Geographical Organization of the 1871 Census

Geography is a central concern in the organization of any census. The 1871 census staff devoted much time and labour to defining a hierarchy of spatial units that were used in collecting the information and, to some extent, in publishing it. We researched the original descriptions of geographical areas defined for the 1871 Census to ensure that the codes and place names were entered accurately and consistently into the database. For ease in returning to the original schedules, we adopted the same code letters and numbers that were used in 1871 to describe the Census Districts, Census Sub-Districts and Census Enumerators' Divisions. Thus it is possible for users of the database to aggregate information for groups of individual establishments that were located in particular places, at various scales of generalization from towns, villages, townships or city wards up to whole provinces. Only very generalized tabulations of industrial data for Census Districts, Provinces and all of Canada were published in the 1870s. The flexibility of the CANIND71 database now means that many other types of area may be specified and matching datasets generated appropriately. The characteristics of the 45,070 industrial establishments enumerated in 1871 can thus be explored in almost infinite detail.

Legislation governing the taking of the 1871 Census set out the geographical organization in an hierarchical form. Each of the four Provinces was to be divided into Census Districts, which were intended to correspond with the Electoral Districts defined under the British North America Act 1867 (Statutes of Canada, 33 Vict. 1870, Cap. 21, s.4). But Electoral Districts might be subdivided or have additional territory added for the purposes of the Census. The enumeration in each Census District was to be supervised by a Census Commissioner. Census Districts were divided into Census Sub-Districts, which were intended to correspond with Municipal or other recognized divisions. Where no municipal or other divisions existed, the census administrators were empowered to form convenient sub-districts.

The work of defining the Census Districts and Sub-Districts was a major task in 1871. Those responsible could not depend on any earlier territorial definitions or indeed on any "previous machinery of any kind for taking the Census". Each of the 206 Census Districts was defined by the end of 1870 and the boundary details of the 1,701 Census Sub-Districts were published nearly three months later. During the period between January 1871, when the Census Commissioners were appointed, and the end of March there must have been a great deal of hurried work defining the nearly 3,000 Census Enumerators' Divisions.

In the published reports, the organizers took great pains to explain the geographical structure of the enumeration and tabulation processes. The distinctions between Census Districts and Electoral Districts were clearly spelled out. The correspondence, or difference, between the areas defined for 1861 Census and those defined in 1871 was outlined carefully in a special table (No. V). Simple maps of the Census Districts by province were bound into the final report volume. The final pages of the Report's first volume included extensive indexes and an alphabetical table of all Census Sub-Districts. Finally, the last volume of the Report also published the definitions of the Census Districts and Census Sub-Districts.

Spatial Hierarchy   Spatial Hierarchy of the 1871 Census

Unfortunately none of the detailed manuscript maps that were compiled during preparations for the 1871 Census has survived. So one of the important tasks of the CANIND71 project has been the reconstitution and mapping of the geographical areas used for the Census. With careful study of the written definitions, it was possible to map the 206 Census Districts and 1,701 Census Sub-Districts quite accurately. But no maps or written descriptions have survived for the 2,935 Census Enumerators' Divisions that were defined for the practical purposes of census taking. In some localized areas for which there are detailed contemporary maps and street directories, it is possible to reconstruct the area covered by a census enumerator by carefully relating the information on the manuscript schedules to that in the other sources.

Potential Aggregates   Potential Aggregations of CANIND71 Data

Details of Census District name (CDISTRIC) and number (CDID), Census Sub District name (CSD) and Census Enumerator's Division (CED) were coded for each manuscript record as it was entered into the CANIND71 database. Usually this information was written by the census enumerators on the manuscript schedules. But we had to standardize the names and codes for computer processing. We numbered the Census Districts in the same sequence from 001: Essex in southwest Ontario to 206: Richmond, Nova Scotia. We also adopted the same code letters and numbers that were used to describe the smaller Census Sub-Districts and Census Enumerators' Divisions in 1871.

Each list contains a column of live links to establishments in the relevant census district or census sub-district.
- List of all 1871 Census Districts and Sub-Districts in Geographical Order from Essex in southwestern Ontario to Richmond in eastern Nova Scotia. Key links are in the MAPID column
- List of all 1871 Census Districts in Alphabetical Order. Key links are in the CDID column
- List of all 1871 Census Sub-Districts in Alphabetical Order. Key links are in the MAPID column
See below for maps of all these units.

