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Overview of the Census of Population
Chapter 5 – Field operations


During the data collection phase, the objective of field operations was to deliver a census questionnaire to every household and agricultural operation in Canada and to have it completed and returned.

Census delivery methods

Starting May 3, a bilingual letter was delivered to 60% of Canadian dwellings. This letter replaced the traditional paper questionnaire and provided the required information so respondents could complete the questionnaire online. The letter also contained a toll-free number respondents could call to request a paper questionnaire.

An additional set of dwellings (roughly 20%) received a census package by mail.

For the remaining dwellings (roughly 20%), questionnaires were either dropped off by enumerators (18%) or the questionnaires were completed by having enumerators conduct personal interviews (2%).

For most dwellings (98% of the population), respondents were asked to complete the questionnaire for themselves and for members of their household online, or complete and then return a paper questionnaire in the mail. A toll-free number was also provided if a respondent wished to complete the questionnaire over the telephone.

Refer to Chapter 6 for additional information about the online questionnaire.

Official languages and the census questionnaire

Households that received a bilingual letter were able to complete the online questionnaire in the language of their choice, or could request a (paper) questionnaire package. The package delivered by mail to 20% of households contained both an English and a French questionnaire. Those whose forms were dropped off by list/leave (L/L) also received a questionnaire package containing both an English and a French questionnaire.

Census collection methods


A member of the household was asked to complete the census using an online questionnaire or a paper questionnaire for all members of the household. If the questionnaire was completed on paper, the respondent returned it by mail in a pre-addressed envelope to the Data Operations Centre (DOC).

Canvasser enumeration

Canvasser enumeration was conducted in remote, isolated parts of the provinces and territories, and where other collection methodologies were deemed to be too expensive to conduct. Canvasser methodology was also used in what is called early enumeration (EE) areas, because the actual field work was conducted in February, March and April 2011, thus before Census Day, due to seasonal climate variations, migrational activities or other travel impediments. When enumeration takes place before Census Day (May 10, 2011), the reference date used is the date on which the household is being enumerated.

In 2011, approximately 2% of households were enumerated using the canvasser enumeration method. In these cases, an enumerator visited the household and completed a questionnaire for the household by interview. This method was used in remote and northern areas of the country, and on most Indian reserves.

Early enumeration took place from February to April 2011 in remote and northern areas and on northern Indian reserves of the country. Canvasser enumeration also took place on Indian reserves in southern areas of the country and in transient areas of large urban centres primarily from May to July 2011, but extended into early August in some areas.

Enumeration of people outside Canada

To enumerate people posted outside Canada, the Form 2C was used. This included Canadian government employees (federal and provincial) and their families, and members of the Canadian Forces and their families. Form 2C was also used to enumerate all other Canadian citizens, landed immigrants and non-permanent residents outside Canada who requested to be enumerated.

Census Help Line

The Census Help Line (CHL), a free, nationwide, multilingual service, was available to all respondents. The toll-free number was printed on the census questionnaire and guide, and advertised in all communications materials. The CHL handled approximately 1,200,000 calls during the 2011 Census.

Census wave approach

Statistics Canada implemented a wave approach for the 2011 Census. The following table outlines the key dates for the different waves in list/leave (L/L) and mail-out (MO) areas.

The following table outlines the key dates for the different waves in list/leave (L/L) and mail-out (MO) areas
Collection phase Main activity Coverage Key start date
Wave 1 MO areas received letter with secure access code. No questionnaire package mailed. 60% of dwellings May 3, 2011
MO areas received questionnaire package and a voice broadcast message. 20% of dwellings May 3, 2011
L/L areas received questionnaire package. 20% of dwellings May 2, 2011 to May 9, 2011
Wave 2 MO areas received reminder letter with secure access code. All non-responding MO dwellings Census Day
(May 10, 2011)
L/L areas received reminder card. All L/L dwellings Census Day
(May 10, 2011)
Wave 3 MO areas received questionnaire package. To non‑responding Wave 1 dwellings that received a letter May 18, 2011
L/L areas received notice of visit and start of non-response follow-up (NRFU). All other non-responding dwellings May 20, 2011
Wave 4 Voice broadcast message, notice of visit and start of NRFU. All MO non-responding dwellings June 1, 2011
Voice broadcast message and notice of visit. All L/L non-responding dwellings May 20, 2011

Data collection stages for the 2011 Census

Early enumeration and reserve enumeration – Early enumeration primarily took place from February 1 to March 31, 2011, but was extended into April in some areas. Reserve enumeration took place from May 2 until July 29, 2011 (extended into early August in some areas). No non-response follow-up (NRFU) took place in areas of early enumeration and reserve enumeration, as completeness (for example, dwelling coverage) was verified during the enumeration process.

List/leave – List/leave (L/L) took place in areas where return of completed questionnaires by mail was feasible, but drop-off needed to be done by hand because mail delivery was not conducted solely on the civic address of the dwelling. Door-to-door delivery took place from May 2 to May 9, 2011. During the L/L operation, census enumerators listed all private dwellings, collective dwellings and agricultural operations in their Visitation Record (VR). This list was then used for the follow-up of agricultural forms and for updating the Master Control System (MCS) for NRFU.

Mail-out – Mail-out (MO) refers to the mail delivery of questionnaires. Each census questionnaire was directed to a dwelling rather than to a specific person.

Collective dwelling enumeration – The enumeration of all types of collective dwellings followed the same general procedures (regardless of whether they were in a MO or L/L area), with field staff ensuring each usual resident was enumerated. A major difference between MO and L/L collective enumeration methodology was that the enumeration of collective dwellings in an L/L collection unit (CU) was the responsibility of the individual enumerator performing delivery; whereas, in mail-out CUs, teams were responsible for the enumeration activities. In other non-mail-out areas, the enumerator was responsible for the enumeration of private and collective dwellings.

Dwelling occupancy verification – The status of the dwelling's occupancy was verified immediately preceding non-response follow-up (NRFU) in MO areas. Dwelling occupancy verification (DOV) was conducted to identify as many unoccupied dwellings as possible, close to Census Day, in order to remove these dwellings from the NRFU workload. The accuracy of the unoccupied status was higher if identified closer to Census Day, May 10, 2011. This higher accuracy, in turn, provided more accurate census data.

Failed edit follow-up – Failed edit follow-up (FEFU) was a process through which attempts were made to resolve missing and incomplete responses on the census questionnaire. FEFU was conducted from Statistics Canada call centres for those questionnaires received at the Data Operations Centre (DOC) that were identified as having failed edits because they were missing information.

Non-response follow-up – The purpose of non-response follow-up (NRFU) was to obtain a completed questionnaire from all households that did not return a questionnaire. This was the final collection activity in MO and L/L areas. Follow-up was first done by telephone when numbers were available. If a completed questionnaire could not be obtained by telephone, personal visits were conducted until a completed questionnaire was obtained.

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