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The census of 1961 provides us with a stock-taking of ourselves in anticipation of Canada’s one-hundredth birthday as a Confederation.

It is convenient and interesting to divide the report into sections: How many of us are there? Where do we live? Where did we come from? What sort of people are we? What are we trying to become?

There are many figures involved in this survey. That is necessary, because the only way to learn what sort of people make up the Canadian nation is through figures. These figures answer many questions we ask ourselves from time to time without having any handy way of finding the facts.

The first census in 1666 recorded a total of 3,215 people in the colony of New France. By 1763, New France had a population of 60,000, and when the modern nation was formed through confederation in 1867 Canada had 3,500,000 people. At the time of the 1961 census the total had grown to 18,238,247, and an estimate made by the Bureau of Statistics placed the figure at 18,767,000 as we entered 1963.

To catch a sense of the change taking place in Canada, consider these facts: the increase in population has doubled during every decade since 1931, on top of a total population that had almost doubled during the first 30 years of the century.

As to our future, the Bureau of Statistics says a conservative projection indicates that population will rise to more than 22 million by 1971.

High birth-rates and a high level of immigration were the principal factors accounting for the growth of population in Canada in the period 1951 to 1961, a growth totalling 4,228,818 persons. The death-rate declined from 9 to 8 per thousand of the population. Net immigration, that is, the difference between the number of persons entering the country and those leaving it, totalled 1,080,746 in the ten years.

All provinces did not share equally in the population growth. The fastest rates of growth occurred in the two most westerly provinces, Alberta having 41.8 per cent increase and British Columbia 39.8 per cent. Ontario, which had a net immigration of 685,000 and a number of births which exceeded the number in Quebec for the first time in a single decade, increased by 35.6 per cent. Quebec’s growth during the ten years was 29.7 per cent, made up of about a million by natural increase and 205,000 by net immigration.

Newfoundland, whose birth-rate was 34 per thousand of the population, considerably over the national average of 27.5 per thousand, increased its total population by 26.7 per cent. Manitoba population went up 18.7 per cent; Saskatchewan, 11.2 per cent; Nova Scotia 14.7 per cent; New Brunswick 15.9 per cent, and Prince Edward Island 6.3 per cent. The three maritime provinces suffered net losses through the excess of emigration over immigration. Their birth-rates varied from 31 to 27 per thousand.

How many workers?

For statistical purposes the labour force in Canada is defined as all persons 14 years and over who are either working or looking for work. There are, of course, some exclusions: those in the armed forces, in hospitals, jails, or other institutions, or on Indian reservations.

In the ten years ending in 1961 nearly 1,300,000 people were added to the labour force, which in 1961 averaged almost 6,500,000. By the end of 1962 the labour force totalled 6,612,000.

The changing order of making a living is seen in a comparison between the first years of the century and 1961. In those sixty years the number of workers engaged in manufacturing rose from 15 per cent to 25 per cent, those in the service businesses rose from 14 per cent to 25 per cent, and the number of agricultural workers declined from 40 per cent to 12 per cent.

Where do we live?

Canada has been becoming an increasingly urban country. At the time of the census 30 per cent of our people were living in rural areas and 70 per cent were living in villages, towns and cities with more than 1,000 population. The trend to city life will continue, predicted the Gordon Commission, until by 1980 there may be 80 per cent of our people living in urban centres.

Among metropolitan areas, the greatest percentage increase of population in the ten years preceding 1961 was in Calgary, 96.1, and the smallest was Windsor, 18.2 per cent. Other percentage increases were: Toronto 50.7; Sudbury 49.9; Ottawa 46.9; Kitchener 44.1; Montreal 43.3; Hamilton 41; Vancouver and London 40.6; Halifax 37.3; Victoria 36.2; Winnipeg 33.4; St. John’s, Newfoundland 32.4; Quebec 29.4; Saint John, New Brunswick, 22.

Where did we come from?

Almost all the Canadians of today ( or their ancestors ( immigrated to Canada during the past three and a half centuries. Only a few, about one in a hundred, are descended from the early inhabitants of North America, and no one knows for sure where their forefathers came from. These people are Indians and Eskimos, with their own languages and cultures.