For mapping and analysis purposes, an abbreviated geographical code was used which we call the MAPID. This comprises the basic number of the Census District from 1 to 206 combined with the initial letter for the Census Sub-District. An example is 33C for the Town of Guelph, Ontario.

For a detailed account, both of the definition of census areas in 1870-1 and of the task of reconstituting and mapping boundaries for the CANIND71 project, see Boundaries of Canadian Census Units in 1871, #10 in the CANIND71 series of research reports (1990).

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Attaching industrial production to the locality was declared to be a basic principle in the organization of the 1871 census (“Instruction to Census Officers,” Canada Sessional Papers, No. 64, 1871, p.139). But it is hard to do this exactly, as only a few of the manuscript census schedules include details of the precise location or address. While all the 45,000 establishments have been located within the framework of Census Districts (CDs) and Census Sub-Districts (CSDs), only a small proportion of the CSDs were in formally defined urban municipalities. In 1871 there were 115 incorporated cities, towns and villages in Ontario, 76 in Quebec, two in New Brunswick, and only one (Halifax) in Nova Scotia. Many industrial establishments were therefore scattered in rural CSDs, which in some cases could each include as many as 15 unincorporated localities or informal central places.

The 1871 Central Place Index has been designed for the CANIND71 user seeking more precise locations for industrial establishments in rural CSDs. Using the post office as a well recognized attribute of a central place or significant locality, the index adds a further dimension to the census geography of the time. It can be helpful in identifying smaller central places within the Census Districts and, in Ontario, within the CSDs as well. Many of the smaller places of 1871 may no longer appear on present-day maps or in modern gazetteers.

The basic list of 3,775 post office outlets in Canada was compiled from the Canadian Almanac for 1871, which listed each office by the electoral district in which it was located. With a few exceptions, mostly around the fringes of settlement in Ontario and Quebec, the electoral districts were identical to the census districts. The multi-sheet New Railway and Postal Map of the Dominion of Canada (Toronto: Walker and Miles, 1875) was used to locate the post offices in the more complicated Census Districts of Pontiac and Ottawa counties and elsewhere in Quebec. Lovell’s Directory of the Dominion of Canada 1871 also provided valuable information for locating post offices in Halifax County which was divided between two CDs.

A sense of the hierarchy of settlements is provided by the official classification of post offices. The basic post office sold postage stamps and received and dispatched mail. Home delivery of mail did not begin until October 1874 in Montreal. Toronto followed six months later. In larger villages and towns, post offices sold and cashed money orders, a service introduced in 1855. Post offices in the major market centers also acted as branches of the Post Office Savings Bank, which was introduced in Ontario and Quebec in 1868 but not yet established in the Maritime Provinces by 1871. Sub-post offices were unusual in Ontario and Quebec but very common in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The latter province had 104 post offices but 607 “way offices” in late 1870. Postal revenues and the value of money orders recorded in the Post Office Annual Report (published in the Sessional Papers) offer additional evidence about the relative significance of places.

It is often difficult to relate the 1871 geography to the present day. Many places of that time have disappeared from gazetteers and topographic maps. Others have changed name and location. Mount Hope, Ontario for example is now the name of a community located beside Hamilton Airport. In 1871, the post office in that locality was Glanford (changed in 1913). The post office named Mount Hope in 1871 was in a small center in Middlesex County, later renamed Cairngorm in the following year.

The Central Place Index lists all central places with post offices in 1871.
Central Places with Post Offices identified in 1871 Census Sub-Districts in geographical order (virtually all of Ontario in 1871, and parts of Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia)
Central Places with Post Offices identified in 1871 Census Districts in geographical order (northern fringes of Ontario in 1871, and parts of Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia)
Using our lists and search strategies, it is possible to search for a known unincorporated urban place and find the Census Sub-District (usually, but sometimes only the Census District) and also to list all the industrial establishments located in that census unit. Thus a user may seek Rockwood Ontario in the list of Central Places, and find it is located within Census Sub-District 34E Eramosa Township CSD (in Wellington South CD) where other unincorporated places are Eden Mills, Eramosa, Everton, Oustic and Speedside. Using the complex search strategy, one can identify all the industrial establishments in the CSD in which a central place is located.

