Vancouver Island 1881 Census


This database was built on Vancouver Island, by faculty and students at Vancouver Island University and the University of Victoria - with the assistance of talented and knowledgeable people outside the academy!

Our dataset is derived from the nominal returns of  the 1881 Census of Canada. Manuscript copies of the returns (known as Schedule 1) were preserved by the National Archives of Canada and made available on microfilm.

In 1990, information from the microfilm was transcribed by faculty and students in the Public History Group at the University of Victoria. The data was used as the foundation for a database constructed at Vancouver Island University a few years later. The database was subsequently refined and in 2001 a searchable, on-line interface was created. Both the database and the interface were developed further in 2002 to create the application presented here.

The Public History Group at UVic was led by Dr. Peter Baskerville and Dr. Eric Sager. The initial database was compiled by Raymond Frogner and designed by George Young. The UVic project was financed with assistance from the government of British Columbia, through the British Columbia Heritage Trust and British Columbia Lotteries. Seed funding was provided by the Office of the Vice-President, Academic, University of Victoria.

Dr. Patrick A. Dunae directed the Vancouver Island census project at Vancouver Island University. The database was reconstructed with the assistance of former History students Mike Barker, Rebecca Coyle, and Christine Meutzner, and with the help of Ron Apland in the Faculty of Social Sciences. The project was facilitated by the Joint Scholarly Research Committee at VIU and more recently by the Malaspina Research Fund.

The process of reconstruction involved moving data into a MS Assess database and re-transcribing many of the records. When the database was first constructed in 1990, coders used the International Standard Classification of Occupations (1968 edition) to enter data. However, ISCO codes were problematical for us because they did not reflect many of the unique occupations recorded by enumerators on Vancouver Island. After considering a range of options, in 2006 we re-coded our data to conform with broader and more flexible standards known as the Historical International Classification of Occupations [HISCO].

Alex Dunae created the original search engine and designed the query forms that allow us to return data as it was originally recorded.  He wrote an innovative application that retains the integrity of census households.  He helped design the maps and wrote the Syntax Notes and the Technical Notes provided here.

In the fall of 2005 the site was rebuilt at the Humanities Computing and Media Center (University of Victoria) by David Badke, with an all new database and search engine that allows the census data to be searched in several ways across all available years.

Archivists at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa and the British Columbia Archives in Victoria helped with this project. Staff at the City of Victoria Archives provided information about the boundaries of the city and enumeration sub-districts as these existed in 1881. Daphne Patterson of the Nanaimo Community Archives scrutinized transcriptions of the nominal schedules, to ensure that every name for the Nanaimo area was accurately entered. Genealogists and family historians have also provided on-going assistance by informing us of errors and inconsistencies with the data.