Charleston’s Hibernian Hall

I recently visited Charleston, South Carolina, for the first time, and anyone with an interest in Irish history or architecture cannot help but be struck by the massive, Greek-columned Hibernian Hall on Meeting Street.


Hibernian Hall, Charleston – photo credit: L. Flewelling

Hibernian Hall, which is a National Historic Landmark, was built in 1840 for the Hibernian Society, an Irish benevolent association founded in 1801.  The Hibernian Society celebrates its non-sectarian identity, alternating between Catholic and Protestant presidents.

Hibernian Hall, Charleston

Hibernian Hall, Charleston – photo credit: L. Flewelling

The Hibernian Society was originally founded in 1799 by a group of Irish Protestants, but when it was reorganized in 1801, it included prominent Charleston Catholics.  Father Simon Felix Gallagher, a Catholic priest, was its first president.  David Gleeson writes that Protestants and Catholics in the southern United States each recognized the other’s Irishness.  “This broad definition of Irish in the South survived in large part because Irish and Irish-American Protestants continued to claim it,” he notes.  “Protestants stayed active in Hibernian societies, and also in Irish charitable societies and militia units.  Most important, they remained strong supporters of Irish nationalism.  Many had Irish roots in the radical politics of the United Irishmen.”

Charleston’s Hibernian Society serves to emphasize the wide variety of experience of both Protestant and Catholic Irish in America.  While the Scotch-Irish were closely associated with nativist and anti-Catholic organizations such as the Know-Nothings, American Protestant Association, Order of United American Mechanics, American Protective Association, American Orange Order, and the Ku Klux Klan, they could also be found working with and identifying with Catholic Irish in the United States.

The National Park Service notes that the Hibernian Hall is also known for its associations with the momentous 1860 presidential election: “The Hall is the only extant building associated with the National Democratic Convention of 1860, one of the most critical political assemblies in this nation’s history. Hibernian Hall served as the convention headquarters for the faction supporting Stephen A. Douglas. It was hoped that Douglas would bridge the gap between the northern and southern delegates on the issue of extending slavery to the territories. The first floor of the Hall was used for meetings, while the second floor was filled with hundreds of cots for the delegates. The convention disintegrated no candidate was able to summon a two-thirds majority vote. This divisiveness resulted in a split in the Democratic party, and the election of Abraham Lincoln, the Republican candidate.”

Hibernian Hall, Charleston

Hibernian Hall, Charleston – photo credit: L. Flewelling


David T. Gleeson, “Smaller Differences: ‘Scotch Irish’ and ‘Real Irish’ in the Nineteenth-Century American South,” New Hibernia Review 10, no. 2 (Summer 2006).

Hibernian Hall, Charleston’s Historic, Religious, and Community Buildings, National Park Service.

Viewing Canada Live and Online Pt. 2 — Quebec

A few weeks ago I began a discussion about webcams on the blog. Although certainly an older technology, webcams can provide information, insight, and opportunities to look into places that we might not be able to get to offline. I provided a number of links to webcams in the Maritime Provinces of Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. This week I’m moving west into Quebec for a glimpse at the province’s natural beauty, architecture, and history. Enjoy!


Parc de la Chute-Montmorency [Montmorency Falls Park]

The Montmorency Falls are a stunning 84 metres (276 feet) high, 30 metres higher than Niagara Falls and the highest waterfall in Quebec. They are about a ten minute drive from Quebec City. The area surrounding the falls is protected by the Parc de la Chute-Montmorency. The falls were named in 1613 by Samuel de Champlain, one of Canada’s most famous early European explorers, aka “the Father of New France”.

The Park provides various paths and lookout points for visitors to view the falls, as well as from the cable cars, restaurant, and even a zip-line! Remains of earthen forts built under British Major General James Wolfe in 1759 during the Seven Years War (the French Indian War) can still be found in the eastern end of the park. 440 British soldiers died there as the British came up against French forces under Louis-Joseph de Montcalm.

An interesting side-note — the falls glow slightly yellow in the summer due to higher levels of iron.