The Indians are grouped into 562 bands on 2,217 reserves having a total area of 5,900,000 acres. Significant in the improvement of the Indians’ lot is their increasing integration in non-Indian schools. About 2,000 Indian teenagers are taking grades 9 to 12 in non-Indian high schools, and nearly 100 are taking grade 13 and university courses. The Indians are not a dying race, but are increasing more rapidly proportionately than any other ethnic group. They numbered 185,000 in 1961, compared with 118,316 in 1941. Approximately 26 per cent live off the reserves, and it can be said that they are slowly finding a place in the larger Canadian society.

The Eskimos have survived in Canada’s northland for several thousand years on comparatively meagre resources. They are a naturally hardy and intelligent people, and today they are learning new skills and trades to meet changing circumstances. There are about 11,500 on the northern mainland and the Arctic islands, where the government of Canada provides education, family welfare services and technical training.

The Eskimos are reaching eagerly for the tools they see in the hands of the newcomers, and are seeking new knowledge that will help them to extract a better living from land and water and make the old uncertain harvest of food richer and more stable. Their artistic work is receiving recognition, and in two years recently the Cape Dorset group of talented graphic artists added $82,000 to their community’s earnings by the sale of collections.

Aside from these original dwellers in Canada, our gain in population comes from natural increase and immigration.

Natural increase, the difference between births and deaths, remained steady at about 20 per 1,000 of the population between 1951 and 1961. This compares with 16 in the preceding decade and 11 in the years 1931 to 1941.

Variations in the birth-rate between provinces are narrowing, and Quebec, which once possessed much the highest rate of births, has dropped close to the national level. It fell from 30 per 1,000 population in 1951 to 26.8 in 1960 and 26.1 in 1961. Ontario’s birth-rate rose from 22 to 26.

People from abroad

Immigration, the other factor in population increase, has been going on since the first French settlers came to this country three and a half centuries ago. Every phase of the arts, and every stage of national development in economics, has been touched and sometimes changed by these immigrants. They brought with them talents and skills which provided a stimulus to our growth, and they have been shaped by the special character of the Canadian environment.

Since the end of World War II there have been wide fluctuations in immigration. There was an upsurge in 1948, when shipping became available. In addition to the large movement from the British Isles, thousands of displaced persons were admitted. The Hungarian revolution and the Suez crisis of 1956 had a sharp impact on immigration, and in 1957 there were 282,164 persons admitted, including 31,643 from Hungary and 108,989 from the British Isles.

Just as with other factors in national growth, numbers are not evenly spread over Canada. Up to June 1st, 1961, Quebec had received 247,762 immigrants since the war ended, while Ontario received 833,303. All the other provinces combined took a total of 426,051.

Emigration from Canada reduces these gains substantially. In the ten years 1952 to 1961 Canada lost 399,542 people to the United States. Of these, 286,155 were Canadian born.

The newcomers

Why do immigrants come to Canada? Among the reasons given by the late John P. Kidd in his book: New Roots in Canadian Soil, published by the Canadian Citizenship Council, Ottawa, are these: “Some came because they felt that their children would have greater opportunities in a new and young country. Others came because they felt that the surging growth of this new nation would provide greater scope than their native land for their particular skills and abilities.”

It is not ignoble to seek happiness, peace and prosperity, and these are the greatest boon Canada can offer. Canada’s willingness to receive immigrants is a defiance of the parochialism that for ages held men fearful and suspicious of strangers. For the immigrant’s part, his coming is a sign of confidence in this country and its people.

Most newcomers are eager to fit into the Canadian community. They are proud to say that they have become Canadians, and a citizenship certificate is a diploma of which they boast.

Before January 1, 1947, there was no such status as Canadian citizenship. In common with nationals of other parts of the Commonwealth and Empire, Canadians were entitled to style themselves “British subjects”. This was altered by the Canadian Citizenship Act, which established a Canadian national status. It specified what classes of persons were entitled to claim this status at the date of enactment, and provided for the acquisition of Canadian citizenship by others.

Birth, race and language

In 1961 the census showed that 15,393,984 (or 84.4 per cent) of our population had been born in Canada. A generation earlier, in 1931, only 8,069,261 (or 77.8 per cent) had been born in Canada.

