Red River Censuses

Census Making at Red River Settlement

Almost all censuses taken at Red River Settlement were conducted by the Hudson’s Bay Company [HBC]. The earliest records (prior to 1825), merely listed heads of households.

In 1825 along with naming the head of the household, note was taken of the number of persons living in the household, the broad age ranges they fell into, and marital status.

Census pages 28 29 1834

1834 Census, pp 28-29. Credit Library and Archives Canada Online MIKAN no. 123005 (1 item).

Censuses taken in 1827, 1828, 1829, 1830, 1831, 1832, 1834 (see also 1834-5, Grantown 1834, and 1834-5 continued), 1835, 1838, 1840, and 1843 typically recorded, “the heads of households and some other information such as, age, religion, country of birth, married or widowed, number of sons and daughters, and agricultural data (for example, the number of livestock, the number of buildings, and the number of acres under cultivation).”

census page

A page from the Hudson’s Bay Company 1843 Census of Red River Settlement. Archives of Manitoba, Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, E5/11, p. 14.

Censuses were also taken in 1846–1847, 1849, 1851, 1856, and 1861. Those of 1842, 1851, and 1861 were particularly detailed, the censuses giving “information pertaining to houses occupied, number of buildings, types of housing, property ownership, land occupied, place of birth, age, sex, marital status, infirmities, religion, occupation or profession, education, agricultural crops, farm animals and their products, taverns or houses of public entertainment, stores where spiritous liquors sold, mills, manufacturers, distilleries, and wages paid to individuals.”

As of 1851, “all persons, not just heads of households, were enumerated, and an agricultural census was compiled separately.” It was not until 1870, however, that all enumerated persons other than the heads of household were identified by name (along with “ages, places of birth, religion, and citizenship.”)

In 1870, after the creation of Manitoba, a census was undertaken by Lieutenant Governor Adams George Archibald. The object of the census was set out as:

“to enable the lieutenant-Governor to ascertain the number of persons who come within the designation of “Families of half-breeds,” mentioned in the 31st clause of the Manitoba Act, with a view to the division among those who come under that designation, of certain un-granted lands of the Province.”

[Archives of Manitoba [AM], MG2 B3, Council of Assiniboia fonds, Red River and Manitoba census returns, 1870, document 3, “Instructions To be observed by the enumerators appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor, to take the Enumeration of the Province of Manitoba/Instructions que devront observer les Enumerators appointes par le lieutenant-Governor de manitoba,” 1870; see also “Fort Garry, October 13th, 1870,” Canada Gazette, Sessional Papers 20 (I871), 74.]

Individuals who were “descended however remotely, either by father or mother, from any ancestor belonging to any one of the native tribes of Indians, and also descended, however remotely, from an ancestor among the Whites,” were identified as “Halfbreed” on English language census forms and as “Métis” on French language forms.

[Norma Jean Hall, with Clifford P. Hall, and Erin Verrier, A History of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia/le Conseil du Governement Provisoire (Province of Manitoba and Canada, Indian and Northern Affairs, 2010), (accessed 3 February 2012), 1. AM, MG2 B3-3, “Instructions to be observed by the enumerators appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor.”]

The census was begun in October. The settlement was divided into five census districts. A team of Métis enumerators — consisting of one person fluent and literate in the French language, and one person fluent and literate in English — was assigned to each district. The enumerators of each team worked independently and their results were compared on completion. The work was completed by 23 December 1870. The double enumeration generated very similar tabulations. Archibald was satisfied with its “accuracy and impartiality.” Nevertheless, the census was subsequently rejected in Ottawa, as “crude” and marked by inaccuracies that did not fit it to its primary purpose — the distribution of land.

[D.N. Sprague, Canada and the Metis, 1869-1885 (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1988), 75;; H. Douglas Kemp, “Land Grants Under the Manitoba Act,” MHS Transactions ser. 3. 9 (1952 – 1953 season), Archibald’s breakdown of the results was published in Canada, Parliament, Sessional Papers of the Parliament of the Dominion of Canada, Volume 5 (C. H. Parmelee, 1871), 93 – 95. See also Sir John A. Macdonald, quoted in Canada, Parliament, House of Commons, Debates: Official Report, Volume 4 (Ottawa: Queen’s Printer, 1885), 3112, who described the census as “carefully compiled.”]

In 1872, an Order-in-Council (13 January 1872), called for a repeat census of the Métis population of Manitoba, “to be carried out by Gilbert McMicken, an officer of the Secretary of State for the Provinces (the predecessor of the Department of the Interior) at Winnipeg, on a plan to be approved by the Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba.”


Census Data

1827 Census: “The 1827 census for the Red River Settlement in the Canadian Northwest gives 236 heads of households. Of these, 44 were listed as being from Orkney”

1835 Census: As transcribed and organized by D.N. Sprague and R.P. Frye in The Genealogy of the First Metis Nation: the development and dispersal of the Red River Settlement, 1820-1900 (1983), lists recognized landowning heads of households and the numbers of: people in the household; horses; cattle; farm implements; carts; and cultivated acres; and gives the lot number and parish for each household.

