The Politics of Population: State Formation, Statistics, and the Census of Canada, 1840-1875


385 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-4853-6
DDC 352.7'5'0971




Reviewed by Jeffrey Moon

Jeffrey Moon is head of the Documents Reference/Data Centre at Queen’s


The Politics of Population provides a fascinating historical view of
“census making” in Canada. It begins with an amusing but insightful
census-themed quotation from the Acadian play La Sagouine. What follows
is a well-researched volume that addresses the purpose, pitfalls, and
politics of census making in the mid-1800s. Every stage of the process
is dealt with, from legislative enactment, printing census forms, and
enumeration to pre-computer data processing and ultimate publication of
the census. The politics of the census are especially well covered. The
author makes it clear throughout the volume that French–English,
East–West, inter-religious, and inter-party conflicts were of as much
a concern 150 years ago as they are today.

The social and political context for this period of “census making”
is artfully woven from a variety of historical sources. What is
especially appealing is the way in which the people who made the census
are brought to life. We learn, for example, about the plight of the
unilingual English enumerator who, armed with a unilingual English
census form, encountered a unilingual French family. Managers,
politicians, and census “compilers” are described as well.

Thorough and systematic, scholarly in its content, and clear in its
presentation, The Politics of Population highlights the important role
of the census in Canada’s “state formation.” Given our ongoing
national identity crisis, the book is a valuable contribution because it
examines in detail how the early census helped us, collectively, to
stand up and be counted.


Curtis, Bruce., “The Politics of Population: State Formation, Statistics, and the Census of Canada, 1840-1875,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 14, 2024,