In last week’s column, we discussed the 2021 Canadian Census which Canadian citizens had just completed in mid-May: its procedures and purpose, its rules and regulations, the interpretation and use of its results; unfortunately, its final tally won’t be published until 2023 considering all the work involved in quantifying those results, analyzing the data and reflecting all this information in statistical grids and lists. The latest Census published and available for reference is the 2016 edition and is still considered ‘accurate enough’ for comparisons.
Let’s roll time back to 1921, a century ago, and see where Canada, Ontario, Prescott county and our home town stood! Those of us that are now centenarians (there are approximately 575,000 of those worldwide, close to 100,000 in the USA, 8200 identified in Canada, 2000 being Ontarians) may still have some memories of ‘those’ days when more people still lived on farms than in cities, when kids were considered as young adults and as such were expected to share the family’s workload, when large families were still the norm, when attending church was a compulsory social event, when a social and cultural revolution was taking place as a follow-up to World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic, when horsepower was still supplied by horses and fresh fish came from our own creek…
The 1921 Census of Canada was the sixth one since Confederation in 1867: it records details about almost 8.8 million Canadians; it asked 35 different questions, some of which haven’t changed since but may have been re-worded to satisfy today’s criteria: sex, relationship, marital status, racial or tribal origin, religion, literacy, employment/unemployment status… Here are a few facts: it was taken on June 1st 1921, it cost 1.44$ MM or 16.4 cents per person; the census covered only nine provinces and two territories, missionaries/fur trading companies/RCMP agents were used to enumerate residents in remote areas. As Dylan’s song goes, ‘the times, they are a-changing…’
Closer to home and to us, the county of Prescott ON was census District 121: districts were the equivalent to electoral districts/cities/counties while sub-districts were towns and townships; our district was comprised of the townships of Alfred, Caledonia, Hawkesbury East, Hawkesbury West, Longueuil, Plantagenet, and towns of Hawkesbury and villages of L’Orignal and Vankleek Hill; for some unspecified reason, L’Orignal’s ‘House of Refuge’ (the building now houses the French Catholic School Board offices) which later became ‘Foyer Prescott-Russell’ and then, when moved to Hawkesbury, ‘Résidence Prescott-Russell’, was its own sub-district. The 1921 map of the county and the 2021 map are very similar with only minor variants. It is noted that fortunately, on coming or immigrating to the county, the French settlers preferred the low land which were originally marshes, that they drained them and transformed them into productive agricultural fields, while English settlers or immigrants preferred the higher land.
A Few Stats For The Thought… And For Those Who Enjoy Stats… (All numbers rounded)
The first recorded population of Ontario was in 1831 at 237,000; in 1921’s/6th census, it stood at 2,9 MM of which 1,7 MM lived in urban settings and 1,2 MM in rural parts; today’s population sits at 14.7 MM. In 1921, Toronto’s population sat at .5 MM and Ottawa’s at 94,000; the county of Prescott’s population totalled 26,500 with Hawkesbury’s at 5,500, Vankleek Hill’s at 1,500, Alfred’s (village and rural) at 3,200, Caledonia’s at 2,000, Hawkesbury East’s at 3,850, Hawkesbury West’s at 1,700, Longueuil’s at 950, Plantagenet’s (village, north and south) at 6,400 and L’Orignal’s at 1,300; the county’s population was almost evenly split between male and female. Close by, Grenville’s stood at 700, Lachute’s at 2,600, Alexandria’s at 2,200 and Rockland’s at 3,500.
Still in 1921, 100 years ago: Canada’s population sat at 8,8 MM, with close to 3 MM in Ontario (33%) and 2,4 MM in Québec (26%), plus 425 in the Canadian Navy (amusing stat!). Montreal was then the metropolis of Canada with a population of 618,000 with Toronto second. Canadians immigrants of British origin (which then included British possessions such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Newfounland) composed 54% of Canada’s and 72% of Ontario’s population, with European/French second at 23% and 16% respectively, and USA third at 19% and 11%; Asia immigration was insignificantly low at 2.5% and 1%, Africa’s (continent and countries therein) not even mentioned.
In matters of ‘Language’ in Ontario, mother tongue was defined as the language commonly use at home: 85% English, 7.5% French, 3% German, 1.5% Yiddish, less than 1% an Indian dialect and ZERO spoke Eskimo (I didn’t make this one up)! By comparison, in Northwest Territories, 85% spoke an Eskimo dialect, 10% English and 5% French.
In matters of Literacy, the Census evaluated only two skills: could read AND write, could read ONLY; basic arithmetic was not considered. In Ottawa, 97% could read AND write, .5% could read only and 2.5% were illiterate; in Hawkesbury, the percentages were respectively at 85%, .5% and 15%. Overall in Canada, Ontario scored the lowest illiteracy percentage at 2.5%, while Quebec sat 6.3% and Northwest Territories at 92%. In the 1920’s, school attendance was compulsory between the ages of 7 and 14, but the census registered school attendance between ages 5 to 20; the county of Prescott registered 89% in school attendance, almost equally in urban or rural areas, a percentage quite high for the time.
In matters of ‘Conjugal condition’ (exact wording used by censors), single men slightly outscored single women, married men outscored married women, widowed women outscored widowed men 2 to 1 (try to figure this one out…) and divorcees were about equivalent but a very low percentage overall since divorce wasn’t a common solution to a bad marriage in those days; in Hawkesbury, number of singles, married and widowed are just about equal, but (surprise?), ZERO declared divorcee men or women.
Well, that’s it folks! Hope you enjoyed this rollback to 1921! You’ll have to forgive me for enjoying it myself (the former math teacher in me loves stats!) and forgive me for using such ‘unethical’ words as ‘Indian’ and ‘Eskimo’ which were the norm in those years and which are part of the vocabulary used in this census; it was also much shocking that the document never referred to Africa or its people as such, but instead categorized every colored person by the infamous 5 letter word also commonly used in those days. I wonder if archived documents can be righted since they are ‘official’ and therefore part of our heritage.