Victoria 1871 Municipal Census

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The municipal census of Victoria was taken by local officials in April 1871, a few months before British Columbia became a province of Canada (July 1871). In this census, the population of Victoria was recorded as 3,630. Although this census was not part of the 1st decennial census of Canada — which was also taken in April 1871 — the Dominion government accepted the local enumeration as an accurate count of Victoria and published the results in the official Sessional Papers of Canada.

The 1871 census of Victoria is curious in many respects. Only heads of household are identified by name. The census-taker counted — but did not identify by name — other adult males and females, plus male and female children within each household. Infants born in 1871 were counted and the number of children attending school were counted, too. The occurence of deaths and marriages was also noted. Interestingly, the census-taker enumerated the occupants in each household according to their race — that is, whether residents (male, female, adult, child or infant) were White, Native, Chinese or Coloured.

In most cases, occupations are recorded. The enumerator identified dwellings occupied by an "agriculturalist," "baker," "tinsmith," etc. Households comprising different workers are also shown. For example, one household is enumerated as: "1 dressmaker, 1 livery stable keeper;" another as "5 agriculturalists, 1 in trade." The occupations are easily understood, but one occupational group — enigmatically identified by the initials "R.L." — is a mystery. Perhaps it meant "restaurant labourer." Often the census-taker indicated the name of the street he was enumerating, and so in many instances we can determine the composition of census households in specific parts of the city.

The provenance of the census is as curious as the document itself. In 1871 the manuscript census was entered in a register book that had previously been used as a police register. The register is accessioned in the British Columbia Archives as GR 428. Vancouver Island. Police and Prisons Department, Esquimalt, 1862-1868. Census information in the register was transcribed by Victoria genealogist Hugh Armstrong, who annotated many entries with information gleaned from contemporary newspapers and directories, and who posted a version of it on the British Columbia GenWeb site. It was Mr. Armstrong who first noticed that the mysterious initials "R.L." were used to describe workers associated with restaurants, saloons and hotels, and suggested the initials might be an abbreviation for "restaurant labourer."

In 2005, Melissa Golinski, a viHistory research assistant, transcribed the manuscript census into a machine-readable format. Alex Dunae formatted the data and created our searchable viHistory interface. We have included Hugh Armstrong's annotations in the comments field of our database and are most grateful for his research and historical insights.