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GEOG 204 Tutorial -- Census of Canada / NHS: Census of Canada/NHS


Statistics Canada takes a snapshot of the Canadian population every five years. This data is used by government agencies and other organizations for policy planning and is also heavily used by researchers and businesses. The last census took place in the spring of 2016: 2016 Census Program release schedule.  

You may access census data through the Geoffrey R. Weller library at various levels of geography. The Illustrated Glossary, the Standard Geographical Classification, and the reference maps on Statistics Canada's web site are good places to go when you have questions about the levels of geography used by Statistics Canada.

For detailed information about any census variable, check out the Census Dictionary.

2011: An Anomaly

Historically, there have been two mandatory census forms: the short form, which was sent to all Canadian households, and the long form, which was sent to 20% of Canadian households.  There was only a mandatory short form for the 2011 Census.  The questions that were traditionally asked in the mandatory long form were moved to a voluntary National Household Survey (NHS).  (The exception to this was the language questions, which were added to the mandatory short form.)

The NHS was discontinued in 2016 when the mandatory long-form census was reinstated for the 2016 Census.


Things to Consider When Using NHS Data

Because of the differences in methodology between a mandatory census and a voluntary survey, students, researchers, and policy makers need to be cognizent about the following when using and interpreting NHS data:

Mandatory Long Form vs Voluntary Survey: History of a Decision

Some links for those interested in the history of the decision to move from a mandatory long-form census to a voluntary survey for the 2011 Census:


Since the Oct. 19, 2015 election:

  • Globe & Mail article, Oct. 21, 2015 about interviews with two former chief statisticians of Statistics Canada regarding the feasibility of reinstating the mandatory long-form census in time for the 2016 Census.
  • 2016 Census response rate exceeds 98 percent . August 29, 2016 press release.  The overall response rate for the 2016 Census was 98.4 percent, and the long form had a historically high response rate of 97.8 percent.

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