Parliament of Quebec, Quebec City

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Screenshot of the Parliament of Quebec webcam, 23 Apr 2017, by P. Dumas

The Parliament of Quebec is located on Parliament Hill in Quebec City. The building was designated a national heritage building of Quebec in 1985. It was built just outside of the old city walls and was completed in 1886. Visitors to the building can go on free guided tours of the building in French and English (and Spanish on request). Live streaming and webcasts of live debates and committee activities can be found on their website.

Port de Quebec, Quebec City

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Screenshot of the Port Quebec webcam, 23 April 2014, by P. Dumas

This webcam gives a beautiful view of the St Lawrence River with Old Quebec, the Musée de la civilisation à Québec [the Museum of Civilisation of Quebec], and La Citadell de Quebec, the largest British fortress in North America, in the distance. The inland Port of Quebec is the oldest port in Canada and the second largest in Quebec after Montreal. On a personal note, it was also the port that welcomed some of my family as immigrants to Canada in the mid-1950s, so it’s pretty important to me.

Mont Tremblant, Tremblant

Tremblant is a pedestrian village and large ski resort at a height of 875 metres above sea level. This beautiful forest-covered mountainous region is roughly an hour and a half drive northwest of Montreal in Quebec. The area around the mountain has been a designated recreational area since the late 1800s and it’s website uniquely (albeit briefly) recognises the history of first nations’ peoples in the region as well as European development and activity.

This ski village has a webcam that I had never seen before — it moves and rotates, zooming in and out to show various places of interest that can be seen from its location at the summit.

Historic Preservation in Ireland, Part II: The European Union

Lough Key Forest Park - photo credit: wikimedia commons

Lough Key Forest Park (project with funding from the ERDF) – photo credit: wikimedia commons

Find Part I of this series here.

As a member of the European Union, Ireland’s cultural heritage and historic preservation policies are impacted by transnational policies and initiatives from the European Commission.  A wide range of heritage-related areas are impacted by EU membership, including agriculture, agritourism, natural heritage, fisheries, environmental policies, rural development, education, and languages.  This is in addition to the cultural heritage policies and programs put in place by the EU.

The Maastricht Treaty set out policies relating to the cultural heritage of EU member states, including:

  • Contributing to the flowering of the cultures of the Member States, while respecting their national and regional diversity and at the same time bringing the common cultural heritage to the fore
  • Encouraging cooperation between Member States, and supporting action in the following areas: improvement of knowledge and dissemination of the culture and history of European peoples; conservation and safeguarding of cultural heritage of European significance; non-commercial cultural exchanges; artistic and literary creation

The current European Agenda for Culture sets out to “address common challenges” among EU member states, including “promoting cultural diversity, protecting cultural heritage, easing obstacles to the mobility of cultural professionals, and supporting the contribution of cultural and creative industries to boosting growth and jobs across the EU.”

The current EU Work Plan for Culture sets out four main priorities: Accessible and inclusive culture; Cultural heritage; Cultural and creative sectors: creative economy and innovation; Promotion of cultural diversity, culture in EU external relations, and mobility.

There are several layers to the EU policies and programs on cultural heritage.  One strand promotes projects that encompass several Member States as well as other international organizations.  The Creative Europe Culture Sub-Program has provided €13.7 million in funding to projects with Irish partners and €2 million to Irish-led projects to date.  The projects range widely from the National Museum of Ireland and UCD partnered-project, CEMEC (Connecting Early Medieval European Collections) to the Follow the Vikings project in which Dublinia and Waterford Treasures at the Granary are partners, to many other projects promoting creativity, the arts, and cultural heritage.  The full list of Irish-participant projects is here.

Another strand invests in regional development, including through support of innovation and research, the digital agenda, support for small and medium-sized enterprises, and the low-carbon economy.  Along with projects in other areas of regional development, the EU helped fund projects at Lough Key, Cork’s Triskel Christchurch Arts Centre, the House of Waterford Crystal, and other investments in Irish towns and cities.  Find the list of Irish projects here.