Here is the distribution by percentages of Canada’s total population by birthplace: Newfoundland 2.7; Prince Edward Island 0.7; Nova Scotia 4.3; New Brunswick 3.6; Quebec 27; Ontario 25.6; Manitoba 4.8; Saskatchewan 5.7; Alberta 5.3; British Columbia 4.6; Yukon and North West Territories 0.1; United Kingdom 5.3; other Commonwealth countries 0.3; United States 1.6; European countries 8; Asiatic countries 0.3; other countries 0.1.

Canada’s population is made up of many cultural or ethnic groups, the largest being the British Isles and French groups. In the census, a person’s ethnic group is traced through his father. In the 1961 census, every person was asked: “To what ethnic or cultural group did you or your ancestor (on the male side) belong on coming to this continent?”

Here is the percentage distribution of the population by ethnic groups in 1961: British Isles 43.8; French 30.4; German 5.8; Ukrainian 2.6; Italian 2.5; Netherlands 2.4; Scandinavian 2.1; Polish 1.8; Jewish 1.0; Russian 0.7; other European 3.9; Chinese 0.3; Japanese 0.2; other Asiatic 0.2; native Indian and Eskimo 1.2; other and not stated 1.3.

The census question on “official language” refers to the number of persons who reported that they were able to speak either one or both of the official languages of Canada. By “mother tongue” is meant the language the person first learned in childhood and still understands. This table gives the particulars:

  Official language Mother tongue
  total persons percentage total persons percentage
English 12,284,762 67.36 10,660,534 58.45
French 3,489,866 19.13 5,123,151 28.09
English & French 2,231,172 12.23
Neither English nor French 232,447 1.27
Other 2,454,562 13.46

Montreal Island has probably the most interesting language situation. The total population is 1,747,696. Of these, 37 per cent speak French only, 23 per cent speak English only, 38 per cent speak both French and English, and 2.5 per cent speak neither language. However, the mother tongue of 63 per cent is French and of 24 per cent English, while more than 13 per cent have a mother tongue other than French or English.

What sort of people?

The first natural division into sorts of people is that of sex. In 1961 there were 9,218,893 males and 9,019,354 females in Canada, a ratio of 102 males to 100 females. A generation earlier, in 1931, the ratio was 107 males to 100 females.

Provincially, the ratio runs like this: Saskatchewan 108; Alberta 107; Newfoundland 105; Prince Edward Island and British Columbia 104; Nova Scotia and Manitoba 103; New Brunswick 102; Ontario 101; and Quebec 100. In urban Canada the ratio is 98 males to 100 females, and in rural Canada it is 112.

Another classification significant individually as well as to the nation is that of age. In Canada, the fountain of youth is overflowing. Canadians under 20 ( 7,624,481 of them ( greatly outnumber those between 20 and 44, who total 6,054,638. There are 3,167,974 between 45 and 64, and 1,391,154 who are 65 or over.

Changes in the number of persons in the older age groups during this century are noteworthy. Fifty years ago Canada had 203,537 persons 70 years of age and over; at the latest census she had 904,052, an increase of 344 per cent. The increase in the total population during this period was 153 per cent. In 1961 we had 20,039 persons who were 90 and over (7,946 men and 12,093 women).

How long can people in Canada expect to live? There is no more impressive evidence of improved living conditions than the extension of life expectancy. Prehistoric man lived an average of less than 20 years, with very few persons reaching 40. A generation ago the life expectancy in Canada was a little over 59 years. By 1956, according to the Canadian Life Table, the expectancy of life at birth was 67.6 years for males and 73 years for females.

This progressive improvement is largely due to the reduction of mortality from infectious diseases, particularly among children and adolescents. The diseases associated with middle and old age are much less amenable to control.

Marriage is a popular institution. In 1961 only 51.4 per cent of the population was unmarried, compared with 57.4 per cent a generation earlier. Of the male population, 54 per cent remained single, compared with 49 per cent of the female population. There were, in 1961, 8,024,304 people married, 778,223 widowed, and 52,592 divorced. It should be noted that mortality has declined more for women than for men, so that there were 379,209 more widows than widowers in 1961.

Our families

The average size of families has been affected by two contrary trends. On the one hand, families of five or more children are less common than they used to be; on the other hand, there are indications that fewer marriages are childless. The average number of persons in a family across Canada was 3.9; in rural area it was 4.3 and in urban areas 3.7.

