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Early exploration (16th century)

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As a result of the discontinuation of E-STAT, some of the links to the tables available in the publication 98-187-X Introduction to Censuses of Canada, 1665-1871 were broken. The tables can be requested via the Statistics Canadas Data Liberation Initiative ( For the convenience of users, the tables are also available on the Queens University website: ( The website is in English as Queens University is not subject to the Official Languages Act.


Volume Fourth

This volume contains the summaries of Censuses, taken at different periods, in and for the territories now constituting the British North American Provinces.

The official documents summarised in the volume number 98, and are thus divided in respect to the territories included in the Provinces as now constituted, namely : 25 for Quebec ; 22 for Ontario ; 16 for Nova Scotia ; 10 for Manitoba ; 10 for Newfoundland ; 8 for New Brunswick ; 6 for Prince Edward Island, and 1 for British Columbia.

The first in date of these Censuses is that of 1665. This enumeration, and those by which it is immediately succeeded, are the earliest nominal Censuses whose results are now known.

The tables of this volume contain the information afforded by official documents, manuscript or printed, preserved in libraries and amongst the Public Archives, but classified and arranged uniformly so as to be easily consulted.

Naturally, the corrections which have been made in this compilation refer only to mistakes in printing or calculation and not to the information itself which has been given as it was obtained. It is scarcely necessary to state that amongst the mass of information recorded in this work, some parts of it are valuable only from the use which may be made of it in critical statistics.

Of this kind, for instance, are the reports of marriages, births and deaths, the ascertaining of which is not part of the work of enumeration, but belongs to the daily operations of registration. For this reason Censuses have always failed in this respect. Yet the examination of these returns is not altogether useless, inasmuch as it affords a criterion of the comparative correctness of certain series of facts collected in such investigation.

The summaries of the Censuses which constitute this volume furnish, besides the figures which form its essence, a statement of the names of the territorial divisions of the settled lands at each period of the history of the colonization of the vast regions of North America. A list of these names of places, Alphabetical and Chronological, will be found at the end of the volume.

Apart from the Censuses, properly so called, there exist in the documents relating to different periods of our history, Statements of Population, more or less correct, furnished to the central governments by the colonial authorities of the time, or collected by contemporary writers. It will not be uninteresting to refer to these statements in this Introduction, as complementary to the numerical history of the country to be found in the detailed enumerations.

At the present day it appears strange that the first two attempts at colonization made in the northern part of the American continent should have fixed upon Sable Island, now used as a beacon station on which the Canadian Government maintain two lighthouses, and stores of provision in case of shipwrecks. It was in 1518 that the Baron de Léry made the first of these attempts at settlement, whose only result was leaving on this desert island a few horses, cattle and rabbits, which multiplied in a wild state. These animals, with the produce of fishing, were the only means of subsistence for the settlers of the second colonizing expedition, whom M. de la Roche placed on this island in 1578, and they have since been a valuable assistance to distressed seamen and fishermen.

Of the animals thus transplanted at the beginning of the sixteenth century, there remain only the rabbits, which have so multiplied that the island has become a warren, and the horses, which appear to maintain themselves in a troop of about 150 in number. The cattle disappeared several years ago, the herd having become extinct by the repeated attacks of the crews of the fishing vessels. It will be seen that this inhospitable island, this bank of sand lost in the ocean, has its historical as well as its legendary recollections.

There is no room to mention, in speaking of colonization, the annual voyages of the Basque, Breton and other fishermen, and their short summer stay on the Island of Newfoundland and on the lower St. Lawrence, several years before the expeditions of Jacques Cartier. This Introduction is not intended for a general history of the country, but is, as it were, the abridged history of Canadian Population Statistics.

Previous to the foundation of Port Royal, Acadia, in 1605, by de Monts and Poutrincourt ; of Quebec, New France, in 1608, by Champlain ; of St. John’s, Newfoundland, by Whitburn in 1613 ; there may be noticed the ephemeral settlements of Roberval at Cap Rouge, near Quebec, from 1542 to 1543 ; of Sir Humphrey Gilbert, in Newfoundland, in 1583 ; of Chauvin, at Tadoussac, in 1599, and others.

At the date of what may be called the real history of European settlements upon the territory of the present Canadian Confederation, the successful attempts at colonization had very modest beginnings, constantly impeded by the political condition of the parent states, and by the wars in which the colonizing nations and the colonists themselves were engaged.

To complete, then, as we have just said, the statistics of our country as they are to be found in the documents of the time, it is well to add to the summaries contained in the body of this volume a general statement of the numerical information in addition to and in the absence of, what may be called in the strict sense of the term, Censuses.

The Chronological statement of this information, and of the amount of the population ascertained by enumeration at different periods, accompanied by the indication of the sources whence it has been drawn, and the remarks necessary to understanding it as a whole, is the principal subject of this Introduction to the contents of this volume, and is indeed, their necessary complement.

No one can fail to remark how slight were the beginnings of colonization in this country, or how slowly and through what vicissitudes the settlement of these vast territories proceeded.