The first Canadian Census of Population took place in 1871. Nevertheless, it was only in 1901 that the country began collecting statistics on language through the census.

About the authors

Jean-Pierre Corbeil

Jean-Pierre Corbeil

Jean-Pierre Corbeil is the Assistant Director in Statistics Canada Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division and a chief specialist in language statistics. After having obtained a B.A. and M.A. from McGill University, he obtained a Ph.D. in sociology from the Université de Montréal. He works in the domain of language statistics and has studied the linguistic situation of the country for over 15 years. Throughout his career at Statistics Canada, he has published numerous articles on the Canadian linguistic situation and has given numerous conferences on the subject throughout Canada. Other than demolinguistics, his chief research interests fall under immigration, intergroup relations, Canada's linguistic duality, multilingualism, and education. Notably, he is a member of the scientific committee that has followed the evolution of Québec's linguistic situation through l'Office Québécois de la Langue Française. 

For more information, please contact Jean-Pierre Corbeil: 
[email protected]

Alejandro Andrés Páez Silva

Alejandro Andrés Páez Silva

Alejandro Paez Silva is a young researcher active in the fields of Immigrant Integration, Language Policy, and Applied Linguistics. His current thesis project focuses on the impact of Second Language Acquisition on the Cultural Identity Integration of Adult Immigrants. He has also given conferences on the subject both in Canada and across Europe.  

For more information, please contact Alejandro Andrés Pàez Silva
[email protected]

About this section

The first Canadian Census of Population took place in 1871. Nevertheless, it was only in 1901 that the country began collecting statistics on language through the census. Since then, more than 40 surveys have been conducted which include a language component (Lafrenière, 2013). Needless to say, with over 115 years of history and several dozen data sets available the wealth of choices may understandably be overwhelming. Therefore, we are happy to provide this guide to Statistics Canada’s language resources in order to:

  1. Introduce the history, development, and conceptualisation of the current language variables used by Statistics Canada.
  2. Familiarize the user with the various data sources available and their different characteristics.
  3. Provide some of the more significant data tables and publications as hyperlinks or in .pdf format.
  4. Assist the user in navigating the wealth of information on Statistics Canada website.

To achieve this goal, we have divided this guide into nine sections. Section 1 introduces the guide and our basic aims. Section 2 provides an overview of the main language-related data sources. Section 3 provides a sociopolitical history of the seven language questions currently asked in the census.

Given this preliminary contextualisation, Sections 4 through 8 provide a condensed summary of five of the most salient language themes. These themes include (a) Bilingualism and Multilingualism, (b) Language Practices, (c) Second Language Education and Literacy (d) Official Language Minorities, and (e) Ethnocultural Characteristics—all through a language lens. For each of these thematic sections, we strive to provide an overview of the relevant variables (introduction, wording, and use) as well as a selection of the most useful data tables and publications. In some cases, we also provide charts, figures, or diagrams to more succinctly present the required information.

Lastly, we end this guide with a list of additional resources that may better help the user contextualize, navigate, and find information on Statistics Canada’s website. These resources include dictionaries, data source guides, topic guides, citation guides, searching options, and historical census links. In the end, it is our hope that armed with this guide, researchers, academics, policy-makers, and community partners may better find what they seek in a more targeted and efficient manner.


This tab was produced in collaboration with the Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division team at Statistics Canada. In particular, we thank assistant director Jean-Pierre Corbeil and Brigitte  Chavez for their support for the project and clarifications regarding the history, development, and structure of the census program as well as in official-language minority topics. We are also indebted to the Statistics Canada team of subject-matter experts and analysts. Specifically, we would like to thank Émilie Lavoie for her thorough help with the education surveys and various data tables; René Houle for his help with the history of language questions; Hélène Maheux for her direction on historical immigration and ethnocultural statistics, and Annie Turner for her clarifications on aboriginal surveys.