The European Union has many other programs and policies which have the potential to impact cultural heritage preservation in Ireland, especially through cultural exchanges and transnational projects, and it is interesting to think about how cultural heritage is interwoven into the layers of EU policies which apply to Ireland.

Further Reading:

Valerie C. Fletcher, “The European Union and Heritage,” in The Heritage of Ireland, ed. Neil Buttimer, Colin Rynne, and Helen Guerin (Cork: Collins, 2000).

Postcard from Glenashdale Falls, Isle of Arran


Glenashdale Falls, Isle of Arran — Photo by P. Dumas


The Isle of Arran holds countless points of beauty and of historic (and prehistoric) significance. Only two hours from Glasgow (approx. 1 hour by train plus 1 hour by ferry) off the West Coast of Scotland, Arran’s most noticeably spectacular feature may be Goatfell, it’s highest point, but a 30 minute bus journey south to Whiting Bay leads to a 2 hour circular walk with stone age, iron age, and natural sites of interest.

Here are the beautiful Glenashdale Falls. This double waterfall (whose height of 140 feet/45 metres my camera couldn’t fully capture) is stunning. There’s also a great lookout point from which to admire it’s imposing scale and plummeting water.


Lower half of Glenashdale Fals — Photo by P. Dumas


Crashing water at the bottom of the Falls — Photo by P. Dumas

Patsy Donovan, Fleet-Footed and Prolific Irish Ballplayer

Patsy Donovan was a quintessential player of his age, and was quite possibly the most successful Irish-born baseball player.  Like many other players of the deadball era, Donovan hit for high average but little power, compiling a lifetime batting average of .301 with 1,957 singles out of his 2,256 career hits.  He was fast and aggressive on the base paths, stealing 518 bases over his career.  And he played for seventeen years, spending time on the Boston Beaneaters, Brooklyn Bridegrooms, Louisville Colonels, Washington Statesmen, Washington Senators, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, and Brooklyn Superbas.

Patsy Donovan

Patsy Donovan – Photo Credit: Library of Congress

Donovan was born in Cobh (then Queenstown), County Cork, in 1865 (or possibly 1863 – he may have fabricated his age to appear younger) and immigrated with his family to the United States as a young child as part of a huge wave of Irish immigrants in the second half of the nineteenth century.  They moved to Lawrence, Massachusetts, where Donovan went to work in the cotton mills after finishing elementary school.

He got his start in baseball in his home town, playing for the Lawrence club in the New England League.  From there, he joined other clubs in the minor leagues, playing in Salem, Massachusetts, and London, Ontario, before making his major league debut with the Boston Beaneaters in 1890.  The outfielder was soon noted for his leadership abilities.  As David Jones notes, “In a decade that was infamous for rough play and rowdyism, Donovan was most admired for his quiet dignity and work ethic.”  He is a strong contrast against negative stereotypes of Irish and Irish-American players of his era.  Consequently, Donovan was hired as a player-manager of the Pirates in 1897.  He was replaced as manager after leading the team to a 60-71 record, but granted a second chance in 1899.  In total, he spend eleven years as a manager of the Pirates, Cardinals, Senators, Superbas, and Boston Red Sox, where he also worked as a scout.  Donovan was one of the first managers to regularly use relief pitchers, with his 1899 Pirates team handing to ball to a reliever 39 times that season, the most ever at that time.  He is known for convincing the Red Sox to sign Babe Ruth after watching him play for the minor league Baltimore Orioles in 1914.

After his time in the big leagues, Donovan spent 14 years as a minor league manager and continued to scout until 1946.

Over the history of the major leagues, forty-seven players have been born in Ireland, mainly from the 1870s through the 1910s, an era which is heavily associated with Irish-American influence on the sport.  Since 1910, there have only been three Irish-born players.  Cork-born Joe Cleary was the most recent, appearing in a single game for the Washington Senators in 1945.  Having pitched 1/3 of an inning, he had an unfortunate career ERA of 189.00.

Happy opening week of the baseball season!  Go Rockies!


Further reading:

Baseball Reference: Patsy Donovan Player Page.

Baseball Reference: Patsy Donovan Manager Page.

