was the first division of Cumberland Township, Russell County.
A series of nine schedules was used to collect specific types of information for each division of each sub-district. There were a total of 211 questions.
Schedule 1 was designed to enumerate the entire population of Canada by name and contained 23 columns. The name of every individual who lived within an enumerator's district as of April 2, 1871, was to be listed on schedule 1 of that district.
Regardless of the actual date when a particular household was enumerated, the population was to be counted as it existed on April 2nd 1871. For example, if a person died on April 4th and the family was enumerated on April 6th, that person should have been included in the census because he had been alive on April 2nd.
All members of the family were to be recorded, including any who were temporarily absent, such as seamen, hunters and college students. The head of the household was listed first. It could be a married man, a widowed woman, a single man with elderly parents, an owner of a boarding house, etc.
A census family was defined as a group of people living under the same roof. The following were all examples of a single census family: the occupants and employees of a boarding house (if that was their regular place of residence); a single person living alone; a family and servants living in a house.
The other schedules are:
Schedules 2 and 6 include names. The other schedules do not. They are keyed to Schedule 1 by page and line number.
To find out the column headings of the used in the 1871 census, consult Census Column Headings.
Overall, the enumerators collected information for 3,485,761 individuals distributed as follows in Canada:
These records and those of previous censuses are described in the Statistics Canada fonds (R92), formerly Record Group (RG) 31.
The 1871 census returns were first microfilmed in 1967. Only Schedule 1 was filmed (microfilms C-601 to C-716). Those microfilms are now obsolete, although some libraries still hold copies of them.
The 1871 census was refilmed in 1975 (microfilms C-9888 to C-10570). Those microfilms include all nine schedules.
On each microfilm, researchers will find a title page listing the year of the census (1871), the name of the province, the name and number of the district and sub-district, and the surviving schedules for this sub-district. In order to find out what schedules are available for a specific sub-district, consult Census Districts and Sub-districts [XLS 423 KB].
Note that most of the microfilms start with a section of refilmed or additional pages that were missed in the regular filming sequence. There is a typed listing of the items before those pages. The regular sequence of census pages begins after the "Start/Début" notice on the microfilm.
The digitized copies of the 1871 census schedules found on the Library and Archives Canada website were made by scanning the microfilms. Because the digitized versions are exact copies, a page that was illegible on microfilm is still illegible on a computer screen.
Abbreviations were used in some columns of schedule 1 such as:
Column 8 - Sexes
Column 9 – Age
Fractions are used for the age of children less than 12 months old, e.g. 11/12 indicates the child was eleven months old.
Column 11- Country or Province of Birth
Column 12 - Religions
Only a brief list of short-form examples were given to enumerators, compared to the large number of denominations represented in the tabulated census results.
Column 15 - Married or Widowed
Additional abbreviations can be found on our Census Abbreviations page.
To learn more about the taken of the 1871 census and instructions given to enumerators, consult the Manual containing "The Census Act" and the instructions to officers employed in the taking of the first census of Canada (1871) [www.globalgenealogy.com/Census/Download/Instr1871.pdf].
The microfilm reels have been digitized and the images appear in the same order as on the microfilm reels. The names of individuals are enumerated by province, districts and sub-districts. You can browse through the images as you would through a microfilm reel. You can move through the images one by one, or skip ahead by entering a new page (image) number in the page navigation box. The records are not searchable by name.
Please note that these images are also searchable through an online database based on nominal information such as name, given name (s) and age and also on geographical information such as province, district name and number, sub-district number and/or place name.
The Census of Canada (1871) is available on 294 microfilm reels overall. In order to find out the content of each reel, please consult the Finding Aid [XLS 423 KB].
You can print the images or save them on your computer. Use the following access link for other options, such as borrowing microfilm.
Other archival census records exist. Consult Census and Enumerations to obtain more information about these records.