Among the metropolitan areas, St. John’s, Newfoundland, had the greatest average number of persons per family: 4.3. Three areas tied for lowest average, Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria, with 3.4. Among smaller places, St. HonorS, Quebec, was highest with 7, while White Rock, British Columbia, was lowest with 2.4 persons.

A “household” is defined in the census as a person or group of persons occupying one dwelling. The census found 4,554,736 households in Canada. Two-thirds of the heads of these households owned their own homes; the remainder lived in rented premises. Only two in five households lived in an apartment or a flat.

Among metropolitan areas, 179,083 Montreal households lived in owned premises and 370,569 in rented premises; 325,435 Toronto households were in owned premises and 157,055 in rented premises. Of all Canadian dwellings, 2,540,108 were built up to 1945, and 2,014,385 were built in 1946 and since then.

Within these households Canada’s high standard of material living shows itself. There were radios in 96 per cent of them, refrigerators in 92 per cent, washing machines in 86 per cent, telephones in 85 per cent, television sets in 84 per cent. Outside the house, 69 per cent of households had a passenger car ( 8 per cent had two or more cars.

The census made a tabulation of people’s religious beliefs. Although there is great diversity of creeds in Canada they do not divide the nation. All the religious bodies represented in Canada, recognizing that religion gives meaning to life, have this in common: they believe it to be the duty of men to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly.

Canada has no state religion. Freedom of worship is implied in the British North America Act, where the preamble states that the provinces have expressed the desire to be federally united under a constitution similar in principle to that of the United Kingdom, which gives “freedom to think, to live, to worship and to work our destiny as men and women who have a great mission and a great responsibility and obligation.”

There were 25 religious persuasions tabulated in the census, the highest (Roman Catholic) having 45.7 per cent of the population, and several having as low as 0.1 per cent. The twelve leading denominations, in order of membership, were: Roman Catholic 8,342,826; United Church of Canada 3,664,008; Anglican Church of Canada 2,409,068; Presbyterian 818,558; Lutheran 662,744; Baptist 593,553; Jewish 254,368; Greek Orthodox 239,766; Ukrainian (Greek) Catholic 189,653; Mennonite 152,452; Pentecostal 143,877; Salvation Army 92,054.


What are we trying to become? If we intend to make plans we must, as we have done in this Letter, look at things as they were formerly and are now. Only by studying the past and present can we propose intelligently what the future shall be made.

One fact which emerges from the census figures is that Canada’s people are not bi-racial in their origins, but multi-racial. Only 43.8 per cent of our people are of British stock and 30.4 per cent of French stock. The remainder, more than 25.8 per cent of the whole, is made up of people drawn from all the diverse races of Europe, with a sprinkling of those from Asia.

Plutarch counted it the greatness of Rome that she always united and incorporated into herself those whom she conquered. But a sense of common Canadianism does not depend for its strength on an ideal of national uniformity. It has been part of the price of political unity to accept ethnic and cultural diversity, and that has become one of our principles about which we boast.

As one travels across Canada one passes through areas impregnated with the culture of French Canadians, English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh Canadians, Polish Canadians, German Canadians, and Canadians of every other origin. The essence of all this is Canadianism.

When he addressed the Canadian Club a few years ago, Mr. N. R. Crump, Chairman and President of the Canadian Pacific Railway, said that there are valid symbols of a vibrantly live Canadianism all the way from the “tidy villages and great ports of the maritimes” to “the majesty of the Rockies and the soft exhilaration of Vancouver.” However, there can be no relaxed feeling of achievement capped and final. The search for political independence under the Crown is a closed chapter, but working out our economic independence in the shadow of a towering neighbour and bringing about perfect unity between our provinces: these are tasks not yet finished.

To become Canadian does not mean that we have to cut ourselves off from older countries. It does mean that whatever our racial origins or our creeds, we work together. For good or ill, we are one family. We can bring ourselves to disaster in family quarrels or to happiness by means of harmony.

We have no time to waste in self-criticism and in muttering about our differences. Since Confederation ( the centenary of which we shall celebrate in 1967 ( we have passed through many thorny thickets, but we have acquired many positive values, and we have done a good job, up to this time, in building our nationhood. Our aspirations and our hopes blend with our attainments to hold out promise that we may add a lively future to a noble past.