David Jones, “Patsy Donovan,” SABR Bio Project.

Patsy Donovan, New York Times obituary (The Deadball Era).

Brian Sheehy, “Baseball Star!,” Lawrence History News (Spring 2003) – Lawrence History Center: Immigrant City Archives and Museum.

John C. Skipper, A Biographical Dictionary of Major League Baseball Managers (2003).

Josephine Roche’s Coal Mining Tour of Britain and France, 1945-1946

In September 1945, Josephine Roche arrived in London as part of a European trip to investigate coal mining across the Atlantic and to attend the conference of the International Labor Organization, to which she was delegated by President Harry S Truman.

Josephine Roche

Josephine Roche – photo credit: Library of Congress

Roche was the remarkable owner of the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company, operating several coal mines in Colorado’s Northern Coal Field. Her career spanned everything from working as Denver’s first woman police officer, serving as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and running the United Mine Workers’ Welfare and Retirement Fund.  She promoted workers’ rights, aided immigrants, ran for Colorado governor, supported Progressive Party politics, and fought for social and civic reform.

After Roche’s parents died in early 1927, she inherited her father’s minority holdings of the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company.  After a strike, violence, and six deaths at the RMFC-owned Columbine Mine,  Roche gained majority control of the company. She announced that employee welfare would be a key component in the way the company was run.  The first permanent mutual union agreement ever signed by a coal mining company in Colorado was between the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company and the United Mine Workers in 1928.  This was considered a groundbreaking agreement for coal miners’ rights. Roche became known for her concern for her employees and their rights.

As Assistant Secretary of the Treasury beginning in 1934, Roche was the second woman to serve under a United States President.  She worked in the areas of education, finance, health, and welfare, helping to shape the Social Security Act and the National Youth Administration.  Her work in the realms of health and welfare laid the foundations for Medicare and Medicaid.

Her prominence in the political realm, in labor relations, and in the coal mining industry are all key contexts to her European trip immediately following the end of World War II.  Roche spent several days in London conducting background research, then traveled to Paris to attend the ILO conference.

Thirty-nine countries sent delegates to the International Labor Organization conference, held at the Sorbonne.  In her autobiography of Roche, Elinor McMinn writes of the conference, “The delegates described their wartime struggles to survive and expressed their common concern: to activate Europe’s paralyzed industrial and economic facilities and increase production of food, clothing, coal, and shelter.”  Roche was assigned by the ILO to study European coal production.  Robyn Muncy writes in Relentless Reformer, “Suffering terrible fuel shortages by war’s end, both France and Britain had nationalized their coal industries, and Roche was interested in how nationalization was affecting workers and whether the mines in each country would be able to retool fast enough to provide fuel for winter heating and industrial production.”  Roche also was commissioned by the Department of Industrial Studies of the Sage Foundation to collect information on British coal mining.  In addition, she wrote articles for the Survey Graphic and New York Herald Tribune about her findings and experiences – highlighting the interest in the United States for information about coal mining, industrial, and labor issues abroad.

After the end of the ILO conference, Roche toured coal mines of the Nord and Pas-de-Calais, reportedly becoming the first woman to descend into a French coal mine.  She perceived the French coal mining industry as being in a more positive position than the British because they had regained their pre-war production levels.

Traveling back to Britain, she embarked on a tour arranged by the Ministry of Fuel and Power.  Roche inspected the coal fields of Wales, northern England, and Scotland, going down into at least one mine per day, and discussing mining conditions with everyone from superintendents, engineers, miners, and even the miners’ wives.  She also studied the history of coal mining in Britain from medieval times.  Roche found that the root of current problems in the coal mining industry was the ownership structure, which she believed would have continued repercussions after nationalization.  McMinn writes, “Approximately four thousand families owned all the mines and leased them to many different operators, who all worked simultaneously to produce quick royalty profits for the owners.  Thus, an excessive number of small and poorly designed mines operated with a capacity inadequate to justify the equipment or technical staff essential for efficient mining practice.”  Mines had also been neglected and had inadequate technology, and also produced far less coal per day than American mines.  In addition, there was a postwar shortage of labor.

