Taking the census wasn't easy in 1961

When enumerators fanned out across the country to count Canadians, some had an easier time of it than others.

Respondents could be too chatty or utterly uncooperative

Census pitfalls


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Subjects who like a long visit and refusers are two of the challenges to census gathering. 2:16

When census enumerators fanned out across the country in June 1961, some had an easier time of it than others. 

"In some areas, riverboats and dogsleds are the only means of transport," said Norman DePoe, host of CBC Newsmagazine. "In other districts, aircraft are used."

Pictures showed enumerator Agnes Hotte disembarking from a float plane to reach a home in her census district near Sudbury.

She was one of 27,000 temporary employees of the Dominion Bureau of Statistics (now Statistics Canada) charged with interviewing Canadians at their homes to obtain an accurate picture of the population.

Enumerators arrived at Canadians' homes by methods such as dogsled and float plane to complete the census. (Newsmagazine/CBC Archives)

Problem questions

"The ordinary population form asks questions to be answered for every resident of Canada and for all Canadians living abroad," intoned DePoe.

"In addition, a special and sometimes controversial confidential form is being given to every fifth household, looking for information," he added.

A man on the street thought the income question might be "touchy" to some people, but said it didn't matter much to him. (Newsmagazine/CBC Archives)

A woman on the street, who described herself as a fifth-generation Canadian, said she found just one of the questions troubling.      

"I haven't any objection to any of them except the ethnic question," she said. 

"I simply cannot go far back enough to establish whether that male ancestor was born in England or Scotland."

Other challenges for census takers

In 1961, counting Canadians was a big job


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Census takers had a job to do no matter where it took them, or how delicate the questions were. 2:27

Reaching the homes she was charged with surveying wasn't hard for an enumerator in "a Toronto middle-class district."

But there were other impediments.

"One of the difficulties is in the morning, when people aren't prepared to have a visitor," she said. 

"Some people are the reverse," she went on, "and would like to visit for much, much longer than we can afford to spend, and would like to have a little tea party." 

According to the Globe and Mail, enumerators earned an average of $200 ($1,730 in 2019 dollars) for turning in all their completed census forms.

'I said no'

Farmer Alec Beasley wanted no part of the census and was willing to pay the fine for non-compliance. (Newsmagazine/CBC Archives)

Thus far, said DePoe, just one Canadian was known to have rejected the census altogether.

Alec Beasley, a chicken farmer in the British Columbia interior, objected to the "encroaching restrictions and regulations" that the census represented, according to reporter Kingsley Brown.  

But was willing to be interviewed by CBC about his objection to the enumerator showing up on his property.

"He asked me if I would answer the questions and I said no," Beasley told another, unnamed, reporter.

And if he should be levied the $100 fine ($865 in 2019 dollars) for non-compliance, Beasley seemed unfazed by the penallty. 

"Well, I'd have to pay the fine," he said.