Major sources on the opening, closing and location of post offices include:
F.W. Campbell, Canada Post Offices 1755-1895 (Boston: Quartermain Publications, 1972).
R.C. Smith, Ontario Post Offices (Toronto: Unitrade Press, 1988):
Volume 1: An alphabetical listing
Volume 2: By county and district

The Postal Archives Research Tool: Post Offices and Postmasters on the National Archives Canada website ( includes dates of openings and closings but is limited on precise locations of post offices in the past.

The Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions (CIHM) has produced 100,000 microfiche records of nineteenth-century publications since formation in 1978. Many national, provincial and local directories have been copied and are available in major libraries.

Other CANIND71 reference sources are:
    Research Report 10,
Boundaries of Canadian Census Units in 1871 (1990),
    Research Report 13,
Ontario Central Places in 1871: A Gazetteer compiled from Contemporary Sources (1990),
    Research Report 14,
Industry in Ontario Counties: A Preliminary Atlas (1992).

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Maps of Census Units

Since all the original 1871 census maps were lost, the CANIND71 project had to recreate the census geography of the time.

New digital maps at three scales were prepared and these form the basis for the database maps in this section.

These maps show all the 206 Census Districts (CDs) and 1,701 Census Sub-Districts (CSDs). Only a few of the CSDs, mostly in the timber-cutting areas of the Ottawa Valley, proved to be too difficult to trace.

For southern Ontario, a more detailed series of maps were prepared. These show the CDs and CSDs but also the county boundaries as defined in 1871, as well as the railways open at the time of the census.

The finest level of detail is represented in the ward boundary maps for the eleven cities and four towns in which wards were used by the 1871 census organizers as the CSDs within each municipality.

In the case of London (O010), Hamilton (O024), Toronto (O046 and O047), Kingston (O066), Ottawa (O077), and Montreal (Q104, Q105 and Q106), there is a clear coincidence between the whole municipal city area and the CDs and CSDs. Each of the other urban areas is part of a larger Census District which reaches beyond the town or city limits into the surrounding rural areas. Quebec City, where the three Census Districts do not coincide with the municipal city, is the most complex.

Sources for the original definitions and contemporary maps used in the compilation of the digitized map series are reported in CANIND71 Research Report No. 10,
Boundaries of Canadian Census Units in 1871 (1990)

Click on a live links below to see maps of census units:

Canadian Census District Map
Ontario Census District Map
Ontario Northern Districts Map
Quebec Census District Map
Northern Quebec Districts Map
New Brunswick and Nova Scotia Census District Map

Ontario Census Sub-District Maps

South West Ontario CSD Map
South Central Ontario CSD Map
North West Ontario CSD Map
Central Ontario CSD Map
North Eastern Ontario CSD Map

Quebec Census Sub-District Maps:

South West Quebec CSD Map
South Central Quebec CSD Map
Montreal Island CSD Map
Central Quebec CSD Map
South East Quebec CSD Map
East Central Quebec CSD Map
Gaspe Peninsula Quebec CSD Map

New Brunswick and Nova Scotia Census Sub-District Maps:

North New Brunswick CSD Map
South New Brunswick CSD Map
Central Nova Scotia CSD Map
East Nova Scotia CSD Map
West Nova Scotia CSD Map

Each of these maps contains live links to maps of neighbouring regions of provincial census districts, and to three lists of census geographical units.

Ward Boundary Maps for the eleven cities and four towns in which wards were used by the 1871 census organizers as the CSDs within each municipality.

London City
Niagara Town
Hamilton City
Toronto City
Kingston City
Brockville Town
Cornwall Town
Ottawa City
Montreal City
Trois-Rivieres City
Quebec City
Levis Town
Saint John City
Fredericton City
Halifax City

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Suggested Citation of CANIND71

The source of all data, documentation or programs derived from the CANIND71 database should be acknowledged as:

Canadian Industry in 1871 Project (CANIND71), University of Guelph, Ontario, 1982 - 2008. After the first reference to the full citation in each work by a user, the short form "CANIND71" may be used for subsequent references.

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