During her trip, the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act was introduced in Parliament and subsequently passed on 12 July 1946.  The Act established public ownership and control of the coal industry, set up the National Coal Board, and aimed to tackle issues with efficiency in the country’s coal mines.

Roche believed that a better course of action would be to empower the coal miners through strong unionization.  She stated, “The chief need in the English coal mines, where production remains a million tons a week below pre-war levels, appears to be a strong national union headed by a leader who can get results.”  She did not think that organizing coal mines to work in the national interest necessarily would be in the workers’ best interests.  Muncy writes that Roche believed the British Labour Party had betrayed the miners.  She approved of the government taking some role in economic intervention or regional planning, but in this case believed that miners “had simply exchanged one set of employers for another” without having a chance to bargain collectively for higher wages and safer working conditions.

According to Muncy, on this European trip, “what had crystallized for Roche was a belief that, in the achievement of economic justice, the crucial thing was not whether government or private interests operated an industry; the crucial issue was whether workers maintained independent power.”  After returning to the United States, Roche’s views of the European coal mines were part of her speeches on the lecture circuit, as audiences were eager to learn of post-war conditions abroad.

Further Reading:

Leigh Campbell-Hale, “Remembering Ludlow but Forgetting the Columbine: The 1927-1928 Colorado Coal Strike” (Unpublished PhD Diss., University of Colorado, 2013).

Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame:

Larry Dorsey, “Josephine Roche, a ‘Grand Old Gal,’” Superior Historian 3, no. 3 (Winter 2005).

Elinor McGinn, A Wide-Awake Woman: Josephine Roche in the Era of Reform (Denver: Colorado Historical Society, 2002).

Robyn Muncy, Relentless Reformer: Josephine Roche and Progressivism in Twentieth-Century America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014).

Viewing Canada Live & Online Pt. 1: The Maritimes

Webcams are an older digital technology and are often overlooked in favour of photographs, video clips, and “live” broadcasts on social media, but webcams are still around, sharing live footage of beautiful sites across Canada and abroad. Nowadays most seem to be focussed on two things: weather and traffic reporting. They also have their drawbacks — footage may be stilted, unavailable at times, hindered by weather, or the website might even require visitors to manually refresh the website in order to see a new image (I warned you that this is “old” technology!). But they also provide some beautiful views and give us a chance to explore and learn about new places without leaving home.

I thought I would dig around a share a few links to live views of some diverse webcam experiences from across the country, starting in the East with a selection of views from the Maritimes. Take a look, then take a few minutes to check out the corresponding websites (or maybe find them on social media for a more traditional online experience).

St John’s Harbour Live Webcam, St John’s, Newfoundland

This view of the harbour in St John’s, Newfoundland, is beautiful, and the camera automatically refreshes its image about once per second. The webcam is one of eight NTV Webcams provided by the Newfoundland Broadcasting Company.

Confederation Bridge Live Stream, Borden-Carleton, Prince Edward Island

This live stream from the Government of Prince Edward Island provides excellent video quality from and currently an absolutely hypnotic view of ice flowing under the Prince Edward Island (PEI) side of the great Confederation Bridge, the longest bridge over ice-covered waters in the world. The bridge is 12.9km in length, spanning the Abegweit Passage of Northumberland Strait to connect PEI to New Brunswick (and mainland Canada).

Peggy’s Cove Lighthouse, Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia Webcams offers a large number of high quality video from around Halifax and across the province. Some webcams include audio. They also make it easy to save an image from the feed with their drop-down “Capture” button and offer a comments section for viewers to share what they’ve seen and communicate with one another. Another great feature is the Ship Tracker, that provides live information on the locations of ships in the ports which you can then view via the webcams.


Pier 21, Halifax, Nova Scotia


Nova Scotia Webcams also provides a live video stream with audio of Pier 21, the former ocean liner terminal in Halifax and last surviving immigration transit shed in Canada. Pier 21 is now home to the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, where you can find information about the people from the British Isles and many, many more who settled in Canada.

