Vancouver Island 1891 Census

Notes on Enumeration Categories

Schedule 1 (Nominal Return of the Living) of the 1891 Dominion census consisted of twenty-five questions. Enumerators were issued with manuals, explaining the purpose of the questions and showing the correct way of entering answers. Here is a list of the categories and a summary of the instructions given to enumerators:

Record of vessels and shanties
"Every vessel which is the abode and domicile of a family or person...not having a domicile on shore is to be registered [here]." Vessels were indicated by the letter 'V' in Column 1 of the schedule.
Shanties were described as "all dwellings of a temporary character, inhabited only for a part of the year, such as lumbering shanties, public works' shanties, fishermen's huts, Indian wigwams, etc." They were indicated by the letter 'S' in Column 1. On Vancouver Island, most aboriginal dwellings — even the substantial longhouses of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations on the west coast — are recorded as "shanties." The term was not intended to be pejorative or derogatory.
Houses under construction/Uninhabited houses
Uninhabited houses and homes under construction were to be recorded as they were met with by the enumerator. Information was entered in Columns 2 &3 of the Schedule.
Inhabited houses
Enumerators were supposed to note the number of rooms, the number of stories and the type of material (stone, brick, wood, or composite) used in the construction of the house. For example, "S 2/6" signified a house built of stone, with two stories and six rooms. "W 1/1" indicated a wooden structure with one story and one room.
Houses were counted as being "separate" if they had separate outside entrances. In cases where several families resided in the same house, the house was entered as single unit.
Number of families within a house
This category related to census families or households.
"A family, as understood for the purposes of the census, may consist of one person living alone or of any number of persons living together under one roof and having their food provided together. For example: One man, say a shopkeeper, or one woman, say a seamstress, living alone in a separate house, or in a distinctly separate part of a house, would constitute a census family; but any number of persons living together in a boarding house, several of them being parents, having children and servants, would only consitute one census family, provided they have no home elsewhere."
Names of inhabitants
Family names were entered first, followed by Christian or given names.
"The sex is writing the letter M for masculine and F for feminine."
Infants less than a year old were supposed to be entered as a fraction of 12 — e.g. 2/12 for a two month old baby. Infants less than one month were supposed to be entered as "0." In this database, infants less than a year old are entered as "0" and their age, if it was recorded as a fraction, is displayed in the Comments field.
Civil condition
Whether a person was married (M) or widowed (W). In the manuscript census, a dash [—] was used to denote persons who were unmarried or single. We have used the letter S instead of a dash in this database for individuals who had never been married.
Relation to head of family
According to the enumerators' manual, this category "needs no explanation, the letters to be used being W for wife, S for son, D for daughter; "Dom." for domestic, whether man-servant or maid-servant; L for lodger, etc." In point of fact, this category was quite confusing for many enumerators — and for modern transcribers and coders. The manual did not provide any guidance on how to enter the in-laws, nephews, nieces, cousins or any number of other persons who were related to the head of family. So, in some cases, the information recorded in this category is questionable.
Country or Province of Birth
Over 60 nations, British colonies, and Canadian provinces were recorded.
French Canadians
In nearly all cases this category was used to indicate francophones from the province of Quebec.
Birth place of father and mother
"Columns 13 and 14 need no explanation."
"In writing down the religion the enumerator must be very careful to enter with precision the information given by the person questioned; and to be sure that the denomination is well defined...." Fifty different denominations and creeds were mentioned, as well as non-religious terms such as heathen, infidel, and sceptic. Enumerators were, however, rather arbitrary in recording the religion of Chinese people. In Victoria, most Chinese were entered as Confucians. In Nanaimo and Wellington, they were returned as Pagans.
Occupation, profession or trade
Enumerators were instructed to give fully descriptive designations for each occupation and to classify trades and professions as fully as possible. However, when the census schedules were transcribed and coded, some job titles and descriptions were adapted to conform to titles used in the International Standard Classification of Occupations (1968). More than 500 distinct occupations were recorded in the 1891 census of Vancouver Island.
Employer or wage earner
"Columns 17 and 18 are intended to separate people into two classes — the employers and the employed."
Unemployed during the week preceding the census?
This category was supposed to indicate "the condition of the labour market during the 1st week in April, 1891." The variables Y or N are used in the database.
Instruction: Ability to read or write
"Columns 21 and 22 are for the purpose of procuring knowledge of the condition of education. The figure "1" will be used in each column when "yes" is the answer. A dash — will indicate that the person cannot read, or write, or neither, as the case may be."
Officially, the categories were "deaf &dumb, blind, or of unsound mind." However, several enumerators also used the term "helpless" and it has been included here.
Schedule 1 included a column headed "Dates of operations and remarks." Occasionally enumerators used this field to record additional information about persons they had met or places they had visited. We have noted the enumerators' remarks, whenever they were recorded, in this database.