Settlement Stats derived from Census Data

Capture census data

1849: Alexander Ross compiled a list of statics published in The Red River Settlement: Its Rise, Progress, and Present State,with some account of the native races and its general history to the present day (1856). An Appendix to the volume reveals that as of 1849, the 5,391 settlers included in the HBC census had built 745 homes, 1,066 stables and 335 barns. Cumulatively their farmsteads included about 6,393 acres of cultivated land. There were 1,068 implements to work the land with. There were 2,085 horses, 6,015 head of cattle and 3,096 pigs to tend. Transportation needs were met with 1,918 carts and 468 water craft. The Métis inhabitants had contributed labour and funds to build 7 community churches. Their children had access to 12 schools. The onerous task of milling grain was ameliorated by the presence of 2 watermills and 18 windmills.

1856: Donald Gunn compiled tables which inventoried population, livestock, agricultural implements and machines, as well as homes, barns and commercial buildings in the Settlement as of 1856. Gunn’s figures indicate that from 1849, for a period representing less than a decade, the population had increased by 1,232 persons or 23 percent. The number of houses had increased by 24 percent; stables by 16 percent; barns by 19 percent. Not included in his figures are the number of extensions added to existing buildings to increase the area of sheltered space available for accommodating larger families, more livestock, tools and other possessions. The number of acres of cultivated land had risen by 31 percent. At 8,371 acres, the previous averages of .96 cultivated acres per person set in 1835, and 1.18 acres per person in 1849, had increased to 1.28 acres per person by 1856. Given the high yield capacity of Red River soil, this must be considered a generous allotment — especially as the volume of buffalo products harvested continued its increase unabated. The number of horses had increased again by 34 percent; cattle by 54 percent; pigs by nearly 200 percent. In addition, 2,429 sheep had been added to the livestock base. There were 18 windmills, and 9 water-mills available for threshing and grinding grain, and for carding wool. As well there was a new combination grist and saw mill. Threshing machines, reapers and winnowing machines had added about 28 new implements to the Settlements’ expanded total of 1,315 ploughs and harrows. The number of carts had risen to 2,145; water craft to 577. There were two new churches and the number of schools had risen to 17. A total of 56 shops and stores manufacturing and selling a variety of items had appeared. Members of the Métis community occupied formal medical, teaching, and ecclesiastic positions. The number of Métis members of the HBC nominal arm of civil government, the Council of Assiniboia, was increasing. Quarterly and Petty Local Courts were in place. The low number of cases saw no significant generation of revenue. By Gunn’s calculation the settlement assets could be valued at approximately £111,032 “exclusive of the Company’s forts and provisions.”

1870 Census: Based on the results of the 1870 census, the population of the Red River Settlement during the Resistance 1869 – 1870 is generally estimated at about 12,000 persons. There are discrepancies among texts that discuss population numbers: the total given as anywhere from 11, 903, or 11,960 (Archibald’s figure), or 11,963 to 12,228. Depending on the source consulted, this included about 9, 480, or 9,800 or 9,840 to 10,000 Métis and 558 to 560 ‘Indians.’

According to the ‘French Report’ of Archibald’s census, there were 5,757  Métis français and 4,083 Métis anglais in a total population of 11,963. The ‘English Report’ gave 5,696 ‘French Half Breeds’ and 4,082 ‘English Half Breeds,’ for a total of 11,967. Archibald further broke down the total population to show 5,720 Protestants and 6,240 Catholics. The ‘White’ population numbered 1,563, of whom “slightly less than one-half had been born in the North-West; 294 were Canadians … 69 had come from the United States; 412 were from Great Britain or Ireland; 15 had come from France; and 38 were from other countries.”

[See Kemp, “Land Grants Under the Manitoba Act,”, who notes “10,000 for the total number of halfbreeds” was an estimate. See also John Elwood Ridd, “The Red River Insurrection, 1869-1870,” M.A. thesis (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 1934), 2; and Hereward Senior, The Last Invasion of Canada: The Fenian Raids, 1866–1870 (Dundurn, 1991), 177. Thomas Flanagan and Gerhard Ens, “Metis Land Grants in Manitoba, A Statistical Study,” Social History/ Histoire Sociale 27, no. 53 (1994): 70, give the total as 11,960. John Welsted, John Everitt, and Christoph Stadel, eds., The Geography of Manitoba: Its Land and Its People (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1996), 127, gives the total as 11,963. The latter number was also quoted in 1878 — see Thomas S. Fernon, No Dynasty in North America. The West Between Salt Waters … (Philadelphia: Henry B. Ashmead, 1878), 6. Gerhard J. Ens, Homeland to Hinterland: The Changing Worlds of the Red River Metis in the Nineteenth Century (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996), 140, gives the total as 12,228. See also Statistics Canada, “The 1800s (1806 to 1871),” Government of Canada website, (accessed 6 February 2012), which agrees with the latter figure.]

Notably, children made up the largest demographic in the settlement. The precise number of Métis children is not clear in existing sources that reference the censuses, though one source notes that “over 62 percent of the population was under twenty-one years of age.” This would indicate that about 8000 of those counted as inhabitants of Red River during the Resistance were under the age of 21.