Officer’s Square, Fredericton, New Brunswick

The City of Fredericton provides several webcams across the city to give viewers a look at traffic on the roads and waterways and at historic sites, such as this one. This square formed part of the British Army’s garrison for its forces between 1785 and 1869 and then by the Canadian Army from 1883 to 1914, but is now a centre for outdoor activities for the public. Several original historic buildings in Fredericton’s Historic Garrison District are now National Historic Sites.

In the News: Ben Carson, ‘Immigrants’, and Slavery in America

On March 6, 2017, newly-sworn-in Housing and Urban Development secretary, Ben Carson, made a speech to his agency’s employees that confused enslaved Africans for immigrants seeking a better life in America. Word of this mix-up quickly gathered momentum in news outlets, on social media, and the late show circuit.

Regular readers of our blog know that we rarely get political, but in this case I wanted to contextualise Carson’s remarks and hopefully shed some light on why his assertion immediately received such strong criticism. As such, I am going to repeat his remarks here and highlight a few key areas that deserve correction and context.

brookes slave ship

Copy of the Brookes slave ship (engraving)

 “There were other immigrants who came in the bottom of slave ships, who worked even longer, even harder, for less, but they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great grandsons, great granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.” – Ben Carson, HUD Secretary, 6 March 2017

First up is Carson’s use of the term ‘immigrants’. Merriam-Webster defines an immigrant as ‘a person who comes to a country to take up permanent residence’. We immediately have a problem, then, with considering enslaved Africans to be immigrants because an immigrant must be a person, and Africans  ‘who came in the bottom of slave ships’ were property, not people. They did not have the rights or legal protections that, if we refer back to Merriam-Webster, are central to being considered a person in legal terms.

Second, but still on the subject of being an immigrant, immigrants typically move country for a reason. This may be to pursue a new job or the opportunity to build a better life with more land, a better climate, etc., or to be with family who have already immigrated. Immigrants have a choice. This is also a key difference between immigrants and refugees. Refugees arrive in a new country fleeing from danger. Immigrants may be looking for a better life, but they are moving of their own accord and can migrate further or return home. Refugees typically can not return home. Slaves have no legal choices regarding where they go, what they do, etc., because they are owned by others who dictate for them.*

*Not that enslaved individuals didn’t assert their power, make demands, flee their situation, etc. Enslaved persons were not legally considered to be people, but they were still human beings with agency, intelligence, personal beliefs, and relationships.

Next, we come to the phrase ‘who worked even longer, even harder, for less’. Slaves were unpaid. Had they been paid workers with contracts and/or the ability to legally leave their positions, they would not have been slaves. They would have been employees. So technically, yes, they were paid less than other ‘workers’ because they weren’t paid at all.

Some might say, ‘oh, they were paid in kind’, referring to shelter, clothing, food, and care offered to some enslaved individuals at some times in some places. Labouring on a plantation was not a choice for an enslaved person. It wasn’t freely entered into. Carson’s decision to describe enslaved Africans as having worked longer and harder for less implies that slavery and employment are the same thing.

The final part of states, ‘but they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great grandsons, great granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.’ No. The African slaves who were brought to the Americas ‘in the bottom of slave ships’ were not dreaming of themselves and their descendants living out the American dream on American soil. This idea is demeaning to the generations who survived enslavement and to those who remained in Africa. It implies that transported Africans and/or their descendants were lucky to have been forcibly taken from Africa.

So where does this perception, this viewpoint comes from? It is grounded in the slavery-supporting idea of Western superiority. It was evident in the very origins of the transatlantic slave trade when the Portuguese received Papal support for slavery because it was an opportunity to spread Christianity and ‘save’ the African people through enslavement, forced transportation, and conversion.

12 million Africans were forcibly taken from Africa on the slave ships. Approximately 2 million didn’t survive the voyage to the New World. Just imagine what sort of decimation a culture, established social structures, and familial bonds go through when encountering loss on this scale. It’s horrific. Many immigrants certainly made their way to the Americas to pursue ‘the American dream’, but they weren’t slaves.

