BY LAURENT D’ENTREMONT
During the spring of 1976, I was given the task of being census commissioner for Yarmouth County, excluding the town of Yarmouth. I enjoyed doing the job very much and there was a bit of adventure before it was over. My task was to hire and train “census takers.” They were to go house to house with the census form and explain to the head of the household what was expected of them and answer any questions.
Before I could train anyone, I had to be trained myself by Art Doucette, district commissioner employed by Statistics Canada. Doucette had his training sessions in Middleton in the Annapolis Valley. We also learned the history and purpose of census taking in Canada.
Jean Talon did the first census in what is now Canada. The French colonial administrator conducted the first census in 1866, noting the age, sex, marital status and occupation of its 3215 inhabitants.
After Canada’s 1867 Confederation, the first census was taken in 1871 and would be taken every tenth year thereafter. At the time Canada only had four provinces, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and everyone, including aboriginals, was included in this census. This continued until 1956, when we switched to one every five years. In 1971, the Dominion Bureau of Statistics became Statistics Canada.
Censuses are taken to provide accurate information on our population: including where they live, occupations, marital status, number of children, etc. The information gathered is used for public services, like schools, health care, roads, bridges, libraries, etc. This information also determines federal transfer payments to the provinces and electoral boundaries, among other things.
Armed with this information, and more now forgotten, I was ready to tackle my job as census commissioner in that long ago spring of my youth. The first thing I did was hire Annette d’Eon, who had worked with me two years previously during the Federal Election, and opened an office near my home. We hired Joan d’Eon as secretary and the three of us worked as a team tabulating the information gathered from our district.
No matter how well oiled the machine, there are bound to be glitches. One day a very excited census taker phoned to say a man living in the back woods of Tusket had “booted” him out of his house saying he was not answering questions for the Census or anybody else. He said the man was big and looked dangerous. A friend from Tusket told me it was best not to bother this guy: “he could be mean; the census people would not know the difference anyway”. True, but I would know the difference and I was paid to gather information; this I intended to do.
Dreading the task ahead, I drove to this guy’s place where an old farm tractor was parked by the back door. A giant of a man came to the door with a knife in one hand and a mackerel in the other, I said I was looking at his tractor and I also had a farm tractor myself. That broke the ice and he invited me inside. He was preparing mackerels for supper. He said he was a lousy cook, but was left to fend for himself since his wife had left him and moved to Cape Island, Shelburne County. I had not asked even one questions and he had already answered two of them.
In addition a white lie came in handy. Not about to mention the census, I told him we were doing a survey to determine if his road should be paved or not. I steered the conversation towards the questions on the census form and received most of the information I needed. He would not tell me his age, but in the span of the conversation I gathered he was about fifty years old. I thanked him for his opinions on paving his road, and he even invited me to visit him anytime I was in the area. I never did. A few years later I was saddened to read his obituary in the Yarmouth Vanguard; his cooking had likely killed him.
Back at the office, we filled out a special form provided for such cases. The census people never knew we had guessed the date he was born.
And that’s how I remember the census of 1976.