[Ens, Homeland to Hinterland, 140. See also Statistics Canada, “1870 Man. Table I – Population, Sexes, and Conjugal Condition, Manitoba,” (accessed 6 February 2012), which suggests 65% of the total population (7,999) were “children and unmarried.” There is also “1870 Man. Table III – Ages of the People, Manitoba,” (accessed 9 February 2012), an E-STAT table that displays ages in the settlement, but I could not decode it. The above links apparently cannot be accessed directly, one has to first go to Statistics Canada, “The 1800s (1806 to 1871),” Government of Canada website, (accessed 6 February 2012).]


Online Census:

Update: A digitized microfilm reel C-2170, “Manitoba and Red River census returns” is available from, which includes census returns from Red River between 1831 and 1870, and records from the 1870 Manitoba census (without a finding aid, blurry, and incomplete).

  • FamilySearch supplies a searchable (and easier to read) online card index for the same censuses. See “Manitoba Census Indexes, 1831-1870 (FamilySearch Historical Records)” for information on how to use the index cards, or directly access the records here. Note, however, that the records supply primarily the name of individuals (with an indication of male parent or husband), their place of birth, and age (if given) in a particular census year. Although a reference number is given on the cards, its significance is not clear, and may not help in cross-referencing with’s C-2170 pages.

Digital facsimile pages of the 1870 Archibald Census are also available online from “Census,” Library and Archives Canada [LAC]. See “About the 1870 Census of Manitoba,” which includes a Search link.

Online Census Statistics:

E-STAT tables for Assiniboia were previously available from Statistics Canada, Censuses of Canada 1665 to 1871, Western Canada,, for the censuses of 1831, 1834, 1835, 1838, 1840, 1843, 1846, 1849, 1856. Although the page still existed as of 28 August 2013, it was not operational.

When running, the interface allowed users to generate tables, in a number of formats, for each census year that showed: “Families, Population, Conjugal Condition”, “Apportionment by Ages”,  “Religions and Birth Places,” and “Agriculture.”

For the years 1849 and 1856, tables could also be generated to show: “Buildings Land and Cattle.”

Update: Although the StatsCan e-stat page was permanently archived (shut down) and the links broken in 2013, the  “Western Canada – 1831-1870” tables have been made available at Queen’s University website, (accessed 15 February 2016).

E-STAT tables for Manitoba were also previously available from Statistics Canada, Censuses of Canada 1665 to 1871, Western Canada,, for the census of 1870. Although the page still existed as of 28 August 2013, it was not operational.

When running, the interface allowed users to generate tables, in a number of formats, that showed: “Population, Sexes, and Conjugal Condition”, “Religions of the People”,  “Ages of the People,” and “Birthplaces of the People.”

Screen capture of sample graph, showing population of the Settlement and breakdown by parish showing proportion of Male to Female inhabitants:

Capture e stat graph

Update: Although the StatsCan e-stat page was permanently archived (shut down) and the links broken in 2013, the “Western Canada – 1831-1870” tables have been made available at Queen’s University website, (accessed 15 February 2016).


The Hudson’s Bay Company Archives has censuses for the years 1827, 1828, 1829, 1830, 1831, 1832, 1833, 1835, 1838, 1840, and 1843, and these are indexed. Update: As of September 2016 digital images of the censuses have been uploaded to the Archives of Manitoba website. Getting to them might be complicated, but it’s worth it.

  • Start at “Red River Settlement census returns sent to the Governor and Committee,”;
  • click on “view an online list of these records — that will drop you to the bottom of the same page, where you need to again click on “view an online list of these records”;
  • when you land on the page with the list, clicking on the tiny arrow “→” to the right of the description of the year you want to view will take you to the page with digitized images of the census,
  • clicking the thumbnail images in the gallery at the bottom will take you to a larger, scrollable view with a nifty magnifying glass that appears when you move your cursor over the page.

The Provincial Archives of Manitoba has censuses for the years 1832, 1833, 1838, 1840, 1843, 1846–1847, 1849, and 1856 (incomplete; not yet online).

Secondary Sources:

John Clarke, “Population and economic activity : a geographical and historical analysis, based upon selected censuses, of the Red River Valley in the period 1832 to 1856,” M.A. thesis (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 1966).

D.N. Sprague and R.P. Frye, The genealogy of the first Metis nation : the development and dispersal of the Red River Settlement, 1820-1900 (Winnipeg: Peguis, 1983).

Douglas Sprague and Ronald Frye, “Manitoba’s Red River Settlement: Sources for Economic and Demographic History,” Arichiavaria 9 (Winter 1979 – 1980): 179 – 193.

Recommended reading also:

Bruce Curtis, The Politics of Population: State Formation, Statistics and the Census of Canada, 1840 – 1875 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), for an insightful and revealing deconstruction of 19th-century census making.


Published: 17 December 2012; updated 19 May 2016







  1. I see a Francois Vincent in 1827, and 1835. Who is this guy? Do you have any information on him?

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