Postcard from York


York – photo credit: L. Flewelling

I was just talking to a friend (from the US) about York and as it turned out, she had a very similar experience visiting there as me – it’s a city that immediately feels welcoming and manageable and filled with fun things to see highlighting a diverse range of time periods and people (and a vague smell of chocolate in the air).


York’s City Walls – photo credit: L. Flewelling

History of York website from the York Museums Trust

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Ruins of St Mary’s Abbey – photo credit: L. Flewelling

Visit York

York Minster

York Castle Museum

National Railway Museum

JORVIK Viking Centre

Yorkshire Museum


Clifford’s Tower – photo credit: L. Flewelling


Canada’s 2016 Census: the Long-Form’s Return

On May 10, 2016, the most recent Canadian census took place. Of course, Canadians had from the 2nd to complete their forms, but the information given was meant to reflect a ‘snapshot’ of life in the country on the 10th of May.

census envelope.jpg

Censuses have been conducted in one or more regions of what is now Canada since the mid-17th century. All of the Canadian territories have been surveyed via a census every 10 years since 1851 and every 5 years since 1901. Some of the information requested be the government changes from census to census, but some items remain relatively unchanged, including family name, size of household, and ages of household and family members.

The 2016 census was memorable for a couple important reasons. First, 2016 witnessed the return of the mandatory long-form census. The long-form census is a version of the census that asks more questions than the typical form. The regular census for 2016 consisted of 10 questions; the long-form was 36 pages in length! This can include asking for detailed information about housing, income, transportation, and everyday life. Far from being viewed as a time-consuming burden, in 2016 they were a much-welcomed sight by Canadians across the country.

You see, the long-form had been discontinued by Prime Minister Stephen Harper‘s Conservative government, citing privacy concerns, and replaced with a voluntary National Household Survey. Prior to its cancellation, the mandatory long-form census, sent to 1 in 5 Canadian households, had resulted in returns of 94% in 2006. The information provided by the census had been vital to funding allocations and deciding upon necessary services for Canada’s diverse populations.

Not surprisingly, the cancellation of the mandatory long-form census was met with protest from politicians, industry and government bodies, and individuals and groups across the country. Statistics Canada voiced concerns that underrepresented populations, often the ones most in need of additional services and funding, were the most likely to not return a voluntary form. Chief statistician and Head of Statistics Canada Munir Sheikh resigned publicly over the issue. Sheikh later detailed his objectives to the cancellation in an essay entitled ‘Good Data and Intelligent Government‘.

The voluntary National Household Survey (NHS) of 2011 resulted in a collection response rate of 68.6%. People who were living on Indian reserves or in Indian settlements were also given a different version of the NHS to fill out that omitted questions about citizenship. Wayne R. Smith, the Chief Statistician of Canada, provided a very useful blog post about the potential uses and failings of the NHS in June 2015. In 2013, Global News’ Patrick Cain gave a succinct summary of the problems of moving to a voluntary response scheme, particularly the relatively high levels of non-response that forced Statistics Canada to change their own standards in an effort to derive useful information from the incomplete data sets.

It turns out that Canadians continued to feel strongly that a return to mandatory long-forms and the enforced completion and return of census information were important to the future of the country and to a government’s ability to best serve its people. Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had made the return of the long-form census a part of his election platform in the run up to the Federal Election of October 19, 2015. In November 2015 the Minister for Innovation, Science, and Economic Development, Navdeep Bains, announced that the long-form would be back in time for the next Census in 2016.

Returning to the beginning of my post, then, the census was distributed in May 2016. Canadians were so willing to contribute their information that they made international headlines by crashing Statistics Canada’s online census website, promptly earning the country the reputation of being a nation of nerds (one which Canadians proudly embraced!). According to the CBC, almost 68% of respondents filled out their forms online, setting a world record, and the total percentage of the census population that filled out their forms was a record-setting 98.4%.

Now the first of the 2016 Census releases is out, and those efforts of the many enthusiastic contributors (and those who admittedly were not as enthusiastic but were still law-abiding) are paying off with quality, accurate information the likes of which haven’t been seen in the country in almost 10 years. Historians of the future will be very happy!