Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Canadian, Eh? Ethnic Origin Shifts in the Canadian Census

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Canadian, Eh? Ethnic Origin Shifts in the Canadian Census

Article excerpt


In the 1986 census only 0.5 percent of the Canadian population gave "Canadian/Canadien" as their ethnic origin. This figure rose to 4 percent in the 1991 census, making Canadian the fastest growing ethnic origin group between 1986 and 1991, and the fourth largest group after British (including the English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh groups), French, and German. The swing upwards was even more dramatic in the 1996 census where 31 percent gave a "Canadian" or "Canadien" response, making it the largest ethnic origin group in Canada. This paper traces the temporal trends, presents data on geographical variations in the "Canadian! Canadien" ethnic origin responses, suggests reasons for the upward spurts, and indicates the impacts of these increases in the policy arena and for researchers.

Dans le cadre du Recensement de 1986, 0,5 % seulement de la population canadienne a indique "Canadian/Canadien" comme origine ethnique. Ce chiffre est passe a 4 % dans le Recensement de 1991, faisant ainsi des Canadiens le groupe d'origine ethnique le plus en croissance de 1936 a 1991 et le quatrieme en importance apres ceux des Britanniques (Anglais, Irelandais, Ecossais et Gallois), des Francais et des Allemands. La progression a encore plus considerable dans le Recensement de 1996 ou 31 % de la population s'est dite "Canadian/Canadien," constituant ainsi le groupe d'origine ethnique le plus nombreux au Canada. Le present document degage les tendances dans le temps, livre des donnees sur la variation geographique des reponses "Canadian/Canadien," tente d'expliquer les bonds de cette variable et precise l'incidence des hausses sur les politiques et les recherches.


Until recently, a "Canadian" ethnic origin was both difficult to declare and unlikely to be noticed in national enumerations of the Canadian population. During the first half of the twentieth century, census questions emphasized racial origins. Only with the 1951 census did "ethnic origin" replace the racial focus (see: Boyd, Goldmann and White, 2000; White, Badets and Renaud, 1993). Although the ethnic origin question conflated country of origin, race and religion, and until 1981 emphasized only paternal lineage, the wording was designed to elicit non-Canadian ancestral designations. Manuals and instruction booklets for the 1951, 1961 and 1971 censuses discouraged responses of "Canadian" or "American" or "U.S.A." Such responses were to be recorded only if respondents persisted in such choices of ethnic or cultural labels (Statistics Canada, Centre for Ethnic Measurement, no date). "Canadian" replies were not reported in the published tabulations for 1951 and 1961. In census publications for 1971 and 1981, 71,325 and 75,765 single Canadian responses were reported although replies that indicated "Canadian" alongside other origins were not listed separately from other multiple responses. Beginning in 1986, counts were given for multiple response categories that included "Canadian," thus enabling document users to calculate for the first time the total number of Canadian ethnic origin responses (single and multiple) in the census.

The wording of the post-war ethnic origin questions and the related attempts to enumerate origins outside of the North American continent reflected Canada's nation building efforts and, more recently, the development of her multiculturalism policies (Boyd, Goldmann and White, 2000). Such practices went hand in hand with the small numbers indicating "Canadian" ethnic origins in the years prior to the 1990s. In 1986, only 0.5 percent of the Canadian population declared themselves of "Canadian" ethnic origin. However, in 1991 slightly over one million persons gave "Canadian" in response to the ethnic origin question, making this category the fastest growing "new" ethnic group over the five year period. The response represented nearly 4 percent of the entire population of 26 million. "Canadian" was the fourth largest selection for single responses (exceeded by French, British and German ethnic selections). …

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